‘The Trial of the Chicago 7’: The Stolen Shot From ‘Close Encounters’ and 4 Facts About the Making of Aaron Sorkin’s Film

Movie starring Sacha Baron Cohen and Jeremy Strong hits Netflix on Friday

Sacha Baron Cohen and Jeremy Strong in The Trial of the Chicago 7
"The Trial of the Chicago 7" / Niko Tavernise / Netflix

Aaron Sorkin’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7” hits Netflix on Friday — 13 years after Sorkin first wrote the script for the film about the riots at the 1968 Democratic Convention and the trial that followed.

That’s just one snippet Sorkin told audiences about the making of the film at a drive-in screening this week. In fact, it took so long to get this movie made, that he never thought he’d see it happen.

“The Trial of the Chicago 7” stars Sacha Baron Cohen, Eddie Redmayne, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Frank Langella, John Carroll Lynch, Jeremy Strong, Mark Rylance and Michael Keaton, and chronicles a group of seven defendants charged by the government with conspiracy in 1969 and 1970 and inciting to riot related to anti-Vietnam War protests that took place in Chicago, Illinois during the 1968 Democratic Nation Convention.

Sorkin wrote and directed the film.

See below for five facts about the making of the film.

1) Tom Hayden Was Instrumental in the Writing of His Character

Sorkin combed through 21,000 pages of court documents — after all, the trial went on for almost five months. But what he couldn’t find in those documents were certain personality traits and relationship characteristics about individual people. That’s where Tom Hayden, played by Redmayne in the film, stepped in, before he passed away four years ago. Hayden was one of the men who took part in the riots and later ran for political office, winning seats in both the California Assembly and California Senate.

Sorkin told the audience that it was from him that he learned about Hayden’s at times tumultuous relationship with Abbie Hoffman (Cohen) — and that one of his famous speeches that many believed incited the riots actually came out differently than he had intended.

After the beating of Rennie Davis, he told protestors: “Make sure that if blood is going to flow, it will flow all over the city.” What he meant to say was “our blood.”

2) Grant Park Filming

Sorkin said they were able to shoot at the actual Grant Park in Chicago, where some of the protests took place. Because of that, Sorkin said, they were able to match archival footage with new shots in the film.

3) Sorkin Thought the Film Would Never Get Made

In 2006, Steven Spielberg told Sorkin that he wanted to make a movie about the riots at the 1968 Democratic Convention and the trials that followed.  At the time, though, Sorkin didn’t know to what extent he’d be involved, but in 2007, he wrote a script with Spielberg intended as director. However, budget concerns soon took Spielberg out of the running, and WGA strikes delayed filming to the point where it was suspended.

In 2018, the film was resurrected, with Sorkin announced as director. At the end of that year, the film was once again put on hold due to budgetary concerns, but was revived by Paramount and then sold to Netflix so the film could reach audiences before Election Day, given that the coronavirus has forced theater closures all over the world.

4) Sacha Baron Cohen Was Cast 13 Years Ago

Sorkin told drive-in audiences that Sacha Baron Cohen was cast as Abbie Hoffman 13 years ago by Spielberg. When the movie ramped up again in 2018, Cohen apparently called Sorkin and basically told him he shouldn’t even look at any other actor for the role of Abbie.

5) Sorkin Stole a Shot From This Famous Movie

Sorkin explained that he actually stole a shot from 1977’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” as a “homage to Steven.” He explained that there is a shot in “Chicago 7” with light shining in such a way that looks to be out of “Close Encounters.”  When you watch the film, see if you can figure out which shot he’s talking about. We don’t want to spoil anything.

Sorkin also said this film made him discover the way light and shadow can dramatically change a film.

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