Trumbo Biopic
9 October 2015

TRUMBO – What makes it an effective biopic?

By Danny Kelly | Categorised in Film Festival Diary, Industry Interviews, Movie reviews, Cinema news, Film News

Trumbo recently received its European Premiere at the BFI London Film Festival  at the Accenture Gala on the 8th October, with members of it’s impressive cast including Bryan Cranston, Helen Mirren and John Goodman all in attendance.

This biopic tells the story of the distinctive and semi-grandiose Dalton Trumbo, an American screenwriter from Hollywood’s Golden Era who was industry blacklisted – amongst other leftist writers – for having Communist ideologies, but still went on to have Oscar success in the face of a number of adversities. See trailer.

At Met Film School we offer a range of courses for today’s aspiring screen content creators including  MA Screenwriting and MA Directing. We wanted to share with our students and aspiring filmmakers generally a few tips on what makes it a fresh and effective biopic movie.  We attended the Trumbo press conference to speak to the movie’s cast to find out more.

TRumbo PC

(L-R Dave Calhoun (Time Out Film Editor), Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Bryan Cranston, Helen Mirren, John Goodman)

1. Unique tone of voice is key

In line with keeping an eye on the prize, many biopics released in the latter half of the year have had a tendency towards being serious, self-important affairs.  In contrast, Director of Trumbo Jay Roach (Austin Powers, Game Change) deserves recognition for balancing humour and heart in equal measure in this film.

Helen Mirren discussed this balance in saying that, while the film was certainly not shot as a comedy, it benefits naturally from having a Director with “an in-built sense of humour” at the helm. Elaborating, she described this as the best kind of humour – when it’s not built around jokes, but rather the absurdity of human behavior.”

2. A good screenplay will draw in your cast

We asked the panel about their first impressions of the script and what drew them to work on Trumbo. The quality of the script was key for all of the cast.

Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje said: “John McNamara is a fantastic writer. I remember Jay Roach called me up to ask if there was anything I wanted to discuss or change about the dialogue, but for me […] it was flawless.”

Bryan Cranston stated: “It always has to first and foremost be about the story and how that story is supported by the text, and if that is there, you have a great chance to make an important film.”

John Goodman commented: “I’ve always been attracted to great storytellers. It’s something I lack in myself and I’m always baffled by how it works. This came off the page as a lot of fun, but about a serious topic and I wanted to be on board.”

3. Get the casting right

It’s impossible to talk about Trumbo without discussing Bryan Cranston in the title role. We recently ran a competition asking people to explain to us in 100 words why they wanted to see the film, and the amount of entrants that declared their love for everyone’s favourite TV dad/drug king-pin was hardly surprising. In a role that requires a confident dynamic performance, it certainly feels appropriate for Cranston to reap the benefits of both his hard work and loyal fan base. Aside from this, Cranston makes the role his own, providing a powerful performance as the charismatic Trumbo.

Also convincing and effective were Helen Mirren as scathing gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (in a performance with a fantastic hint of Harry Potter’s Rita Skeeter about it); Elle Fanning (Super 8) who continues to demonstrate why she’s the most exciting and astute actress under-18; and John Goodman as brash B-Movie Producer Frank King, who drew the type of belly laughs from the audience, that continued long into the proceeding scene.

Trumbo will be on general release in the UK on 22nd Jan 2016 


Would you like to work in the screen content industries? Met Film School is London’s largest provider of screen content training in London. We offer a range of undergraduate and postgraduate programmes. Request a prospectus to learn more today.

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