How She Got There: Liz Hannah, Screenwriter of 'The Post'

Name: Liz Hannah
Job Title and Description: Screenwriter
College Name/Major: Pratt Institute
Twitter Handle: @itslizhannah
Instagram Handle: @itslizhannah

What does your current job entail? Is there such a thing as a typical day? 

LH: A lot of staring at my computer and writing! A typical day for me if I’m writing and I don’t have meetings is usually I get up and I try and exercise because I’ll probably be locked into the chair for the rest of the day. I have a page count that I try and hit rather than a number of hours. I know a lot of writers try to sit for five to six hours and get that done, but I try and do 10 pages a day when I’m on a first draft and I try and maintain that when I’m doing a rewrite. It helps to get the words on the page, and then you go from there. Generally, my typical day is pretty unexciting, it’s just sitting there and writing.

What is the best part of your job? 

LH: There’s sort of two sides to it. One, the best part is being able to explore characters and stories and the perspectives of different people. I like to challenge myself with the characters that I write about. I like to talk about the gray areas that we live in. I don’t think everything is as specific as right and wrong, I think there’s much more of a gray middle area and so it’s exciting for me to be able to explore that. The other is just the people I get to work with and the people I get to learn from. One of the major reasons that I do this job is that I get to collaborate with people and I get to have experiences from their experiences. 

What was your first entry-level job in your field and how did you get it? 

LH: My first unpaid internship was at Whitewater Films, which is Rick Rosenthal’s company. I was 18 and in college in Brooklyn and I would come out to Los Angeles every summer because my mom was out here. I think I got it just by applying to a bunch of different internships and they took a chance on me. I ended up working there every summer I was in college until I graduated.

What words of wisdom do you find most valuable? 

LH: Patience. Everything takes longer than you’d ever want it to take. Particularly, I think when you’re just starting out, you want it all to happen immediately. And, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I think it’s really important to be kind, have empathy and to remember that it’s important to be a good person in this world. I try and do that as much as I can.

What is one mistake you made along the way and what did you learn from it? 

LH: I think the biggest mistakes I’ve made are with my own expectations of how quickly something should happen. Which, I know is funny coming from somebody who sold a script and had the movie released in less than 18 months. But, there were many years before that where things took a lot of time. I think it’s hard to remind yourself how many cogs in the machine there are to get anything done, and it’s important to remember that things happen for a reason and things happen when they’re intended to happen. A lot of the mistakes I’ve made are just about trying to make things happen faster than they should. 

What has been the most surreal moment of your career thus far? 

LH: The entirety of The Post was very surreal. I can pick probably a dozen moments, from Amy Pascal buying the script at midnight to Steven Spielberg signing on, to Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep signing on, to shooting it, to the release, to all of the amazing accolades the film got. It’s all been extraordinarily surreal. 

What do you look for when considering working with someone? 

LH: Honesty. I think that honesty is the most important quality in someone. Sometimes honesty can be brutal and tough, but I would rather know everything up front than find out things later. I think particularly when you’re talking about the world that I work in, the characters and the stories you’re trying to tell, you’re trying to tell an honesty of characters and an honesty of emotions. So, with your collaborators, such as the directors I work with, if I’m working with another writer or the cast that I work with, I think it’s really important to all be on the same page about whose story we’re telling and why we’re telling it and what we want to say. I think just being able to have those conversations and be very open about them, that’s more important than almost any other quality.

What advice would you give to a 20-something with similar aspirations? 

LH: Keep writing. If you want to be a writer, you have to write, and you only get better by going through writing poorly at first and then writing a little bit better and gradually, hopefully, it gets better and better. I don’t really believe that practice makes perfect because I think you never are perfect. And that’s one of the fun parts, is that you keep trying to get there. But you just have to keep writing and you have to really write about what you love. Don’t write about what you think is popular, or what you think is hip or timely, anything like that. You have to write about what you’re passionate about. I tend to believe that if you’re passionate about something that people find you who are passionate about the same thing. It’s important to follow your passions.

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