Writing a biopic, or learning what to save for the podcast

Quick note: If you missed me on Law and Order: SVU last month, you can still catch the episode on Hulu. (Episode 18: “Blackout”… Again, you really only need to watch the first five minutes to see me.)

April is always a big month for writing. A lot of the prestigious contests and labs have deadlines around May 1st. While I certainly don’t believe in pinning hopes on contests, I do value having an annual deadline by which I can try to finish any new drafts. I’m excited that by this upcoming May 1st, I should have two new scripts in the mix. My writing partner Corinne and I are addressing some notes and finishing revisions on our latest comedy feature, Spaceboat. And I am almost done with an initial draft of my biopic about the first woman in Congress, Jeannette Rankin—titled On Her Own.

Writing a period piece has its challenges (see my prior post about carrying heavy books around), but it’s been fun to work on something that’s so different and new for me. I’d say the trickiest thing that I’m navigating right now is balancing the different levels of “truth” in a true story. There is factual accuracy—what literally happened and when. Then, there is emotional/story/thematic accuracy—what’s the spirit of what happened and its larger significance. I’m working on finding the right balance between these things. I want to tell as truthful and accurate of a story as I can, while remembering that this is a two-hour narrative film, not a several hundred page long biography or even a documentary. That means I’ve had to combine characters for clarity. I’ve had to place characters into settings they weren’t actually in so that I can merge scenes, make them more active, and keep the story moving. I’ve reordered a few events, dropped details that felt confusing/distracting, and of course, I’ve had to make up most of the dialogue. But my hope in all of this is that I’m presenting my take on the bigger truth of who I think Jeannette was and what I see as the lessons to be learned from the role she played on the national stage.

One of the hardest things in writing about a person’s life is deciding what to include and what to leave out. I had a great call with my manager about the draft a few nights ago, and I kept telling her about all these little interesting details and side stories that didn’t make it into the script. My way to feel better about excluding these fun tidbits is to say that I’m “saving them for the podcast”—you know, that really cool historical companion podcast that will obviously accompany the release of the film and dig into all the tangential stories I find fascinating. So, if you’re having trouble cutting something that you know shouldn’t be there but is super cool and interesting, I encourage you to imagine you’re “saving it for the podcast.”


Quick updates: On the note of screenwriting contests, Scattering Jake made to the Top 50 of The Tracking Board’s Launch Pad feature contest. The FS2P lab I’m in is progressing nicely—we’re practicing our pitches and working on budgeting our films. I have a new short film script I’m hoping to shoot in the next month or so.

Check back for more soon!


Erica TachoirComment