HBO defends Palin portrayal in "Game Change"

Julianne Moore as Sarah Palin in "Game Change."
HBO Films

(CBS News) HBO is defending the accuracy of its new film "Game Change" in the wake of preemptive claims from Sarah Palin's aides as well as Republican Sen. John McCain that the film is an inaccurate attack.

The film "is a balanced portrayal of the McCain-Palin campaign," according to letter from an HBO representative that was sent to Hotsheet along with an early copy of the film. Quentin Schaffer, HBO's Executive Vice President of Corporate Communications, went on to say that the filmmakers were careful to make sure they got the facts right.

According to Schaffer, the two authors of the book that served as the source material for the film - also called "Game Change," and written by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann - checked "every draft of the script to ensure its historical accuracy and thoroughness." He adds that "when their book came out in 2010, it went unchallenged and unrefuted by the Palin camp."

During an appearance on "CBS This Morning" on Monday, Sen. John McCain - who is portrayed by Ed Harris in the film - said the source material was precisely the problem.

"If it's based on that book, which I was briefed on, then of course it can't be accurate," said McCain, who described the book "Game Change" as "full of unattributed quotes, things that absolutely never happened."

Schaffer says the scriptwriter, Danny Strong, spoke to 25 people involved in the campaign, including senior aides, and reached out to both McCain and Palin in an effort to get them to consult and watch the finished film. (Both declined.) Schaffer also says filmmakers used Palin's memoir "Going Rogue" as a secondary source and brought on Palin's 2008 deputy chief of staff, Chris Edwards, to help ensure the film's accuracy.

Last month, Palin aides held a conference call with reporters in which they attacked the film, though they acknowledged they have not seen it.

Palin's former spokeswoman Meg Stapleton said the film's trailers along get "my blood boiling," while former Palin aide Jason Recher deemed it a "false narrative cobbled together by a group of people who simply weren't there." Stapleton said "Game Change" reflects an acceptance of "the false narrative of a couple of people who sought revenge," a reference to former McCain adviser Steve Schmidt and others. Schmidt, who is played by Woody Harrelson in the film, describes "Game Change" as accurate and fair.

Julianne Moore as Sarah Palin in "Game Change."
HBO Films

"Game Change," which debuts on Saturday, stars Julianne Moore as Palin, and charts her sudden rise from little-known Alaska governor to McCain's vice presidential nominee. (It ignores much of the rest of the race, which was also chronicled in the book.) The two-hour film portrays Palin's triumph at the Republican National Convention and the problems that followed, including concerns in the McCain campaign about her grasp of foreign policy. At one point, Schmidt is shown saying Palin "is on the verge of a complete nervous breakdown."

Palin said in May that she would "just grit my teeth and bear whatever comes what may with that movie."

"Well, I am all about job creation, and I guess I could provide some of these gals who pretend like they're me some job security," she added in an appearance on Fox News. "I would ask, though, that if they're of the mind of spreading the wealth around that perhaps they want to spring for one of my kid's braces or something as they capitalize on pretending to be me."

SarahPAC, Palin's political action committee, labeled the film "fact change" in a video posted on March 1, saying it "presents a history that never happened." Some Republicans are calling the film election-year propaganda that reflects the fact that "Hollywood wants to do whatever they can to discredit the right and the Republicans," in the words of former Hollywood Republicans president Mark Vafiades.

"Game Change" director Jay Roach told "CBS This Morning" on Mondaythat the film is a "true story grounded in interviews with the key figures involved in the campaign.

"I think it's a dramatization, but it's really compelling and it raises all the questions, I think, need to be raised about our political system," he said.

Roach also said the film was meant in part to "humanize" Palin, adding: "She was, at the beginning of it, she was under incredible attack. She had a kid going off to Iraq. She had a 5-month-old baby with Down Syndrome. Two daughters, one pregnant and she's thrown on to the national stage with very little time to prepare for that."

Movie critic Roger Ebert wrote in his positive review that "Game Change" does indeed humanize Palin, though he describes her as someone who "lacked the preparation or temperament to be one heartbeat away from the presidency."

"There is a moment in 'Game Change' when she's alone, and we see the hurt and sadness in her eyes when she realizes that people are finding her lacking," he writes. "She's like a student who studied hard for the exam and failed anyway. The people love her. Alaska still loves her; that's why she's so urgent about the results of an Alaska poll on her popularity. Why are these media creatures being so cruel? Why is everyone picking on her expensive wardrobe? She didn't want the damn fancy clothes in the first place."