Study Guide

Million Dollar Baby Screenwriter

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Paul Haggis

Boxing Rings, Bull Fights, and Bookshelves… Oh My!

F.X. Toole is one seriously patient dude.

It took the former boxing manager, bartender, and bullfighter forty years to get his first book, Rope Burns: Stories from the Corner, published. He was a spry 70 years old when it finally hit shelves in 2000.

If F.X. Toole sounds like a made-up name, it's because it is. Toole's real name was Jerry Boyd, but according to film critic Paul Byrnes, none of Boyd's boxing buddies knew he was a writer. Boyd, who was missing a large chunk of his ear because it got bitten off in a street fight, wanted to keep it that way. (Source)

John Green, he was not.

From Walker to Oscar

Enter Paul Haggis. Before he cranked out the script for Million Dollar Baby, combining the narrator from one of Toole's Rope Burns stories with the plot from another, Haggis was a longtime TV writer (source). The Love Boat, Diff'rent Strokes, and EZ Streets: Haggis had quite the resume of '80s and '90s small screen hits. He's the guy that created Walker, Texas Ranger.

Million Dollar Baby was Haggis's first foray into American feature films. His only prior screenplay credit was for a Canadian drama about rock 'n' roll in 1950s Russia called Red Hot.

Never heard of it? You're not the only one.

Haggis's colorful, yet sinewy script for Million Dollar Baby was his breakthrough—and, boy, did he break through. Critics heaped praise onto Haggis's screenplay by the bucket load. The Washington Post's Ann Hornaday described it as "as lean, if not mean, as the boxers at the Hit Pit" (source). Rex Reed gushed, "The two-fisted script by Paul Haggis has a violent and bloody lyricism about the lexicon of pugilism" (source). Ultimately, it earned Haggis an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Not bad for his second movie ever.

A Knockout Combo

In the end, though, it all goes back to Jerry Boyd, who passed away in 2002 and never saw his stories turned into a movie. "Haggis's script is terrific," Byrnes writes, "but Boyd's tough, spare prose is the bedrock. Haggis uses large chunks of it for Morgan Freeman's narration and it gives the film its gravel-voiced, broken-nosed, Dencorubbed reality" (source).

Million Dollar Baby's script is emotional, but it's never sentimental, which makes sense: it's two parts veteran TV scribe, and two parts one-eared boxing manager.

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