As a writer, do you worry about everyone in your life thinking characters are based on them?
Surprisingly, the issue almost never comes up. I guess that means either, (a) everyone in my life has already accepted that something they say or do might someday end up on screen, or (b) they’re angry and repressing their rage.
A writer is inevitably going to borrow ideas from real life, both consciously and unconsciously. With me, it’s dialogue. I’ll hear somebody say something perfect and immediately jot it down on one of a hundred tiny slips of paper. (Probably half of the time, I’ve actually misheard what they said, the same way song lyrics seem much more poetic when you can’t quite make them out.)
But I’m pretty careful to never completely base a character on somebody I know, especially not a close friend or family member. It’s just not worth the potential grief.
Of the scripts I’ve written, GO was closest to using actual true people and events. Tiny (played by Breckin Meyer) was inspired by Anthony Satariano, the sports editor of my high school paper, who was a white kid talking black way back in 1988. The food poisoning from shrimp at a Las Vegas buffet happened to my friend Wende in 1993, while the hotel room fire is a possibly apocryphal story related to me by my friend Tom Smith. (No, it didn’t happen to him.)
It’s worth noting that of all these incidents, the only one I asked permission to use was Tom’s, probably because he’s a writer himself, and might have been saving it for one of his own projects. He was gracious enough to let me have it.
Another factor which reduces the "Is-That-Based-On-Me?" tension is that a lot of the projects I work on already have some form of source material, be it a book, a TV show or whatnot. For example, my screenplay for BIG FISH involves a lot of my experience watching my father die, and my frustration at trying to get to know him. But the fact that it’s ultimately based on Daniel Wallace’s book makes it easier for my family and everyone else to get some emotional distance, and differentiate the movie-dad from my actual dad.