She Said is one of the quietest yet most critically-acclaimed films of the 2022-2023 awards season. The film tells the true story of the New York Times reporters Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor as they investigated and brought to light the decades of sexual abuse and misconduct by Harvey Weinstein, one of the most powerful men in Hollywood.
On Oct. 5, 2017, Twohey, Kantor, and Rebecca Corbett published their findings, along with on-the-record testimonies from Weinstein’s victims. After the article was published, over 80 women came forward with their own allegations against Weinstein — further proof of one of the themes of She Said: “safety in numbers.”
She Said is an excellent example of how to adapt a story from a news article and how to weave together multiple characters and an expansive timeline into a coherent and meaningful story. It also has merits on its own as a film whose villain remains a menacing threat without being centered. Thankfully, with an ending steeped in justice after the article was published, an investigation and series of trials led to a guilty conviction and 23-year sentence for rape and sexual assault in New York, which Weinstein is currently serving.
This article explores how screenwriter Rebecca Lenkiewicz successfully navigated the adaptation of the article and book and wrote her compelling screenplay.
She Said Overview
Highly esteemed actress Ashely Judd is one of the women Weinstein harassed — and she was also one of the women who agreed to be named in the New York Times article. She went on to play herself in the unflinching film. She is far from alone among the victims portrayed in the film, whose wounds and struggles at Weinstein’s hand spanned decades.
Twohey and Kantor adapted their story into a book, She Said, half of the saying “he said, she said” — a phrase suggesting two sides to every story. In this case, Weinstein’s story was one side with at least eighty other sides, all pointing to his history of abuse enabled by others who benefited from his Hollywood success.
Determine Which Aspects of the Story Are Most Important
When adapting a true story, it’s critical to use a discerning eye when choosing which parts of the story you want to tell. The original New York Times article could have been adapted by focusing on Weinstein as the protagonist. A protagonist that unravels as the female journalists hound him and grow closer and closer to exposing him before finally landing him in jail.
Indeed, serial killer and true crime content are extremely popular today, as people have a morbid fascination with crime and corruption.
Instead, the storytellers rightfully emphasized the themes of the Weinstein downfall and featured them up front and center of She Said. By recognizing that this was a story about gender inequality, women’s empowerment, and the fight for justice and accountability, it’s clear the only way to adapt this story in good conscience would be to focus on the women in it.
Here, too, Lenkiewicz, Kantor, and Twohey used discernment to bring this She Said to life. There are multiple storylines featured: the investigation itself and the crimes against the women. By centering on the journalists, She Said conveyed the gravity and number of Weinstein’s crimes. Kantor and Twohey led the charge and gave a voice to so many women who had been silenced for so long.
From a screenwriting perspective, this helped demonstrate how challenging it is to uncover truths that criminals (especially powerful ones) work to keep hidden. It captured intrigue and illustrated the stakes. And finally, it humanized the victims and gave them justice.
Read More: How to Master Creative Liberties in True Story Screenplays
Conveying the Passage of Time
Two of the first assaults reported in the New York Times article happened in 1992 and 1998. Weinstein’s abuse continued in the three decades leading up to 2017 when most of the film takes place. Screenwriter Rebecca Lenkiewicz uses a few different techniques to depict that passage of time — and she keenly jumped back and forth at the most meaningful moments.
By beginning with a series of flashbacks, She Said foreshadows and hints at the trauma experienced by Weinstein’s victims: young women like Laura Madden, who was “excited…very young…and incredibly keen,” who is first seen on set in Ireland at the age of twenty-run before revealing her running through the street, weeping, half-dressed, fleeing. The script doesn’t say what happened to her, but because it is She Said and because we now know about Harvey Weinstein, we know.
Later in the film, a now mid-40s Laura agrees to talk with Jodi about her experience and how deeply it derailed and hurt her. Finally, by the end, she decides to go on the record and be named in the article — as a sledgehammer to Weinstein.
The film introduces young versions of Laura and another victim, Rowena Chiu, who was twenty-seven when Weinstein assaulted her. The experience caused her to attempt to take her own life. The adult versions speak with the reporters in present-day. Then, once the women’s stories come together for the article leading to Weinstein’s imprisonment, the screenplay returns to the young versions of the women during their darkest times and offers them a glimmer of hope.
Time Through Pregnancy
The investigation took the better part of 2017, and the storytellers offer another clever instrument to convey the passage of time: Megan Twohey’s pregnancy, especially fitting in a story about female empowerment. As Twohey announces her pregnancy and we watch her belly grow before she finally gives birth and her baby ages, we can see just how long Twohey and Kantor spent on that one article.
This should be a solemn reminder of the diligence of ethical journalism and an explanation as to why this New York Times article may not be free to read without a subscription.
The Looming Villian
The creature is often inescapable in monster films — think Jurassic Park or Alien or horror films like Halloween. You see T-Rex in epic fashion. The image of the chest-burster haunts you. Michael Myers’ horrible masks are unmistakable pop culture icons.
Perhaps even more sinister, however, is when the enemy lurks in the shadows, unseen but felt. In these moments, the imagination takes over. Danger could be anywhere — could be everywhere. The moment of attack is unknown, so vigilance, stress, fear, and tension are constant.
This is how She Said portrays Harvey Weinstein. The assaults happened in the past to young women who least expected them — but his threat looms throughout the entire film, via gag orders, legal threats, promises to undo careers, or maybe even by violence at the hands of the followers of powerful men. He doesn’t even appear on camera, though his voice is heard in two phone calls. Instead, his air of invincibility hangs thick, a beast that can only be conquered when brave women come together.
A film doesn’t have to have a happy ending to be satisfying, but it must provide closure to the story it tells. Luckily in She Said, the storytellers gave us both.
Read More: 15 Types of Villains Screenwriters Need to Know
Giving Characters Their Due
She Said managed to tackle many different characters’ journeys, needs, and storylines, from Twohey and Kantor — young wives and mothers pursuing their careers in journalism and a quest to uncover the truth — to each of Harvey Weinstein’s victims mentioned or portrayed throughout the film. The film hinted at Gwenyth Paltrow’s abuse, featured conversations with Rose McGowen, and brought Ashley Judd onscreen to stand in her power against Weinstein. It used sensitivity when depicting what happened to Laura Madden and Rowena Chiu and gave their adult versions some healing.
She Said also told a story of the takedown of a giant, a powerful monster who almost got away with his crimes and behavior again — but was thwarted by the team of women who came together to stop him.
Each heroine was portrayed with dignity and complexity, illustrating her fears, needs, strengths, and, thankfully, her victories. Weinstein’s sentencing didn’t undo the damage he caused to so many lives, but it stopped his abuse and made him pay, even a little.
Writing With Purpose
There is a question often posed to writers when pitching a story or script: “Why you and why now?” Getting to the heart of why you want to tell a story can add meaning to a project. In the case of She Said, the purpose is quite clear: topple the misogyny of unequal power dynamics and uphold justice, particularly in the wake of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements.
Social media has made fake news and clickbait journalism rampant, causing distrust in our nation’s free press. The journalism and investigative reporting conducted in She Said depicts ethical journalism and its power in the fight for justice and accountability.
Meanwhile, the fight for gender equality in the workplace continues to rage on, and She Said offers a glimpse into the casualties of misogyny by sharing the stories of victims. The title itself, She Said, is a challenge to believe women who come forward about abuse at the hands of men — in this case, even men who make great films and employ many people.
She Said thoughtfully and empathetically used its characters and their struggles as placeholders for women everywhere: young women starting their careers in a world of men, working mothers, women with reputations and careers to protect, and anyone with a story of injustice that never received closure or healing.
Read More: 5 Ways Becoming a Pro Screenwriter Will Change Your Writing Process
Events in life don’t always happen in an entertaining way, so a good storyteller must also become an artist in their interpretation and presentation of history. Sometimes it is necessary to make changes to events, conversations, or even characters in order to get to the heart and intention of a story and present it in a way that will be compelling and entertaining.
You can read about the backlash against Andrew Dominik’s Blonde, an adaption of Joyce Carol Oates’ novel about a semi-fictionalized caricature of Marilyn Monroe, to understand how missing the heart of a true series of events or misrepresenting a real person can be frustrating. Whether or not storytellers are obligated to the truth is a debate for another day. Still, it should go without saying that depicting real events and lives will inherently spark curiosity and a sense of investment from your audience. Plan accordingly.
If you have a true story or public domain screenplay, check out the Screencraft True Story & Public Domain Competition, which celebrates true stories, biographies, and adaptations of stories and characters in the public domain!
This year, writers who alternatively do not yet have a screenplay but instead have a true crime book, article, podcast, or even unique footage or access can submit Treatment entries. One winner will be selected by Buffalo 8 and BondIt Media Capital to receive an exclusive development opportunity with shopping to streamer, studio, and network buyers!
Shannon Corbeil is a writer, actor, and U.S. Air Force veteran in Los Angeles with recent appearances on SEAL Team and The Rookie. She was also a 2023 DGE TV Writing Program Finalist, and her screenplays have placed in various contests. You can read more about her on her website or come play on Instagram and Twitter!
The post How ‘She Said’ Adapted a Bombshell NYT News Article About Harvey Weinstein appeared first on ScreenCraft.
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Author: Shannon Corbeil