Interview with Screenwriter Bill Baber (Mr. Buchman Goes To Washington)

1. What is your screenplay about?

Mr. Buchman Goes to Washington is an intense courtroom docudrama that recreates the 1951 House Un-American Activities Committee hearing of Sidney Buchman – the Oscar nominated Communist screenwriter of the classic patriotic film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. This is the day that Mr. Buchman, like Mr. Smith, learned that true patriotism requires sacrifice. (R)

2. What genres does your screenplay fall under?

Main Genre: Documentary/Drama.

Sub-Genres: Biopic, courtroom drama, period drama, political drama, back-stage Hollywood drama.

3. Why should this screenplay be made into a movie?

This screenplay has the historical realism of George Clooney’s Good Night and Good Luck with the close-quarters verbal combat of Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Menand the biting humor of David Fincher’s Mank. These films were all contained dramas shot in black and white.

This story is about the importance of free speech. The blacklist period was America’s first taste of the media/corporate/moralizing cancel culture. I hope this docudrama will inspire a new generation of artists to defend free speech like Mr. Buchman did in 1951.

This story is “Life imitating Art.” It is energized by the eerie parallels between the Congressional inquisitions of Mr. Buchman and Mr. Smith. The writer and his creation each go toe-to-toe against a corrupt political/corporate machine. Each man is offered an unholy deal that will reward him for compliance. Each decides to fight for free speech, despite the risks.

4. How would you describe this script in two words?

Buchman’s Dilemma.

5. What movie have you seen the most times in your life?

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. It was the subject of my grad school thesis. I have copies of every known draft of the script. I have given lectures on the film. I am writing a book on the history of the film. I am a genuine Mr. Smith geek.

6. How long have you been working on this screenplay?

I started studying Mr. Smith in 2004, and began experimenting with different ideas to honor it in 2013. I wrote this Mr. Buchman script in 2020 during my covid isolation.

7. How many stories have you written?

Twelve scripts which includes Mr. Buchman, plus three dramatic features, three scripts for documentaries, two comedy tv pilots, a children’s animated cartoon, and two writing-sample-shorts.

8. What is your favorite song? (Or, what song have you listened to the most times in your life?)

Hotel California by the Eagles.

9. What obstacles did you face to finish this screenplay?

The “Transcript Dialogue” in the script came from the actual 1951 hearing in the sequence they spoke it. Some readers suggested I drop or significantly alter this word-fo-word recreation. Here is why I fought to keep the “Transcript Dialogue” as the backbone of the script.

(1) it’s a docudrama so it’s a recreation of actual events. It’s more like something you will see on History Channel. I wanted to accurately recreate the back and forth verbal sparring between the prosecutor and the witness.

(2) if you review the other blacklist films – The Front (1976), Guilty by Suspicion (1991), The Majestic(2001), Good Night and Good Luck (2005), and Trumbo (2015) they either trivialize or distort the HUAC prosecutors role. They do this because they either want cartoonish bad guys, or they do not understand the anti-communist position of the prosecutors. To avoid this I let the prosecutors speak for themselves. In my film, I want some people to root for the anti-communists and some to root for the communists. I don’t want to distort the public dialogue to tip the scale for either side.

(3) The central question presented in the script is “What would you do if you were Mr. Buchman.” In order to make a viewer think about his or her answer, I wanted to make the dialogue as realistic as possible. This story is really about the dangers of the cancel culture. In order to save your job, or your social standing, will you compromise your values?

10. Apart from writing, what else are you passionate about?

I care passionately about my wife of 35 years, my four children, my three dogs and two cats.

Like Jefferson Smith, I am an elected representative of the people. I currently serve as a City Councilmember in the City of La Mesa, California, a suburb of San Diego. I was elected to the City Council in 2014 and re-elected in 2018. I previously served as an elected trustee of the La Mesa-Spring Valley School Board (2003 – 2014).

As a regional leader, I represent La Mesa on the new San Diego Community Power Joint Powers Authority to bring 100% clean energy to the region.

As a California elections and ethics attorney, I have represented hundreds of candidates, committees, and initiatives in my career and drafted municipal reforms throughout San Diego, including city charters and ethics ordinances. The Mayor of San Diego appointed me to serve on the San Diego Ethics Commission to oversee the City’s laws for campaign finance, lobbying, and conflicts of interest. I began my career in this field as an Analyst for the Federal Election Commission in Washington, D.C.

11. You entered your screenplay via FilmFreeway. What has been your experiences working with the submission platform site?

Great – I really like working with FilmFreeway. I have no complaints.

Watch the Screenplay Reading:

An intense courtroom docudrama that recreates the 1951 House Un-American Activities Committee hearing when Sidney Buchman, the Communist who wrote “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”, was blacklisted. This is the day that Mr. Buchman, like Mr. Smith, learned that patriotism requires sacrifice.

CAST LIST:

Narrator: Elizabeth Rose Morriss
Mr. Walter: Sean Ballantyne
Mr. Travenner/Mr. Buchman: Andy Camp
Mr. Siegel: Shawn Devlin

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