writer and editor


Fact, the drama of first resort

While documentary makers often consider the restaging of factual events in dramatic form a device of last resort, the Nottingham-based writer Michael Eaton has taken the opposite view.

“When people ask me why I choose drama, it is because these real-life stories are dramatic. And telling them as stories helps us makes sense of the world,” Eaton told attendees at a talk in January at the University of Nottingham’s Year of the Writer Programme.

Eaton, whose docudramas include Shipman, Shoot To Kill and Who Bombed Lockerbie?, explained that while he was happy to put words into some of his characters’ mouths, the script had to remain true to the facts and events that actually happened.

“I have a pact with the audience,” he said. “If they ask ‘did this happen?’, I have to honestly believe it.” He said that in some forms of speculative drama, such as the type made by director Oliver Stone, this pact was broken. In the lively discussion that followed, he said making any documentary involved selection, editorial intervention and adding a personal slant.

While constructing a script out of the real sources available to him, Eaton said it helped for him to focus on one of the five possible facets of the play: character, narrative journey, the world of the story, the theme and genre. “I start with one of those, then it’s up to me to find the other four,” he said.