In the summer of 2016, Liz Hannah thought her career as a screenwriter was a non-starter. By Christmas, she would write and sell her screenplay for The Post, which would go on to be directed by Steven Spielberg, star Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, and garner Academy Award and Golden Globe Award nominations (including a Best Screenplay nod for Hannah). A lot can change in a few months.
Yes, you should write a spec script
An unsolicited spec script, Hannah didn’t expect The Post to sell. At best, she hoped it would get her an agent, she told the Washington Post. (Technically, it worked — Hannah is currently represented by UTA.) In the fall of 2016, Hannah’s manager leaked her script. It launched a bidding war won by former Sony Pictures chairman Amy Pascal (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Little Women).
That same year, The Post also ranked No.2 on the Black List, an annual survey of the most liked unproduced screenplays aggregated using votes from film executives working in the film industry.
The power of a great feature script
The Post tells the powerful and true story of how former Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham (portrayed by Meryl Streep) and former editor Ben Bradlee (played by Tom Hanks) decided to publish the Pentagon Papers, a classified Department of Defense study of U.S. involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967. Graham had captured Hannah’s attention for years before she finally decided to write about her — but it didn’t take long for the world to respond.
The Post was released in December of the next year, and Liz Hannah’s entire life changed.
“I think subconsciously, knew I was a writer for a very long time before I decided I was a writer,” Hannah told Sera Gamble.
And that’s perhaps the biggest takeaway screenwriters can learn from Liz Hannah’s journey. Because while Hannah’s story shows that the right story at the right time can launch a career, it always begins with the writer’s decision to sit down and write.
“For me, fear has always been the motivator and also the destroyer of motivation,” Hannah confessed. The only thing stopping you from writing…is you. Once you get your words on the page, the possibilities are limitless.
If you want to get inspired, watch the rest of this candid interview. And if you have a feature-length script, take the next (big) step in your career and submit it to WeScreenplay’s Feature Screenwriting Competition to get your script in front of our jury of industry execs, agents, and managers.
Shannon Corbeil is a writer, actor, and filmmaker in Los Angeles with recent appearances on SEAL Team and The Rookie. An Air Force veteran, her articles have been published in Business Insider, We Are The Mighty, and Military.com. She has written and produced hundreds of digital videos with millions of views. You can read more about her on her website or come play on Instagram and Twitter!