This we know: lots of movies are based on books. It’s a fairly common debate - which was better? Did the movie get it right? Was the author involved?
With Indianapolis, the definitive account of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis, the process happened a little differently. In this case, filmmaker Sara Vladic had written a screenplay, but she was told the movie needed to be based on a book.
“I remember reading one sentence about the Indianapolis as a middle schooler and thinking, ‘Someone should make a movie about this,’” she said.
After interviewing more than 100 survivors and rescue crew members, she was ready to tell that story. Enter Lynn Vincent, a Navy veteran and New York Times bestselling author.
“My faith has always informed my work,” said Vincent. “I had been praying about wanting to write an iconic WWII story. And then this young filmmaker reached out for advice.”
Laughing, Vincent told me she wanted to work on the project badly, but didn’t want to step on Vladic’s toes. Vladic chimed in.
“I was so nervous sending Lynn that first email,” she said. “We realized later neither of us wanted to seem pushy but we both really wanted to work together.”
After a few months of corresponding, the two decided to meet. And the rest was—literally—history. The two women realized they had much in common, but above all, they had a deep interest and respect for the integrity of the project.
And speaking of integrity, both women recalled the fascination of examining the choices people on the Indianapolis made.
“You’re talking about the Greatest Generation,” said Sara. “It was surprising to see not just the number of heroes, but also the people who chose selfishly. And that makes you think, ‘What would I have done in that situation?’”
Lynn’s challenge in constructing the story was sifting through thousands of pages of information and distilling it down to what would be most helpful for the narrative.
“You start with a huge stack of diaries and action reports and highlight all of the useful information; then you make notes on what you highlighted,” she said. “What floats down are the smallest, useful, relevant, exotic facts, and we took those facts and put them back together to create the story.”
Critical to the research was the immense treasure trove of information in the national archives, available to anyone who has the wherewithal to search.
“It sounds really geeky, but Sara and I were both surprised at how much joy we derived from this type of research,” Lynn said. “I would urge writers who aspire to write historical narrative nonfiction to treat themselves to the unique thrill of new discovery. There’s really nothing that compares.”
Sara, on the other hand, had the unique advantage of developing so many close relationships with people directly connected to the Indianapolis.
“These men became my adoptive grandparents,” she said. “This project drove me to understand the preciousness of people and that we need to capture their stories while we can.”
The journey hasn’t always been easy; Sara pointed out that there have been many funerals and there are currently only 12 survivors still alive. And the work has been hard, with information not always readily available.
“I think there’s this problem, maybe in the creative industry, of a perception that you’re limited by what you can find on the Internet,” said Lynn. “You have to invest the time and go dig where other people won’t, for whatever reasons; look under every rock and in every nook and cranny.”
Fortunately, people interested in the history of the USS Indianapolis and her final voyage will no longer have to search for clues and piece together information. Thanks to Sara and Lynn, the ship, her crew and the rescue workers on that fateful night will never be forgotten.