“She Said” screenwriter Rebecca Lenkiewicz has said the New York Times journalists who broke the Harvey Weinstein story in 2017 fed her chapters of their book as they were writing it in order to bring the novel to screen sooner.
Speaking as part of a Variety-sponsored London Film Festival panel on screenwriting, the British scribe of such films as the Keira Knightley-fronted “Colette” and Pawel Pawlikowski’s “Ida” described working closely with reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey to write Universal’s film adaptation of their 2019 book. The process took around four years, said Lenkiewicz.
“I started working on it before I read the book,” said the Devon-born writer, who had six “freeing” weeks of writing on her own before even getting sight of a chapter.
“I met the journalists and was writing it, and they were feeding me the chapters. That was an interesting way of working because I almost sort of had to reverse. But I’m glad I did it because it felt like I got my foot in before it was under the umbrella of the book.”
Lenkiewicz spent a whole day each with three women “who had survived Weinstein in various ways” in order to write the film. “That’s a huge responsibility because you want the film to reach out to every woman who’s ever had abuse, and for something to resonate and to give them a certain satisfaction or freedom rather than leaving the cinema absolutely blasted,” said Lenkiewicz.
“It’s a very delicate balance. I was attracted to the project because on two hands I can name the amount of women I know who have had horrific experiences…It’s a huge responsibility and a responsibility to young men, to everyone. So you feel [the pressure] but all you can actually do is do all of that and your craft.”
“She Said” will premiere at the New York Film Festival on Thursday before screening at the London Film Festival on Friday. The movie is hitting the festival circuit just as jury selection continues on Weinstein’s Los Angeles trial, which marks the former movie producer’s second rape and sexual assault trial, following his 2020 conviction and 23-year sentencing. Should he be convicted again in this trial, which is based on 11 new charges stemming from five women, he will effectively never walk free again.
Lenkiewicz also discussed the time constraints of shooting “She Said” during the pandemic, when the New York Times building was empty of most staff, who were working from home. “No one was in the building, and they wanted to use it,” she explained.
Kantor and Twohey were “incredibly supportive” of the writer, and were “very, very keen that the journalism was accurate.”
“I was absolutely crap at that,” joked Lenkiewicz, “so they were very supportive in saying, ‘I wouldn’t say this. I wouldn’t say that.’ Things that I thought were casual, like, ‘Let’s stop Trump being president!’ Actually, no, you can’t say that. As a journalist, you have to be neutral. [They] can’t go on the women’s march. Stuff I didn’t know at all, so it was an absolute education.”
Lenkiewicz was speaking alongside “A Spy Among Friends” and “Homeland” writer Alex Cary, who primarily writes for U.S. networks and streamers. They were interviewed by author and screenwriter Terri White.
The writers were asked about a recent poll by the Writers Guild of Great Britain, which revealed that more than 70% of British screenwriters for film say they’re not being properly credited and are effectively being “erased” from productions.
Lenkiewicz, who mainly writes for film but has written for TV shows such as Netflix’s “The Eddy” and ITV’s “Secret Diary of a Call Girl,” said the poll results “didn’t surprise” her.
“It didn’t surprise me at all,” said Lenkiewicz. “I started off in theater and so I was always profoundly shocked because in theater, they ask you if you want to change a word. Then you go into other forms and it’s very different. I was glad to start off in theater because it gave me a sense of authority in a way — that words were important, and you were important.”
Working in television, for her, “has been pretty brutal,” she later added, citing a “recent” experience but not naming the production (Lenkiewicz’s last two TV writing credits are Amazon and BBC TV miniseries “Small Axe” and “The Eddy”).
“Being on something for three years, getting the sack with no warning. Things like that, where you kind of go, ‘Woah!’…It’s brutal [in that it makes you] question your confidence and ask, ‘Can I still do this?’”
Asked about the demands placed on writers in a fast-turnaround environment where streamers, in particular, want content quickly and notes flow freely from multiple stakeholders, Lenkiewicz said the key is “finding your team” and colleagues who are supportive of the writing process.
“If you’re getting 12 sets of notes from 12 strangers, you’re just taking a donkey to market,” said Lenkiewicz. “The most important thing is making the conditions to write, and that’s about being free. But that doesn’t mean there are no constraints. It means that you are mentally free and you’re not feeling like you’re serving invisible higher powers.”