‘Sully’ Screenwriter: Faith Played a Role

Todd Komarnicki on religion, heroes, and our post-9/11 world

Hollywood has long faced the dilemma of how to make world-famous true stories fresh for movie audiences.

But the new movie “Sully,” starring Tom Hanks and directed by Clint Eastwood, sets a new standard for how to tell a true tale with jaw-dropping innovation.

“My faith in Christ is the bedrock of my life, but I also know God works through people.”

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The film recounts the “Miracle on the Hudson” — the 2009 water landing by pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger — and it is packed with harrowing moments of danger and soul-stirring moments of humanity, as well as terrifying nightmares and moments of tension-breaking wit. The screenplay by Todd Komarnicki is one that should definitely garner at least an Oscar nomination next year — if not the golden statuette itself.

The movie’s release is a sort of miracle in itself for Komarnicki, who has sold dozens of TV pilots and features to Hollywood studios over a 28-year career, but is reaping awards buzz now for the first time ever.

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Amid the whirlwind of publicity for this career-changing film, Komarnicki took time to tell LifeZette how he devised its ingenious time-frame-leaping structure and how his devout Christian faith has carried him through nearly three decades in the studio system.

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“This theory I have of storytelling is the Eternal Now. Everything that ever happened to us we carry with us, with some memories consciously on the surface and some buried within us. Then there’s the present now, and the future that’s affected by that past and present,” Komarnicki explained.

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“We can tell the movie from multiple perspectives and also Sully’s past, and the whole movie becomes seamless. It was very important to me knowing that every person on that plane had just as life-changing an experience as Sully and all those first responders who helped. No one involved in any level of it will forget Jan. 15, 2009, and what happened that day.”

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Throughout “Sully,” Sullenberger is portrayed as a man of bedrock decency, humility, and a die-hard work ethic. To him, landing the plane on the water and saving all the 155 people aboard wasn’t heroic, but simply his job. And in the film’s most powerful moment, he reminds everyone that the life-saving actions that day came about because of a team effort — from his flight crew to the first responders to the passengers helping each other.

While Komarnicki kept a promise to Sullenberger that he wouldn’t discuss the famed pilot’s personal faith beliefs, he shared his thoughts on how faith and basic humanity were key elements of the film.

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“I made a promise to Sully that I would never answer those questions for him, so I have to keep that off the record. He is an incredible human being and there was no question he was the right man for the right job at the right time,” Komarnicki said. “My faith in Christ is the bedrock of my life, but I also know God works through people.”

“On that day everyone executed to their highest level, regardless of what their faith was.”

He continued: “Everyone did things that were deeply human and inspired. I give credit to the Lord, but it’s so easy to lose faith in our fellow man in this cynical political season of constant attack. Yet this movie shows if we pull together and serve each other and love each other, we live instead of die.”

One deeply resonant aspect of the movie comes in its end credits, when photos and video of the real-life passengers, first responders, and flight crew are shown onscreen. It is cathartic to know that New York City got to have a moment where a plane crashing in the heart of the city turned out miraculously well — and it should leave a lasting emotional impression on viewers.

“That was deeply important to all of us in making the film,” said Komarnicki. “My favorite line has always been when one of the rescuers of the passengers says, ‘No one dies today.’ That was always in the scene. Sept. 11 was something that was done to us, and Jan. 15 was done by us. We reclaimed the narrative and it’s a winning one — not one of tragedy and loss. It’s salvation.”

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