Austin Butler plays the role of Elvis Presley in the movie “Elvis”. (Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures/TNS)

The recipe for biographical films is simple: after identifying a subject, mix fact and fiction and serve the final product to an audience.

Biopics, short for biographical pictures, are cinematic dramatizations of the lives of real-life individuals, said Andy Rose, senior lecturer in the film studies program and screenwriter. These films attempt to capitalize on the intrigue surrounding public figures or landmark events, he said.

Biopics released over the past year — including “Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody,” “Blonde” and “Elvis” — align with a major influx of celebrity idealization, Rose said. Due to the cultural value of social media platforms, such as Instagram and TikTok, people increasingly feel entitled to access other people’s personal information, he said.

“Everyone wants to know everything about someone who’s famous,” Rose said.

Inaccuracy is a notable problem plaguing the biopic genre, Rose said. Tasked with creating a trailer for the authentic experiences of a human being, filmmakers may feel compelled to embellish the truth, he said.

“Real life for most people, even celebrities, is a bit dull and boring,” Rose said. “You have to, you know, keep the story going for 90 minutes, even though in real life there may have been weeks where nothing happened.”

David Cassady, third-year film student and 2022-23 Film Student Ambassador, who serves as a link between prospective and current film students, said. Cutting down a nuanced life story into a feature film is a challenge. Unfortunately, minimization happens frequently in arts and educational media, he said.

“I think of Native Americans,” Cassady said. “In the American school system, we’ve simplified their struggles to love two sentences in a history book.”

Focusing on a defining moment instead of recreating a person’s entire lifespan is a strategy biopic writers use to avoid oversimplification, Cassady said. He said the 2018 film “Bohemian Rhapsody” explores the legendary career of rock star Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek), but uses the historic 1985 Live Aid concert as its climax and focal point.

“A lot of famous people have iconic moments in their lives that can be used to make a great movie,” Cassady said.

“Weird: The Al Yankovic Story,” released in September 2022 and starring Daniel Radcliffe, is another biopic that experiments with storytelling techniques, Rose said. The script functions as a parody to poke fun at his muse and biopics in general. The majority of the situations portrayed are fabricated for comedic purposes, he said.

“It was kind of a fictional, satirical story about this weird character, but I thought it was a good angle to take because it was a weird movie based on a weird character,” Rose said.

Still, many moviegoers seek out biopics because they want to get to know pop culture well, said Isabel Tettau, a fourth-year moving-image producer and 2022-23 student film ambassador. Viewers should approach biopics with a degree of nihilism because they can be intensely commercialized, she said.

“That’s why I love fictional plays, because you find your truth in a fictional film,” Tettau said. “I still think you can do it with a biopic, but you just have to be a little more conscientious.”

Tettau said she’s more intrigued by biopics that spotlight lesser-known characters.

“I really like movies like ‘Selma’ or ‘Hidden Figures’,” Tettau said. “They give me a point of context to go and do more research.”

Although biopics remain enticing and profitable in the present, Rose said the general public’s appetite for them may dwindle over time.

“I think we might get to the point where we’re doing biopics about people that nobody cares about anymore,” Rose said. “Whenever there is something successful, Hollywood copies it until it fails again.”

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