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» » » » » » » » » » » » » » 'The Post' writer Liz Hannah shows what's possible when women occupy powerful roles in Hollywood

Liz Hannah just attended her first Golden Globes in support of the first feature she's written, 'The Post.' (Photo: Martim Vian)
Liz Hannah has a message pinned to the top of her Twitter profile. “Never forget: dreams really can come true,” it says, with a link to a trailer for The Post.

Yes, that's The Post, as in the movie about Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks.

Hannah wrote the film's screenplay, her first feature script, with help from Spotlight writer Josh Singer. And now, the 32-year-old who had only planned to write a spec script to help attain an agent, is in Oscar contention and has become the embodiment of what is possible when women are in positions of power in the movie industry.

For Hannah, who had no Hollywood connections before landing an internship at a production company (her only family member in the industry was an uncle who worked as a an assistant in the film crew decades ago), several prominent female figures helped identify her talent and set her on a successful moviemaking path.

That early job was at Denver and Delilah Productions, where she met women who would become instrumental in her career: Charlize Theron (the company is named for her dogs) and Beth Kono, two producers at the female-centric studio that's made films including Atomic Blonde.

"They were huge mentors for me," says Hannah, who started interning at Delilah as a 22-year-old AFI student. The producers "let me be on any call. I spent the entirety of my mid-20s there, learning," she said. “One of the fortunate things about working with Charlize and Beth is that they felt so strongly about female voices.”
Liz Hannah poses with her 'The Post' team: co-writer Josh Singer, director Steven Spielberg, actors Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep. (Photo: Vivien Killilea, Getty Images for Palm Springs In)
And so it was at Delilah, a few years into the job, that Hannah “had this crazy idea” to write a screenplay. Hesitantly, she asked her producer-colleagues to read a personal family drama she penned.

“They both told me to quit my job” to focus on writing, Hannah says. “That was five years ago.”

After leaving Delilah, Hannah found inspiration in another woman who had held a position of power: Katharine Graham.

Hannah read and watched everything she could about the Post publisher, who died in 2001 after being "told her whole life she didn’t have a voice," as Hannah says.

A few years into writing pilots that languished in development and feature spec scripts that didn’t sell, a burned-out Hannah made one last-ditch effort before planning to leave the grind of writing to focus on something like teaching. At the encouragement of her husband, Hannah decided it was time to write something about Graham, and focus it on her decision to publish the Pentagon Papers.

Like Graham, “I had been in those rooms where I’m the only woman, and men turn their back on me pretend I’m not there,” Hannah says. The writer's journey to express her voice, and use "guts (to) ignore the fear and stand on our own two feet," paralleled her protagonist's.

Hannah spent three months on nothing but the Graham-focused film, which she thought, at the very best, would help land her an agent.

Instead, it connected Hannah with another Hollywood power-player: former Sony Pictures head Amy Pascal.

Pascal came across Hannah’s screenplay via a young executive in her office who read it and wanted to buy it.

"I would’ve wanted to make this movie no matter who wrote it," Pascal told USA TODAY in an email. "But of course working with and supporting women has always been important to me, and I was thrilled to help get it made."

Meryl Streep portrays Katharine Graham in 'The Post.' (Photo: Niko Tavernise, AP)
“It was a very, very crazy serendipitous moment,” said Hannah. “I sold the script to Amy 10 days before the (2016 presidential) election. We thought that we were going to make a movie that was frankly paralleling the first female president, and that didn’t happen.”

Instead, “the day of the election, Amy and I were like, ‘We have to make this movie now.’”

The move paid off. The film has an 87% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and earned ***½ out of four from USA TODAY movie critic Brian Truitt. Gold Derby's awards season experts are also predicting The Post will get plenty of Oscar love, with 8-1 odds of winning for best picture and 11-1 for taking best original screenplay.

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