“Stories About the Human Condition” Julia Hart & Jordan Horowitz on ‘I’m Your Woman’
“When we met,” began Jordan Horowitz, “Julia [Hart] was a teacher and wasn’t a writer. She liked to write, but wasn’t a writer by trade.” After they met, the couple moved to Los Angeles, where Jordan continued to work as a producer and Julia started to write more often.
“Eventually, she sent me an outline for a movie called The Keeping Room, which is a movie that we eventually made. That was one of the earliest things she sent me that I really responded to, so she wrote that on spec and that ended up on the blacklist.”
The Keeping Room is about three women left to defend their home during the Civil War and came out in 2014. Two years later, Jordan produced and co-wrote Julia’s next film Miss Stevens, which was also her directorial debut.
“I studied playwriting in college,” said Julia, “And Jordan studied writing in college, but what started as notes from a producer morphed from writer/producer to writer/writer. I basically had to force you to share credit,” she said to Jordan.
For Miss Stevens, a heart-broken teacher chaperones a group of high schoolers headed to a state drama competition. Labels aside, for their latest collaboration, Jordan and Julia stepped into their love of 70s cinema to create the story, I’m Your Woman.
Their latest film stars Rachel Brosnahan (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) and follows a woman who is forced to go on the run after her husband betrays his crime partners.
The Writing Process
“Because we didn’t meet as people choosing to be writing partners, our writing process has evolved so much over time,” said Julia. “At the beginning of our relationship as screenwriters, I was mostly writing the dialogue and Jordan was mostly focusing on structure and action lines, but I don’t know at this point – we’ve written a dozen or so scripts – and it’s much more of a blend.”
Originally, Julia would face the blank page alone, after the duo broke the story together. Then, they would pass the drafts back and forth until they needed to discuss them for details. As writers, they have similar taste in movies, but also a similar outlook on life. “Neither one of us is a cynic,” said Julia. “We’re both very hopeful people who ultimately want to tell stories that might explore an inherent darkness in the world, also have optimism.”
“If you’re going to write with someone – or be married to someone – I think it’s important you have a similar belief system,” she clarified. “What ultimately is it about the human condition that is worth fighting for? Tell stories about that.”
“I was going to say, just don’t take things personally,” added Jordan. “I think it’s true in all aspects of the entertainment industry. I was told this when I was an assistant, but when you’re working with someone on a creative endeavor intimately, you can’t take things personally and you have to be open to alternative perspectives and different ideas than the ones you had.”
“It’s not about correcting your partner,” added Julia. “It’s about making the work better.” Jordan concluded, “Being collaborative is a skill that you have to hone and refine over time.”
Now, they actually collaborate with the collaboration tool on Final Draft, so both parties can work on the same screenplay on separate devices. “But, we’re always in the same room. We share an office.”
“The fun thing in a good partnership is that you’re not just getting better at the things you’re better at, but you’re getting better at the things you’re partner is better at,” said Julia. “We know what the other is good at, too,” said Jordan. “Oftentimes, if I’m writing and know there’s something she’s better at, I’ll just skip a scene and leave a note for her.”
This cheat code, of course, only works with partnerships, which also takes some of the burden off the work. “That is the fun thing about having a writing partner. You can skip the thing you’re less good at,” joked Julia. “It reduces the pressure of having to get it right yourself. You can always skip and come back later, but I can actually skip it, hope that she gets it, and never come back.”
Writing I’m Your Woman
Outside of screenwriting, the duo loves watching movies together. Recently, amidst the October quarantine, they watched the entire horror collection within the Criterion Collection. This is something they’ve done together for some time. Before Jordan produced La La Land, they spent some time watching musicals in somewhat of an at-home film festival.
“When we were starting to come up with I’m Your Woman, we were watching a lot of 70s crime genres and 70s thrillers.” Specifically, the writers mentioned Michael Mann’s Thief, featuring James Caan.
“All of those movies have these amazing actresses in supporting roles, but at a certain point, they go one way and the movie goes another,” said Julia. “The man gets thrust into the action and the woman is often whisked away to safety.”
They started talking about what was happening off-screen in these movies. “Wouldn’t it be interesting to follow that woman and her story? The story that’s running parallel to the movie we’ve all seen.” Rather than replace the man’s story with a woman, like many gender-bending films do today, the writers wanted to show the woman’s story amidst the same world audiences are already familiar with.
“Who were women or who were people of color in these pictures traditionally?” asked Jordan. “And, instead of peeling one out and replacing them, what happens if we shift the gaze of the camera to the corner versus the center of the room?”
“If you pull that thread, you find something that has the trappings of the genre, but feels a little bit more distinct than the traditional genre. This way, you can explore genre in ways that are exciting and new to us.”
The Research Phase
Since many of the films that inspired I’m Your Woman focused on the white male perspective, the screenwriters wanted to focus on perspectives from females and African American families for the film.
Then, they met with a historian to discuss Northeastern America in the 1970s. “We got a lot of great small details from him,” said Jordan. “We talked about what was happening, the types of jobs.” This even led to the small detail of what type of wine bottle a neighbor might bring over.
The writers had big conversations about the overall mood of the country in the time period, but the smaller details also helped shape the story. “We wanted it to feel authentic to how America feels. There are cars from the 1960s, songs from the 1950s, a hairstyle from the 1970s, and a brand new dress, rather than a period piece.”
Similar to this approach to genre, when Jordan is reading a script from a producing point-of-view, he looks for stories that are familiar and accessible, but also distinctive and fresh.
“I don’t want to say it feels like you’ve seen it before, but there’s a certain set of expectations that the audience has about the way a story can be and it’s something they can feel easy inside of or access in a way that feels comfortable, but then find a way to take those comfortable expectations and subvert them so they surprise people,” said Jordan.
“Something they haven’t seen before inside of something they have seen before. We’re striving for a traditional genre piece, but characters you haven’t seen before. That’s what I look for as a producer and something I keep in my head while writing.”
Misconceptions About Screenwriting
“I think there’s a lot of misinformation about what Hollywood is really like,” said Julia. “Maybe I’ve been lucky and I know I’m privileged in my life, but this idea that the studio is going to ruin your picture or not let you make it the way you want or some hack is going to change your work, there’s a lot of negativity out there, but when you’re inside of things, you realize it’s just individual people and you have a choice of who you work with and who you avoid.”
Through various collaborations, Julia has worked hard to make sure continually improves her work as a writer. “I think it’s a lot more of a caring community than it appears to be on the outside.” Jordan added, “The way that you collaborate and the people you collaborate with are very much in your control.”
These days, the writing team makes sure they pay it forward as often as possible for their good fortune. “We look for young writers who haven’t been given the opportunities that we’ve been given to bring more voices into the industry that haven’t had that opportunity yet.”
Over the years, the couple has worked on spec scripts, original ideas, book adaptations, and everything in between, but not everything gets made. “If you’re worth your weight, you treat every script like it’s the most important script you have ever written. There’s no job for hire because it’s not your passion project. We put our whole brains into whatever we’re writing, so it’s hard when those don’t get made.”
As for advice, the writers said, “Find trusted partners.” Jordan clarified, “Producers can be very helpful with the writing process, not just to bounce ideas off of but to help you interrogate the story, or help you figure out why you want to tell it, or the best way to tell it.”
“A good creative producer is somebody good to have in your corner. The producer should have the project’s best interest in mind, from an objective point-of-view, but they’re also pushing all of the collaborators to work to the best of their potential.”
This interview has been condensed. Listen to the full audio version here.
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