– Roland Emmerich
Last Wednesday, I had the lovely opportunity to participate in a Q&A panel for Anonymous with Roland Emmerich (director), John Orloff (screenwriter), Charles Beauclerk (Earl and author), and Alan Nelson (Emeritus professor at UC Berkeley). Anonymous pushes forward the theory that Edward De Vere, Earl of Oxford, was the true author of Shakespeare’s plays during a time when writing was considered acceptable for only the lower class.
I was excited when I first entered the theater, since it was the first Q&A panel I had ever attended and the only time I got to see anyone famous up close. Now I just have to say, Emmerich and Orloff are wonderful, funny characters. Really down to earth, which is wonderful considering Emmerich’s films have grossed a total of $3 billion and Orloff has written for Band of Brothers, Legend of the Guardians, and currently Truckers for Dreamworks.
The inspiration for the film began when Orloff was at UCLA and first encountered the authorship question. His passion really came out when he expressed his frustration with the biography of Shakespeare, which had been passed off as true all during the time he was in school, even though these so-called facts were guesses. Emmerich first read the script 10 years ago, and was captured by the idea that Shakespeare, a historic and well-known figure, might not be who everyone thinks he is. He looked into the claims, and felt that there was reasonable doubt that Shakespeare, in fact, may have been a fraud, as the tagline of the movie claims. However, Emmerich made clear that he was not 100% certain that Shakespeare was not whom everyone claims him to be.
Perhaps the most interesting and entertaining part of the panel was the debate that erupted between Nelson and, well, everyone else. Nelson gave a 7 minute introduction, criticizing the aspects of the film which did not mesh with his views of history. Although Nelson probably knows more about the subject, having studied it his entire life, truthfully, his intro was really uncomfortable and difficult to understand. Nelson unapologetically criticized so many parts of the film and made it seem as if Emmerich and Orloff were just as bad. Emmerich, Orloff, and Beauclerk were so taken aback by the unexpected attack, that they could do nothing but glance at each other in astonishment and laugh. But they weren’t passive, defending their work and countering the professor with probably the most hilarious question of all, “Is this how you teach?”
Most of the time was spent in a debate between the two sides, though I would have enjoyed hearing more about the creation of the film itself. However, I do want to mention one important fact I think that people criticizing the film for inaccuracies should understand. One audience member asked, why would they attempt to pass the movie off as truth when there were clear historical inaccuracies in the film? First of all, they weren’t trying to say that their movie was the absolute truth. They were trying to suggest that there are other possibilities other than what we have been told. Secondly, Emmerich and Orloff aren’t stupid. They know and readily admit they tweaked facts that make no historical sense to make the movie flow more smoothly. As Orloff explained, if they were going for fact, they would have made a documentary. But no, they were trying to tell a story. Fudging some historical facts made it possible for them to make a point rather than drown the audience in facts that would have unnecessarily drawn out the film.
Ultimately, both argued evidence for and against Shakespeare. While I’m sure that Nelson knows more about the subject, the manner in which he presented himself took away from the strength of his arguments. But then again, as a student, I am always partial towards those who challenge the status quo. The laidback demeanor of Orloff and Emmerich made me more inclined to agree with them. I’m sure their talent at storytelling also played a huge role.
Overall, I walked away from the Q&A excited to have met Orloff and Emmerich. The 2 hour debate had taken a toll, but meeting famous people always makes your heart beat a little bit faster.
Anonymous opens in theaters on October 28th, so don’t forget to check it out!