JR Moehringer On FBLA, Dana Parsons And The Movies

JR Moehringer, the former LAT reporter whose story is the basis of Resurrecting The Champ, took issue with one of our posts (Actually, he called it “wrong, dead wrong, and libelous”). The post in question took issue with Dana Parsons.

Since everyone has issues, we asked Moehringer to air some of his. Instead, he send us some thoughtful responses:

Q. Did you have any say in the how the film portrays the journalist character? And did you worry that people would mix you up with the fictional journalist?

A: I had no say in how the film portrays anyone. Zero. Which was fitting, because this film isn’t my story. It uses my story as a starting point, a framework, to tell a very different story, about a very different kind of reporter.

Of course I initially hoped to have lots of say. When I first sold the story 10 years ago, I asked to write the screenplay. Studio execs said no. They already had a screenwriter in mind. Also, they knew I’d be wedded to the facts, which they felt were not conducive to high drama. Maybe they were right. Reporter on the phone for five hours? Reporter reading a book about boxing? Such scenes might please journalists, but for a movie, I guess, you need a little more pizazz. The studio felt the reporter character needed to be juiced up, and I sympathize. Ask my friends. I’m boring.

I never worried about a mix-up, because whenever I watch a film I know that “based on a true story” can mean anything. Not long ago I saw that Adam Sandler comedy, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. Someone told me it was based on a true story. I thought that claim was the funniest thing about the movie.

Also, so much about Resurrecting the Champ is obviously fictionalized. It’s based on a story by J.R. Moehringer—but the protagonist isn’t named J.R. Moehringer. I trust that sends a loud and clear message to audiences right off the bat: License has been taken, facts have been altered. Also, the newspaper where I worked, the names of my bosses and coworkers, the essentials of my bio (I don’t have a wife and son), the location of the story, even the real name of the homeless boxer —- it’s all changed. So I assume audiences understand: Hollywood equals fiction.

Q: Have you talked to Dana Parsons about the column?

A: I’ve not talked to Dana. He emailed me after he saw the movie, joking that he didn’t know I had a son. I wanted to answer, but as it happens, I’m in the middle of moving. I decided to wait until I could send back a thoughtful response, because Dana was a friend, and he was there in 1997. We talked many times while I was trying to figure out who the hell Champ was. I think that’s why Dana’s disappointed in the film, because he remembers those days fondly, as do I. Champ was a phantom, a conundrum, a “shape shifter,” a tantalizing mystery, and Dana and my other colleagues provided me great support and sound advice in my efforts to solve him. Dana expected to see some of that collegiality, that sleuthing, on screen. I get that, and I wanted to acknowledge his disappointment in a long email, but with men hauling my furniture out my door, it wasn’t the time. Had I known he was on deadline, writing a column about the film, I’d have told the movers to take five, and I’d have phoned him right away.

[In an e-mail exchange with Dana Parsons, the columnist told FBLA that “It’s a column, and the point of the column, as it is on most days, was to offer my take on things, not j.r.’s…and to that end, whether he would have agreed with my take or not was unnecessary for the point i wanted to make… would have been interesting, and probably funny, but not essential…]

Q: Was this your first optioned story that made it to the big screen? Do you think, knowing what you know now, that you’d ever sell another story to the movies again?

A: This was the first article I ever wrote that was optioned and filmed. (I did once write a magazine piece that was stolen from me by a clique of unscrupulous teen actors in Hollywood — but that’s another story.) Overall, despite the occasional confusion, this has been an exciting and valuable experience. I loved seeing Champ come to life. Josh Hartnett wasn’t playing me, but Samuel L. Jackson was definitely playing Champ. He did resurrect the old boxer, and it was surreal to see him do it.

Sure I’d sell another story to Hollywood. I’d never swear off Hollywood merely because one film wasn’t everything I dreamed it might be. I love films. I became a journalist because of a film. All the President’s Men. I sat in a dingy little theater in Great Neck and watched that film over and over and knew what I wanted to do with my life.

I suspect, however, that with almost every film — even if you write and direct it — you’re never in total control. You’re answerable to others. Film is a team sport, whereas writing is more like kayaking. You shouldn’t apply the rules of one to another. No film can be a perfect reflection of your individual design. Too many other minds are involved.