Inspiration. Ambition.
Passion. Process. Technique.

By: Marina Fang

Promotional poster for SHE SAID

Host Marina Fang is joined by SHE SAID screenwriter Rebecca Lenkiewicz to discuss the process of collaborating with Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor, how screenwriting compares to the world of theater, creating a realistic depiction of journalism on screen, the importance of giving a voice to survivors, and more.

Rebecca Lenkiewicz is a screenwriter and playwright. Her plays have been performed in London and internationally including at London’s Royal National Theatre, and she has written numerous productions for BBC Radio.

As a screenwriter, she is known for co-writing the 2013 drama IDA, the 2017 romance DISOBEDIENCE, and the 2018 biopic COLETTE, as well as for her work on TV series SECRET DIARY OF A CALL GIRL, THE EDDY, and SMALL AXE.

SHE SAID is based on the groundbreaking New York Times investigation by reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, and their editor Rebecca Corbit, as well as Jodi and Megan’s book of the same name. The film follows Twohey and Kantor through the process of publishing the story that exposed sexual abuse allegations against Harvey Weinstein—and became a launching pad for the #MeToo movement, shattering decades of silence around the subject of sexual assault and harassment.

The film premiered in September 2022 at the New York Film Festival, and will be released in theaters in the US on November 18, 2022.

Marina Fang (she/her) is a senior culture reporter at HuffPost, based in New York. She primarily covers film and television, examining their intersection with politics, race and gender. She can be found on Twitter at @marinafang.

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Thanks for listening. Write on.


Speaker 1: Hello, you’re listening to On Writing a podcast from the Writer’s Guild of America East. In each episode, you’ll hear from the writers of your favorite films and television series. They’ll take you behind the scenes, go deep into the writing and production process, and explain how they got their project from the page to the screen.

Marina Fang: Hi, I’m Marina Fang, a senior culture reporter at Health Post, a Writer Guild of America East member and host of this episode of On Writing. I’m excited to be speaking with Rebecca Lenkiewicz, the screenwriter of She Said, from Universal Pictures. Directed by Maria Schrader and starring Zoe Kazan and Carey Mulligan. It’s based on the groundbreaking New York Times investigation by reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, and their editor Rebecca Corbit, as well as Jodi and Megan’s book of the same name. Rebecca, thank you so much for being here. Congratulations on the film. So, I read that you had the kind of unusual situation of getting the chapters of the book as Jodi and Megan were still writing it. How early were you involved in the film, and I guess even before that, how soon after they published their story was the film kind of starting to take shape?

Rebecca Lenkiewicz: Well, the article was published in October, and I was meeting Jeremy Kleiner and Dede Gardner a few months after that.

Marina Fang: Wow.

Rebecca Lenkiewicz: Yeah, very soon. And so kind of spring, summer, I think I met Jodi and Megan in New York in the summer. So, it was very soon, and they were writing the book, but they hadn’t finished it.

Marina Fang: Right. Am I right, that’s pretty unusual? I know it’s pretty common, sometimes a book gets optioned as it’s being finished or right as it’s coming out, but I feel like it’s pretty unusual to get the book as it’s still being written.

Rebecca Lenkiewicz: It was unusual and it was exciting. The excitement was that for a while I was adrift. I mean, I had a lot of information because I’d talked to them and I had some ideas and I’d been to the New York Times office and I’d met Jodi and Megan and I’d been to their homes. So, I had a lot of information and I had an idea how it would start, but I didn’t have the solid book itself. But what was exciting was seeing these drafts come through so suddenly that was a kind of life raft in the sea. And those drafts were changing too. They were editing those and they were discussing what they would call it as a title. So, it was very hot of the press and really wonderful to read. So, it was fantastically exciting to get these very top secret documents too that will explode in three days if you hadn’t read them. And it was really wonderful. Yeah.

Marina Fang: Did that change your kind of writing process as a screenwriter? How different was it? I mean, usually you’re dealing with maybe a complete work. But here you’re sort of dealing with drafts of the book and also your conversations with them and your observations. Yeah. How was your process maybe different than maybe it would’ve been had you had a complete book?

Rebecca Lenkiewicz: I think it was healthy in that it was pretty organic. I met them, I felt them in their terms of their rhythm and who they were. And I learned about their journalism, which was impeccable. And I talked to a lot of people at the New York Times. So, I was very concentrated on getting the journalism authentic and accurate. And the book helped with that. But what helped most of all was living, breathing people who just told me how it was about codes of conduct and ethics. And in terms of freedom, it was quite liberating to start without printed material, just to dive in and make marks on the laptop. And then when the chapters started coming in, they fed into it beautifully. So, it was like, there was a huge amount of information in the book, which I wasn’t aware of, and chapters, whole chapters that I couldn’t include in the film just because of length and detail, you would need nine hours to put it all in.

So, it was interesting. It was a really interesting process. And more than that, I felt I was giving the freedom to write. Writing is about the conditions that you are writing in that nobody’s looking over your shoulder, nobody’s pointing at you what you should do. It was a very free, wonderful process, both from the producers who were brilliant on script, Jeremy Kleiner and Dede Gardner, and from the journalists themselves who were incredibly supportive of Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor, they would read drafts and come back with ideas or inaccuracies, and it was incredibly boing and helpful.

Marina Fang: Yeah. I know one feature of the film that’s not in the book that Jodi and Megan and I know have talked about that was important was the toll that it took on them personally reporting the story, and especially as working parents having to juggle being parents while also working on this very time consuming story. What else from their conversations with you, did they kind of say, look, we really want this to be in the film. This wasn’t in the book, but we want this to be a big part of the story?

Rebecca Lenkiewicz: Well, in earlier drafts of the book, there was more personal detail.

Marina Fang: Oh, interesting.

Rebecca Lenkiewicz: And then they decided to edit down and edit down and edit down. So, that combined with being with them and hearing very explicit personal details of what was happening in parallel in their private lives. It felt very important to all of us that we present a very accurate portrayal of working mothers. That it’s not easy, but it’s also very important to show to your children that you are forging ahead, in this case, being unstoppable in terms of finding the truth whilst juggling small children. And I think it’s great to have that on screen. We don’t see that very often. We see girlfriends or we see mothers with strollers. Or we don’t see the combination of just juggling life.

Marina Fang: Yeah, definitely. You mentioned getting feedback from them as you were writing. What were some of the things that they pointed out to you or feedback that you got from them that you then kind of incorporated into later drafts?

Rebecca Lenkiewicz: Some were simply facts about timelines when things happened. But more pertinent were things like, I have to be more neutral. For instance, with Jodi’s dialogue about Trump, it had to be more neutral as a journalist than how I was portraying it just as a human being. So, I was sort of inaccurate. And that was really good to know that Megan, talking to Rachel Crooks, for instance, she would say it would be very useful for voters to be informed with information about Trump. But she couldn’t say something like, we have to stop him. It’s just not what a journalist says. That’s what I would say. So, it was just that difference between my gut reaction towards someone and a journalist’s very, well, very conscious speech to people.

Marina Fang: Yeah. You also mentioned the producers. I’m wondering, especially with something like this, which was evolving so quickly and is also deeply personal, involves real people’s lives. What were some of their notes, and I guess how did you try to incorporate their notes as things were kind of moving so quickly?

Rebecca Lenkiewicz: Well, nothing felt rushed. I wrote the first draft in a couple of months, and we read through that and they were incredibly supportive and encouraging and astute about the script. And at one point in the draft, there was a fictitious modern woman who had been subject to rape, and she was trying to put her case forward. And so I thought that would be interesting to have that amongst the whole of the film. But finally that came out because it wasn’t the right combination. We had to just stick to facts. But things like that, a film kind of meanders, a script does, and then it comes back to what it should be, which is much more, in this case, much more direct with a very sort of, pretty linear backbone. We experimented with chronology and timelines and all sorts, and then you kind of find the rhythm and you find this kind of the backbone I like to call it, of the film. And you follow that.

Marina Fang: Yeah, I was curious about that. How did you land on the eventual structure of the film, which is starting with that flashback to later we know, we learned that it’s Laura. And then basically moving chronologically from in 2016, and then obviously as they were reporting in 2017.

Rebecca Lenkiewicz: Well, it went backwards and forwards quite a lot in terms of how it would be finally. And then even in the edit, things change. So, I mean, a film is obviously a very fluid creature. But the flashbacks to me, and flashback is never a word which I think I’ll use because it’s quite hard to combine sometimes. But it was very important to me that we would visually see how young these women who had been attacked or victimized. And there’s nothing like seeing a young woman rather than the present day survivor saying, well, I was 23. Seeing someone who was 23 is very potent. So, I wanted to see these women in their youth because it underlined how hideous these attacks were and how much grooming of career and grooming of someone who’s just finding their voice was part of the pattern.

Marina Fang: Yeah, I loved that line that Jennifer Lee has of having her voice taken away just as she was finding it. And I really liked how you show all these women really thriving, having so much potential, really being excited about getting started in the industry and then having that all just go away. And yeah, I’m wondering, I know you spoke to some of the survivors for this. What were some things that they told you that ended up in the script? And I guess more broadly, how did spending time with them really help you to, help inform this writing process?

Rebecca Lenkiewicz: Well, I felt it was an essential and respectful to meet them all if I was going to portray them in words. And I met Laura Madden and we had lunch by a beach in Swanzi, and those were Laura’s literal words about her voice and just finding her voice, and then it being stopped. And that stopped my heart when we were talking. It was so incredibly sad. And yet, Laura has an amazing children and a great life, and she’s brilliant. But these moments where you are stopped in life when you should be thriving. And the same with Rowena, who I met in London, just how much shame can be involved when one is not guilty of anything.

And this has been historic, that women are ashamed. And shame, the word shame came up a lot. And I spent a great day with Zelda Perkins, just talking through how the life was, just to understand the daily routines and why people put up with the behavior. And Rowena Chew had told me that from the very first he was seeking out what you would take, what behavior you would put up with. He was so conscious in his choosing of who to push. And so it was fascinating to meet all three of them who were incredible and brilliant, and to see what life really was back then, rather than a snapshot or a log line. Just the day in a [inaudible 00:13:48] of it.

Marina Fang: Yeah, I really thought it was powerful in some of those scenes that when there’s the descriptions of the abuse, you combined the voiceover with those shots of the empty hotel room or the hallway. I’m wondering, how did you land on that choice? Was it originally in the script or was it something that kind of came about with Maria and as you were shooting?

Rebecca Lenkiewicz: It was always in the script. It was a very strong decision that we didn’t want to show any attacks. I didn’t want any single still from the film to look, to be a woman being attacked. We hear the attacks through the voices of the survivors, and although that’s harrowing in itself, I feel like it is giving them a voice. And sometimes in the naming of things, there can be healing and you put it out into the world. So, a lot of the words said by the actors who portray the survivors are verbatim from Laura and Rowena and Zelda. And that was important as was the decision not to show Weinstein as a full bodied man with a face. We didn’t want him inhabiting the same space. So, that came from rage, I would say. Although his presence is everywhere, there was a desire for him to be a, kind of disappeared.

Marina Fang: I think it allows these survivors to give them that voice back almost.

Rebecca Lenkiewicz: Yeah. And there is Weinstein’s real voice in the tape. And we felt that was important just to see how impossible it was to get away from him. Just this thundering, bullying, monstrous force. Yeah, I think that some people thought it was about flirtation or something. It was about the women weren’t flirting, they were just being forced into a corner. And I think a lot of women who were victimized felt they wanted the record to be put straight.

And quite a few of them have come forward to me to say that they feel it has been in terms of how terrifying he was. And in terms of the hotel being a place of work, another thing people kept saying was, why would you go to someone’s hotel room? Isn’t that naive? Well, there was no naivety involved. That was a place of business. So, details that are very important just because the public don’t know these things.

Marina Fang: Turning to the subject of journalism and how to depict that visually. One thing that I think a lot about as a journalist who covers culture, I feel like it’s a hard profession to depict visually, because there’s a lot of, I mean, to be honest, our jobs are not that interesting visually. Sometimes it’s a lot of just typing and being on the phone and staring at a computer screen. So, I’m wondering, how did you find the balance of making journalism tasks visually interesting without taking too many liberties or maintaining the accuracy of what journalists do?

Rebecca Lenkiewicz: Let’s say that the film is about 95% accurate to the truth, and then there’s 5% artistic license where an email became a phone call, just because it’s more interesting to hear someone’s voice. But it is their voice in the email. But to actually voice it. So, a little bit of animation there. But a lot of it was just relying on the performances of the actors. And Maria Schrader had these amazing performances, primarily by Zoe Kazan and Carey Mulligan, who I think are quite electric to watch. So, watching them on a phone is really interesting.

But also to place that phone call where it might be an obstacle at home, which was real. These were authentic events where suddenly the subject of abuse is coming up in your front room where your young child is, and you don’t want her to hear it. These were all taken from life because life is always more interesting than some fiction. So, yeah, just kind of the place of it, the reaction to it, who’s involved with it, and just being mindful that people don’t want to read a lot of text on screens.

Marina Fang: Definitely.

Rebecca Lenkiewicz: Yeah.

Marina Fang: Yeah. I also noticed sometimes you had different ways of just creating some variety. Maybe someone’s reading the memo or an email over voiceover, or we only see one side of the phone call and we hear the other side. Or instead of just having, I feel like it would’ve been pretty boring to just have a bunch of closeups of someone on the phone or reading or. Yeah, I guess what was the sort of rhyme or reason in choosing when to do each thing?

Rebecca Lenkiewicz: It’s just a rhythm thing really. When you’re writing, you find the rhythm to something and something feels right, and you want to see the reaction on someone’s face at a certain point. I mean, I think face is a fascinating, so a reliance on that. But really, I suppose writing must be a conscious activity, but a lot of what I do feels quite just about rhythm. It’s quite unconscious. And then you look back at it and you think, does that stand? Or could it be better? Could it be stronger? Is that going to have an impact? So, write it all out, and then you edit and hone and get the backbone stronger and make it kind of water tight. And also the journalists that you’re depicting are so brilliant at their job that you want the screenwriting to reflect that. That this is a fast, very searching flinty investigation. So, that rhythm informs your rhythm.

Marina Fang: Right. And sometimes you just kind of know, like you said, sometimes it’s unconscious and you are just like, all right, I think this works.

Rebecca Lenkiewicz: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. And then another layer happens with Maria directing it and the actors taking it into their arms. It’s a shared collaboration, so the screenplay is a kind of map, and they make it three dimensional, which is incredible. It’s incredible for me to watch. I have written most of the words, but it’s kind of incredible to see it come to life. Scenes that you think, oh yeah, this is a linking scene. And it’s important suddenly become seismic because of the performances that come out of it.

Marina Fang: Yeah. How many drafts did you ultimately end up with?

Rebecca Lenkiewicz: I think probably about five. Five solid back forth, back forth. But it wasn’t years and years, obviously, because it was only four years ago that the events were happening. And I think it was about a year and a half of just touring, throwing, and then some talk with Maria Schrader when Maria came on board to direct. So, it was an ongoing discussion, really. Yeah.

Marina Fang: You mentioned earlier just having things in the book that you just couldn’t include. What were some of those? And also why, I imagine there are a whole list of reasons why you might just not, either you just don’t need it, or it just is hard to depict visually, or you need more time, like you mentioned.

Rebecca Lenkiewicz: Well, for instance, there’s quite a lot about Bob Weinstein, Harvey’s brother and their relationship and how tense it was at the office, culminating in them hitting each other. And I wasn’t interested in that aspect because the journalists didn’t see it, they heard about it. So, I was very much going from their point of view and keeping within their eyes and ears. So, a lot of the editing of the book was quite easy, simple cuts in terms of you weren’t there. This is gathered information. And also I felt the film should be incredibly female.

So, I felt an instinct towards everything that was woman rather than man in terms of who we follow and why we follow them. With a few notable exceptions, some of the journalists at the New York Times and Owen Writer, who very bravely was the witness. And then there were great support, great husbands who were very supportive. And all of that is true and authentic. So, they were kind of gifts, gifts of men because it was nice to see some good men there. And also great to see a working environment led by Dean Baquet so brilliantly that it doesn’t have to be [inaudible 00:24:15], it doesn’t have to be all about power. It can just be about people working together, which is really incredible.

Marina Fang: It struck me that this film has a lot of processes that sometimes have to be explained to the audience, and sometimes there can be a risk of having too much of dialogue serving as exposition or introducing a person when … or the audience needs to know who the person is. But sometimes it’s unnatural for someone to be like, this is so and so. But sometimes you kind of just have to do it so that the audience knows. How did you figure out that balance of when you need something to be explained through dialogue and when there’s another way to do that visually, or if it was just sort of unnatural to do that?

Rebecca Lenkiewicz: Well, some of the time you just dive in with information. So, visiting Schmidt with the accounts and just talking about payments with a wife next to him, you know what I mean, that really happened. But you just dive in and you hope that people will join the dots because there’s not too many dots to join. Sometimes it was about getting information over. And for instance, I thought it was incredibly important that NDAs were obviously a huge part of the story and the system that enabled Weinstein. And Jodi and Megan were investigating NDAs generally alongside to see where their strengths or weaknesses lay.

And they saw that none of the law schools were studying NDAs. So, it’s almost like these nondisclosure agreements are kind of under the table. They’re just there and they’re so gagging and binding. And law students don’t even study them. And I thought that was incredible. So, that’s just a tiny bit of information, but how do you get that on screen? And in the end, it was kind of like a bundle of quite excited, well, I wouldn’t say excited because they’re more professional than that. But a bundle of enthusiastic information from Megan and Jodi feeding back on what they found. And you do think, oh, that’s a lot of words and a lot of information, but that these actresses can make it animated and great.

Marina Fang: And it makes sense. I think what it’s a journalism movie, of course, a lot of the work of journalists involves updating your editor kind of where you are in the story. And that kind of lends itself naturally to having those scenes where they have to explain what’s going on, and therefore that helps also the audience to know what’s going on.

Rebecca Lenkiewicz: Yeah, absolutely. And at one point, Rebecca Corbett and Matt Purdy talking to Megan, and we wanted to make it the second half of the conversation more personal about the baby. And Matt gets a phone call and goes out, it’s kind of like, use a device. It’s very simple, oh, have to go. And suddenly the conversation changes gear a little. So, these things are very simple. But it’s just structuring something so that, I think originally that was two scenes. But we thought, let’s make it into one scene and see what happens. So, there was a more female scene, and then there was a more just about work scene. And then we thought, well, we can just mix the two, but evicted Matt at some point with a phone call.

Marina Fang: Are there other tricks or maybe not tricks or techniques that are helpful that where just having a character leave the room or something like that, that kind of helps break things up a bit? Or just finding ways to make something visually more interesting?

Rebecca Lenkiewicz: Well, again, I think it’s about rhythm and also how much information we can withhold. You give people a break from information for a while so that the information coming later is exciting, don’t overload each scene. You might have a very vocal scene. And then I would err towards a non dialog scene after that so that we are processing as we are watching the next scene. I think scenes where people are alone are very interesting. So, with this, I was very much interested in the public face of the journalists and then the private face. And that’s throughout the film too, just private moments of people, Jodi waking up in bed with a phone call and a slight light on her face. I think it’s very interesting when things feel very private and you literally are looking into someone’s private life. I think that’s interesting.

Marina Fang: Yeah, I think one of those, I guess, sort of combines the public and the private, but I really liked that a lot of the film is built around the conversations that Jodi and Megan had with all of the sources. And for me as a journalist, I felt like it was important because it gives the viewer a window into what it’s like to get people to come forward and how hard that is and how hard it is to then sit with them as they tell you something very difficult or something that they’re not allowed to say. Or whatever it is. Including those in pretty great detail, what did you want to capture about those conversations?

Rebecca Lenkiewicz: Well, it was hard to capture them. And what we have on film is not an accurate portrayal because for instance, if Jodi was finally talking to a survivor, she wouldn’t just dive into tell me about it, how was it, what happened. It was a very gradual and sensitive series of conversations. So, what we show on screen, for instance, with Laura Madden is after a lot of buildup, a lot of preparation. And so Jodi would say, can I ask you this question? Can I ask you that question? You can say, I don’t want to answer it, but here’s a question, here’s a question.

And it was very sort of building up a relationship and a conversation incrementally. But I suppose Filmically quite hard to do. So, we did take a liberty there in saying, okay, here was this conversation and here was this conversation. And what we show is a summation of all those different conversations, which were delicately built up. So, it was months of work put into, here I am at the restaurant, tell me what you’ve got. And so that is inaccurate, but I felt that it’s in the spirit of what they did and that it would’ve been kind of nigh impossible to show each kind of inching towards phone call.

Marina Fang: Yeah.

Rebecca Lenkiewicz: Perhaps it could have worked, but the rhythm felt like you want to meet the person and have a whole conversation.

Marina Fang: And a lot of that is, like you said, it’s emails, it’s phone calls, it’s a lot of time.

Rebecca Lenkiewicz: But it’s very gradual, as you know, with journalism. It’s gradual. So, it is a more brash telling, but I couldn’t see a different way of doing it.

Marina Fang: Yeah. Was there ever a point where the producers wanted to do this as a miniseries at all?

Rebecca Lenkiewicz: They didn’t talk about it, but there would absolutely be enough material for a miniseries. Yeah. There was so much detail and it would work very well in seven hours or however many hours. But the producers, they produce Moonlight, 12 Years a Slave. They love making films and I love making films. And there’s something very satisfying about seeing the arc of this story just go from nobody knows to at the end push the button and everyone knows. So, there’s something about the volition of it in a two hours, eight minutes, which is incredibly inviting as opposed to, and next week. I think it’s rather healing to see the whole thing and to let out the emotion. Because I do think it’s an uplifting film. It’s about a collective of women who changed events, changed systems. They kind of reignited a huge amount of interest in Tara Burke’s Me Too movement. They’ve changed the way things work in Hollywood. It’s not fixed, but there are changes. It’s seismic what happened, it’s historic. So, I think it’s rather satisfying to see it in one complete telling.

Marina Fang: Yeah, definitely. Of course, I couldn’t help but think about some of the other journalism movies throughout history, and I’m wondering if you drew from any of those, or did you try not to. Did to think about them? Or were there certain elements that you didn’t want to try to recreate or replicate?

Rebecca Lenkiewicz: Well, I saw Spotlight when it came out and was very moved by it and the journalism in it was brilliant. But what I also remembered was the survivors. I remembered where they were when they were telling their story. I remember their faces. I thought that they were depicted with such honesty and respect. So, I wanted to honor the witnesses and the survivors who had contributed so hugely to the investigation. And then I rewatched Spotlight sometime into the writing and thought, yes, it’s incredibly strong and brilliant. And then there were whisperings of, oh, this is a female, all the president’s men. And I’d seen that years ago and really enjoyed it.

But after finishing draft, after draft, I did rewatch it, just to see are there parallels. And I don’t think they’re very similar films. I think it’s a brilliant film, and it’s the only film that William Goldman said, I wish that had never happened to me. He had a terrible time on it. But it’s a beautiful depiction of journalism. But they’re all very different films. But I think that, especially at the moment with such fake news and journalists being really fighting for their lives in many ways, I do think it’s important to show brilliant investigative journalism and how much it contributes to society. It’s very impressive. So, that was important to get it right.

Marina Fang: Yeah, definitely. I wanted to back up a bit and talk about your career more broadly. I know you originally trained as an actor and did some acting for a couple years. Why did you make the shift into writing? And then how did you start to find your footing as a playwright?

Rebecca Lenkiewicz: Well, I wrote a play before I was an actor.

Marina Fang: Oh.

Rebecca Lenkiewicz: Yeah, because I was going through some sort of depression and doing this crazy CD job, and I wrote about it. I kind of wrote it out of my system and it became a comedy. And I thought that was interesting that from tragedy there came comedy. And that was in my early 20s. And then I trained to be an actor for three years and acted for seven years, and absolutely loved acting. But I wasn’t hugely successful. I either did great parts in fringe or tiny parts at the national or the RSC. So, there was a lot of temping. And with the temping I was writing to keep myself sane at night.

I would write, and I loved the writing. And then the writing got busier and I gave up the acting. But I never regretted the acting. I loved it and made brilliant friends who are still my friends and also had that feeling of being part of something, which is less so in writing because a lot of it is quite solitary. But that feeling of being part of a company is wonderful. And as well as the huge hard work, there’s a lot of fun. And I admire actors hugely. I think they’re on the front line in terms of making anything. And I think it helped with the writing, just having said words, it was a good training for writing. Yeah.

Marina Fang: Yeah. I was going to ask you that. That was my follow up, was how does the acting experience kind of inform the writing?

Rebecca Lenkiewicz: Well, hugely, because first of all, you realize how difficult acting is and that you can’t just point to actors and say, do this, do that. That there is such a process, deeply complex process to create a role. And to be honest, on stage is so hard, and your job is to give the actor as much help and ballast with that as possible so that it’s not about what you want to say, it’s about what the character needs to say. So, it’s interesting. It’s very interesting.

Marina Fang: Yeah. And then how did you start writing for the screen? And I guess before that, was there ever any interest in adapting your plays for the screen, either from just on your part or from producers?

Rebecca Lenkiewicz: Yeah, there was some interest. But it didn’t, like I did a play about the suffragettes. There was a lesbian love story in the middle of it that was the center of it. And they said, we want to make a film, but as long as you make it a straight love story. So, I said, let’s not do that. And I was writing plays for a decade before I was writing screen and loving writing plays. I mean, hard work, but brilliant. And then I kind of crossed over Kristin Scott Thomas wanted to make a film and she asked me to adapt a book. So, I did that. And from that, I just started putting my toe and foot into screenplays. And then I met [inaudible 00:39:26] and we met at a party and ended up, I ended up co-writing either with him. Although he already had a script of it and he didn’t like the script. And so we started again on that. So, it was quite an organic way into film.

Marina Fang: What are some skills that, from playwriting, that translated to screenwriting? And then the flip side of that, what was sort the learning curve or things you had to learn as you were getting into screenwriting?

Rebecca Lenkiewicz: The hierarchies are quite different because in playwriting, everyone is very conscious if they want to change punctuation, let alone a word. So, you get used to a lot of questions in theater about why you’ve written it this way, why you’ve written it that way. And there are similarities. But I would say that film, of course, is a series of dances. You write the screenplay, then the director sees what they want to do with it, and then the act to see what they want to do with it. It’s kind of more a series of processes. And with a play, if you’ve written a play, you might have four weeks to rehearse it and put it on. So, you’re in it together, you change the ending, you see a preview, see if it works.

Actors give you feedback and say, can I say this? It’s very sort of live as it should be. Whereas the writing of a film can go on for a decade. And draft and draft and draft. So, they’re just very different processes. But I do think that essentially you’re always after interesting psychology and interesting stories and surprises. They are very different mediums, but I think that it’s very possible to cross from one into the other. Just the same with acting isn’t this huge division anymore between theater acting and film acting, it’s basically about telling the truth. It’s just how you size it in a theater and as opposed to in front of a camera.

Marina Fang: Yeah. How do you compare, I know you’ve also done TV as well, and then in a couple of TV writers rooms, looking at theater versus film versus TV. Is there one that you kind of prefer over the other, or are they just hard to compare?

Rebecca Lenkiewicz: I don’t prefer one over the other, but I do think it’s great if you can combine them because they are very different experiences. And so I think in terms of finding sanity, it can be really satisfying to mix them.

Marina Fang: Speaking of TV, I wanted to ask a little bit about that. Because I know a lot of people listening to this podcast probably have done sort of like you said, a mix of all three. What did you learn from TV? And also, I guess from being in a writer’s room, and I feel like that’s sort of its own experience compared to being a playwright. Being a screenwriter, when mostly it’s you rewriting the script or maybe with a collaborator.

Rebecca Lenkiewicz: I’ve done a lot more theater and film than television. I’ve had a little bit of experience in TV, but I’ve had nothing on TV compared to the films and plays that I’ve had produced. So, I know writers who just adore TV, but it hasn’t really happened for me in that way. The writer’s room, the one writer’s room I was in, was absolutely fantastic, brilliant writers. And it was wonderful feeling of collaboration and stories and very generous atmosphere. But actually having television on screen, it hasn’t really, I’m doing a few projects at the moment, which hopefully might happen. But I’ve had the sat quite a lot, so that’s me on telly.

Marina Fang: Has your approach to writing shifted or changed as you’ve worked in these different mediums, or, I don’t know if you feel differently about it or if your perspective has changed a bit?

Rebecca Lenkiewicz: I had an important phone call today with Nina Steiger at the National Theater about a play. And I said to her, it’s strange, the more you write in some ways, the more vulnerable you feel. You’d think it would be different that you feel stronger and stronger, but it’s almost like the act of doing another play and another film, it is like a boxing ring. It’s a fantastically enjoyable process, but you have to be very tough and at the same time, very fragile to let ideas in and to let things happen. So, it’s an odd mix. And I do find that you don’t get more robust. Your craft is more and more honed, and you feel like you could do certain things standing on your head, and that’s great. But your don’t become a pachyderm in terms of being criticized or wanting to be liked. It’s all still very, very complex. And every day I think a mixture of, I can do this and can I do this. So, it’s interesting. It’s a very interesting life, but I don’t think it’s what anyone imagines a writer’s life is.

Marina Fang: Yeah. What did you imagine a writer’s life would be, and how is it compared as you’ve actually done it for so many years?

Rebecca Lenkiewicz: I don’t think I had too much time to imagine what it would be like, because I kind of went straight in and I still derive an incredible amount of joy from it. But I think other people perceive it as a life of incredible freedom and inspiration and romantic. And I wouldn’t put romantic at the top of the list of what it feels like to be a writer or glamorous.

Marina Fang: Yeah. Do you feel like you have more power now as a writer having done so many things, and especially now that you’ve had a lot of screenwriting under your belt, do you feel like you can kind of say yes or no to different things?

Rebecca Lenkiewicz: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. I feel like I have a voice in the industry and that’s good. And I can say no to anything. That’s something. And I feel responsible for making things, for putting women in the center. I feel that it’s not something to toy with that as you get older, there is, it’s not like you have to wave a flag. But with a voice comes responsibility. And so you choose your stories more carefully in terms of what impact they will have, especially with, well all medium, but more people will see films than they will see plays. So, you want to know that for instance, She Said, I hope that a lot of young women will see it and feel solidarity and that they’re shoulder to shoulder with any other young women who having a negative experience. Things like that, you feel part of your tribe and that you should be attending to that.

Marina Fang: Yeah. What makes, you answered this a bit, but what kind of makes you say yes to something and as you’re considering whether it’s a screenplay or a play, and also just figuring out the balance of the work that you do?

Rebecca Lenkiewicz: I think more and more it’s about the people you work with. So, it’s absolutely the subject matter. Do I want to write that? But I would never write something now unless I felt I had the right conditions to express myself. So, it’s about working with people who you feel you really are excited by, and who give you the right conditions to be writing in, which is freedom.

Marina Fang: Yeah. You mentioned you have a couple other projects coming up. Is there anything that you, I’m sure some of them are things you maybe can’t talk about. But what are some things that you can talk about that you want to talk about?

Rebecca Lenkiewicz: Well, the call today was about a play for the national theater, possibly. But an incredible Indian female spy in the Second World War. And that’s a story that has been with me for a long time and started as a screenplay and didn’t get made. So, I have made it into a play and hoped that it will be on. So, it is quite interesting how things come out in the end about a woman called, Noor Inayat Khan. And she kind of won’t leave my body until I have put her somewhere, which is interesting because you do get an emotional relationship with the people you write. Differently if you are writing real people like Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, you still feel emotionally involved with them, but you realize these are real people. But if you’re taking someone from the past who’s dead and you are kind of resurrecting them, you sort of become them for a little while. And couple of TV series that are exciting and a couple of films that might happen. So, yeah, all really interesting projects.

Marina Fang: Yeah. You feel like we’re at a good place to wrap. I guess, was there anything else that you wanted to say that I didn’t ask about or anything that you just felt like it was important to get across?

Rebecca Lenkiewicz: No, I think you’ve done a brilliant job of asking everything that’s in my head. Is there anything that you feel …

Marina Fang: I had a few other questions, but I also just felt, I felt like this was a good ending point, talking about where you are right now and just your big broad approach to how you choose what to write about and what to dedicate your time to as a writer.

Rebecca Lenkiewicz: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I think in my 20s I wrote about my own dysfunctional love life, and then there was more of that in my 30s. And then since then, I think politics has come more into the fore, just in terms of being female. That’s a political act, and I do think that film is such an incredible medium for getting information out to people. It’s so powerful and we must use it well. Yeah.

Speaker 1: On Writing is a production of The Writer’s Guild of America East. This series was created and is produced by Jason Gordon. Our associate producer and designer is Molly Beer. Tech production and original music by Taylor Bradshaw and Stock Boy Creative. You can learn more about the writer Guild of America East online at You can follow the Guild on all social media platforms at WGA East. If you like this podcast, please subscribe and rate us. Thank you for listening. And write on.


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