With the Oscars and other award shows consistently handing out trophies to actors and actresses in big name bio pics (ahem, Meryl Streep), it
Condense the Time Frame
If they’re worth writing a bio pic about, it’s worth writing about their whole lives from beginning to end, right? Wrong! Though your subject might have led an extremely interesting life, going through from birth to death will get tedious. If you can cut the story down so it’s focused on a few key events, do it. Screenplays should be about the most significant moment in the protagonist’s life, and the bio pic is no exception.
Give it an Arch
Though the subject of your bio pic went through the ups and downs of life as we all do, that’s not enough to make your plot interesting. As a writer, you have a certain amount of artistic license to shape a real person’s life story into a viable, engaging film, which means shaping it to the three act structure. If you’re writing a movie about this person, they probably had goals and had to overcome obstacles to meet these goals (if they didn’t, then you should probably write about someone else!) So feel free to imagine conversations, move events into a different order, and otherwise mold the story. BUT…
Don’t Make Things Up (!)
You shouldn’t just make up things so that you can create an arch! My favorite (and by favorite I mean most hated) example of this is Ray. The arch in Ray, slight as it is, is that Ray Charles was banned from performing in the state of Georgia because he took a stand against racism. The movie ends with him finally performing in Georgia again – yay, what a great ending! EXCEPT IT’S NOT TRUE. Though Ray Charles did take a stand against racism in the way they described, he was never banned from playing there. Don’t do this in your film! It’s annoying! End of rant.
Use Your Other Characters
Secondary characters in bio pics tend to fall by the wayside to let the main character (and actor) take center stage. But these characters can be incredibly useful in acting as foils, or dramatic opposites. The best example of this is Tony Blair in The Queen. He serves as the comic relief and the voice of the audience in his dealings with Queen Elizabeth, and there’s an element of almost a buddy-comedy friendship that develops by the end of the film. As a side note, The Queen follows all of the above rules, including the hardest one (condensing the time period), making it one of the best bio pics ever. So watch and learn!