The Hunger Games is a phenomenon, there is no doubt about that! In our town, you can only imagine how excited everyone got over a record-breaking 155 million dollar opening weekend. Why am I so excited about it? Because of all the adaptations-to-the-screen that I have asked attorneys to go see, this is one I know you will feel compelled to attend. Maybe you loved the books, maybe you love amazing filmmaking, maybe you are a lawyer who is always smart enough to check out what is important in American pop culture, or maybe you are simply thrilled that anti-violent me is actually recommending something that comes from Lionsgate, who brought you Saw.
If I could encourage every lawyer who tries to go to see every adaptation – whether good or bad – I would. Why? Because this is what you do with your life’s work. You take a huge, gigantic, overflowing real life story filled with evidence and characters and plot points and time lines and you adapt it into your trial story. What do you leave out? What do you keep in? What do you build? What do you diminish? I have written about this aspect of how the worlds of the adaptive filmmaker and the trial lawyer meet more than a few times in this blog and elsewhere.
I’d like you to be inspired by the words of one of my favorite young playwrights, Tiffany Antone. I first met Tiffany through Theatricum Botanicum’s Seedlings program. I have acted in her shows, directed her shows, and written shows that I’ve allowed her to produce. She’s literally decades younger than I am – and a theatre artist of the first caliber. What I call “the real deal.” I was so swept up with how her response to The Hunger Games in her blog awdsandends applied to the work of attorneys that I wanted to share some of her words with you. If you want to read the rest of her piece, please do so at her wonderful blog.
HUNGRY by Tiffany Antone
Adaptations are tricky things… depending on the source material, you’ve either got too much to grapple with, or (if it’s a short story) too much room to go hog wild in. And while it can be reassuring to have the story skeleton already there for you to drape your words upon, there also stands the possibility that you’ll find yourself screaming: “Oh GOD! This is a best selling book with a global fan base… how am I going to live up to that?!”
And so you dive in…
And if it’s done really, really well – when you’re finished – you get The Hunger Games.
Now, obviously when you start out with 400 pages of text, not everything is going to make it onto the Big Screen – you’ve got interior monologues that have to be translated into action (if it merits inclusion) and you’ve got to show character traits/transitions/emotional progression through visual elements rather than some handy expositional thought. Sometimes you’ve got to cut characters, because although extraneous body-jumping is manageable in a book, it’s a bit schizophrenic for a mere 2 hour movie – you’ve got a lot of material to cover, and you’ve got to make the character choices that will best serve the story, not necessarily the audience’s expectations.
So, you boil it down – What happened/is happening/is about to happen? Who are the key people in this story? What are the main points of action that help our protagonist get from beginning to end?
TIP: What trial story are you carving out in your adaptation today?
Katherine’s Introduction to Guest Blogger, Courtney A. Morgan:
When Attorney Courtney A. Morgan sent me the copy of her wonderful article on The Loving Story that the Los Angeles Times didn’t see fit to print, I knew in a moment that you were going to read it here on our blog.
I had the pleasure of meeting Courtney when she was a roommate of our older son at UC Berkeley. They were both undergrads and Courtney was and is the combination of stunning beauty and breathtaking brilliance that first turns your head and then fills it with wisdom. I know that when you read her moving words about this wonderful legal film that you will agree with me that the present and future of justice is in very good hands.
My Loving Valentine by Courtney A. Morgan
On January 10th my fiancée and I went to a screening of The Loving Story at the Museum of Tolerance here in Los Angeles. She suggested it as something I might like. It wasn’t high on my list, but, why not.
If my law school memory serves, Loving v. Virginia is the case of a white man and a black woman who get married in Washington D.C., where it is legal, and drive home to the Virginia, where interracial marriage is illegal. They were then arrested, jailed and banished from the Commonwealth of Virginia for violating Virginia law. The couple takes their case to the Supreme Court, which declares the law unconstitutional, ruling that while states have the authority to define marriage as they see fit, they cannot define marriage in a way that violates the Constitution.
The night of the screening, I found myself getting a little anxious. I told myself I was nervous because as a lawyer, watching the story of two brave, young lawyers, barely out of law school, taking the case of a poor Virginia couple all the way to the Supreme Court, is like watching the Super Bowl.
I was also curious about the Lovings as people. The only description I had ever heard about them is that they were trashy, backwoods hicks that you wouldn’t want at your kitchen table. Of course, that account came from the Loving’s arresting Sherriff. I was interested to see what these civil rights crusaders were really like.
The director of the film, Nancy Buirski, spoke before the screening, announcing that the film would premier on HBO on February 14, 2012, symbolic because it is black history month and because it is Valentine’s Day.
When the screening started, I held my breath. The unseen footage of this poor, yes, but appropriately named couple, was riveting. One thing is clear, they were oh-so lovely and oh-so in love. They were not civil rights crusaders at all, but ordinary people who wanted to live on their property surrounded by their family and friends.
I breathed a sigh of relief.
I realized that my relief was more than just for this couple. It was for my parents, a white man and a black woman who married in 1969, two years after the Supreme Court’s decision in Loving v. Virginia. I sighed for myself and my fiancée because, no matter what is said about the differences between the Civil Rights Movement and the Gay Rights Movement, we are fighting the same fight today. My fiancée and I could marry in Washington D.C. and drive to Virginia and no longer be married. I was amazed at how similar the arguments for and against marriage equality are in 1967 and 2012.
I sighed in relief because as a member of several groups designated as “other” or “minority,” I fear what they say about us will somehow be stereotypically portrayed on the screen and we will be pushed back that much further. I cringe at every glimpse of a black or gay person in film or television – it’s similar to the feeling I get at large family holiday gatherings, hoping everyone will get through the pressure cooker unscathed.
So I want to thank the filmmakers for their loving handling of this deeply personal film. I want to thank the teachers who will show it to their students. I want to thank the Loving’s, their children and my parents for lighting the way. And I want to thank my fiancée for walking this path with me, for the early Valentine and for knowing me better than I know myself.
My fiancée and I are getting married on September 2, 2012 in Malibu, California. When people imply that it will not be a real wedding because it is not legal, I typically reply with one or more of my canned responses. “Marriage is between us, our families and any deity we choose to believe in.” “A government is silly if it thinks it has the authority to say who is, and who isn’t married – that is playing God, and as much as our government likes to make the rules, it is not God.” And depending on the audience, “We plan to follow the tradition of our ancestors who jumped the broom to indicate that they were married, when the laws of this nation said that they could not. Those folks were married whether the government said so or not.” And finally, “If no birth certificate had been issued to me, I would still exist.”
Friends have asked about Civil Unions and I reply with my canned response again: “‘Civil Union’ cake is bland and a ‘Civil Union’ dress just sounds tacky and anyway, if there really is no difference, then why are people fighting us so hard. They are obviously fighting for something.”
After the screening of The Loving Story, my fiancée and I introduced ourselves to the celebrities in attendance, Paul Katami and Jeffrey Zarrillo, plaintiffs in the Perry v. Schwarzenegger case, who just this week won their case in the Ninth Circuit. How very lovely they were as well. “Facebook me,” Paul cried as we said our goodbyes, and I did. My Facebook status currently reads, “we just might be able to get married at our wedding after all.” I have never received so many “likes” and boy does it feel good.
I have to say, I may talk a big game about not caring whether our marriage is legal, but to be recognized by my state and my country sure would be nice. It would also be nice for the children we plan to have. I don’t know what it would have done to me if my parent’s marriage was not recognized by our society. Perhaps we see a touch of that in The Loving Story.
Mrs. Loving, less than a year before her death, said it better than I ever could:
I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard’s and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about.
- Mildred Loving, June 12, 2007
The Loving Story, premiered on HBO on Valentine’s Day.
Courtney A. Morgan an Immigration Attorney in Los Angeles specializing in entertainment, business and family immigration. A Los Angeles native, she completed her undergraduate degree at the University of California at Berkeley and legal studies at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles.
TIP (from Katherine): What are you doing to move justice into the future today?
You know how much I love documentaries about The Law. If you are smart, you will find a way RIGHT NOW to see The Loving Story. If you are brilliant, you will find a way that once you see it, that you make sure others see it, too.
The story of how Richard and Mildred Loving started out life together as two people who simply loved one another and married one another and ended up as the subjects of a U.S. Supreme Court is the provocative subject. The amazing filmmakers, Nancy Buirski and Elisabeth Haviland James have taken footage of the time (1957-1965) as well as commentary from the major players looking back in time and woven it into a love song to law, justice and civil rights. They simply say, “Our documentary film tells the dramatic story of Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple living in Virginia in the 1950s, and their landmark Supreme Court Case, Loving v. Virginia, that changed history.”
I don’t think a lawyer can watch this film and not be deeply affected by it. The footage of the two young ACLU attorneys who tried the case and took it all the way to the Supreme Court brought me to tears. It reminded me of how, every day, I get to sit in rooms with attorneys who are doing their best to get justice for their clients without the benefit of hindsight. I was also especially moved by Richard and Mildred Loving. I kept wanting to reach back in time and help Richard Loving express himself – but – in the end his expression was just right. “Tell the court that I love my wife,” he said to his lawyers when they asked if he had anything that he wanted them to tell the U.S. Supreme Court.
A wonderful young attorney, Courtney Morgan, wrote an amazing piece about the impact that this film had on her. We are going to reprint it next week as Part 2 of this blog post on this most important film.
TIP: Is the case you are working on the case of a lifetime? Your client thinks so.
Alan Blumenfeld and Katherine James have brought state-of-the-art trial communication skills to over 30,000 attorneys and their witnesses. On the pages of this blog, they will share with you why we should all ask "What can lawyers learn from actors?" Learn More