A Conversation With the Creators of Patriot’s Day

Mark Wahlberg, Peter Berg, Matt Cook, Joshua Zetumer

by John Bucher (@johnkbucher)

Director Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights, The Leftovers, Hancock) has partnered with Mark Wahlberg on two previous stories drawn from real life events, Deepwater Horizon and Lone Survivor. Both projects garnered praise from fans and critics, as well as those whose stories where actually portrayed in the films. I spoke with Wahlberg, Berg, and the co-writers of their newest project, Patriot’s Day, about their experiences in crafting a script with those whose lives were affected looking on.

“The sheer volume of information was a challenge to wade through,” said co-writer, Josh Zetumer. “We had to figure out what sort of story we wanted to tell.”

For Matt Cook, the primary task was to keep the story compelling throughout, even though the audience knows how it will end. “We really wanted to give everyone their due, but there were only so many characters that we could include, so we had to keep the priority around the story we were focusing on,” Cook said.

Berg and Wahlberg were concerned with creating something that was not action or thriller-oriented but tried to analyze what happened through the eyes of those involved. Each creator had an area they were most concerned with, but they tried to perform like a symphony, with each section hitting their unique note. “We were all interested in exploring how a community comes together in an event like this – how they process it. That unified us. We also agreed the themes were about inclusion and how love wins,” Berg said.

For Mark Wahlberg, the story was personal. Being from Boston, he was the face of the project. “There comes a lot of pressure and responsibility with that, but folks back home were relieved it was in the hands of one of their own. As soon as we were able to communicate to them what our intentions were, they breathed a sigh of relief,” Wahlberg said. He and Berg sat down with everyone who would talk with them in the community, who were a part of the story. They took months to pour through the details. “Our mantra throughout the process was ‘Let’s get it right,’” Berg said. They were intentional to make Boston itself a character in the film.

“A lot of people asked us if it was too soon to tell this story, but I said it wasn’t soon enough. These things may continue to happen and if they do, people have to come together to show that love overcomes hate. I am so proud of how the people of Boston reacted in the face of tragedy and that we can show everyone what Boston Strong really means,” Wahlberg said.

The writers acknowledged that not all the families wanted their loved ones portrayed in the film and that they honored that. “We were obviously very sensitive to that. We didn’t want to traumatize anyone. We did ask if we could honor their family members at the end of the film and everyone agreed to that,” Berg said. Victims of the bombing and the law enforcement officers who led the capture of the bombers have not only given their approval of the film but have joined the film’s promotional and press meetings to assure audiences that the creators got the story right.

“My enthusiasm for this story was locked in place when I met the people involved in real life. You can’t help but be inspired when you meet these incredible people. They are representative of an entire community that is just as inspiring. They faced the impossible with such class, and poise, and grace. That is what kept us going to make sure we brought this story to the screen through all the challenges,” Berg said.

For Wahlberg, he was forced to confront hard questions about himself, posed by the themes of the script.  “I don’t know if I would have the courage to move forward with the light that these people shined so brightly. What would I have done in that situation? Could I have been that brave? These are the real questions I asked myself in trying to tell this story,” Wahlberg said.

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John Bucher is a writer, speaker, and story consultant based out of Los Angeles. He is the author of several books including The Inside Out Story and Master of the Cinematic Universe: The Secret Code to Writing in the New World of Media. He has written for entities ranging from HBO to U.S.  Ambassadors. He teaches at The LA Film Studies Center and has conducted story seminars on five continents. He can be reached on Twitter @johnkbucher and through his site, tellingabetterstory.com.

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