BY ERICA MILOSH
On February 22, Disney author Michael Tougias held a presentation in Daniels Auditorium about his novel writing process and experience turning his book, The Finest Hours, into a movie. The event was presented by the Emerging Leaders Program and Lead 101 and sponsored by the Fischer Institute. Tougias personalized his presentation by sharing how this experience challenged his decision-making and leadership skills.
The Finest Hours is a novel depicting a famous coast guard rescue off the coast of Cape Cod in 1952. During a harrowing storm, two oil tankers, the Fort Mercer and the Pendleton, were both ripped in half from the force of the storm. The movie version focuses on the Pendleton rescue and hero of it all, Bernie Webber.
Tougias showed the audience astounding slides of the wreckage of the oil tankers and the men responsible for the rescue. Tougias specializes in historical fiction and compares his writing methods to a treasure hunt. Writing about historical events means conducting lots of research and interviews. Tougias learned about the rescue through interviews with Bernie Webber and survivors of the storm.
Tougias explained that Bernie was ordered to go out into the storm in search of the Pendleton and three other men volunteered to accompany him. In the 50s, rescue regulations were inadequate; Bernie’s crew was basically headed on a suicide mission. Now, there are strict codes in place to determine whether a rescue is worth the risk.
The waves were incredibly high, making it difficult for Bernie’s boat to make it over the sandbar. His windshield was shattered and compass was swept away. Even though the odds were against him, Bernie made the decision to keep trying to get over the sandbar and find the oil tanker. Tougias said that this was a true form of leadership, and leaders aren’t just born, they are self-made.
Miraculously, Bernie’s crew saved 32 men, losing one during the rescue. Tougias stressed how unbelievable it was that Bernie managed to navigate to the tanker and back without a compass and saved almost the entire crew on his tiny boat. Bernie’s radio was bombarding him with advice on his trek back to shore; he chose to turn off the noise because only he knew what was best in the situation.
When the movie was being produced, Tougias made sure the actors reflected the original characters in the story. Tougias interviewed individuals involved with the rescue several times, creating a trust so they would open up to him. He listened to audiotapes of his conversations to capture the characters’ personalities. He said it was mind-blowing to finally see the thoughts in his head come to life.
Although it was a huge accomplishment seeing his book become a movie, Tougias found himself picking apart the film according to what was displayed correctly and incorrectly. In reality, the weather was so loud and water was so cold, none of the men could speak to each other. He also felt that the death of one crewman, Tiny Myers, wasn’t presented accurately. Tougias learned how to compromise with the directors and understand that their vision is different from his. Not everything from a novel can translate exactly in a movie.
The Finest Hours was released in January 2016 and is currently in theaters. Michael Tougias is author and co-author of 25 books; his newest title is Until I Have No Country, a historical fiction account of King Philip’s Indian War.