news ‘She Said’: Bringing the Personal Stories to the Forefront of the Investigative Thriller

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For director Maria Schrader, “She Said” was more than a truthful and thrilling recreation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning, #MeToo-bolstering New York Times report that exposed Harvey Weinstein’s decades of sexual abuse and harassment. It was also about the personal stories of New York Times journalists Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) and Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan). This made it a more complex and emotionally resonant film about female empowerment and the “crucible of motherhood,” which Schrader’s go-to editor, Hansjörg Weißbrich, leaned into.

“This was an investigative thriller and a more important aspect — their private life and how they got to know each other as a result of the collaboration,” Weißbrich told IndieWire. “This was an additional storyline that wasn’t in the book.”

But that first required Schrader and screenwriter Rebecca Lenkiewicz to gain the trust of Kantor and Twohey, to let them include their struggle with parenting along with the rigors of their investigative reporting. The challenge was delicately balancing their professional and personal lives by often combining them (talking on the phone while packing lunch or pushing a stroller in the park). This helped sustain the tension of trying to track down survivors of Weinstein’s abuse and getting them to participate in Kantor and Twohey’s story.

It was journalistically daunting, though, as the reporters went up against the power structure that enabled and protected Weinstein. The film skillfully intercuts Kantor and Twohey in contrasting ways: Kantor had experience in workplace abuse and Twohey in sex crimes; Kantor relied on empathy in coaxing interviews, while Twohey was more aggressive and intimidating. The first third of “She Said” often finds them on the phone in hallways and corridors beside windows that reflect the outside world — a benefit of being able to shoot in the newspaper’s Midtown offices during the COVID-19 shutdown. Crucially, the two reporters were supported by a predominantly all-women team at The Times, led by editor Rebecca Corbett (Patricia Clarkson), and that workplace camaraderie was also an important component of the story “She Said” tells.

(from left) Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) and Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan) in She Said, directed by Maria Schrader.

“She Said”

JoJo Whilden/Universal Pictures

“Interestingly, one of the early bonding moments was a phone call about postpartum depression that they both suffered from,” said Weißbrich. “And this, of course, is one of the multiple topics of the film: female empowerment, working mothers. They both have daughters — Jodi has two and Megan has one. Rebecca, their editor, has a daughter, and a scene that was cut between them where she has lunch with her daughter, who is around the same age as the two journalists. Different generations of women had to deal with systematic harassment, abuse, and sexism.”

The script was long — it contained 200 scenes and the first assembly ran 170 minutes, which was trimmed by nearly 40 minutes. The director and editor realized that the beginning was slow, so they played around with a flashback of one of the survivors — former Weinstein executive Laura Madden (later played by Jennifer Ehle) — and made it a prologue, and also adjusted the timeline in introducing the two reporters so they were more in sync.

“Overall, it was most important to create moments of reflection, bonding, emotion,” Weißbrich added. “For example there is that scene where Megan comes home at night, looking at her daughter and it reflects her overcoming her postpartum depression, her motivation as a journalist to create a better world for her daughter. Also, it is the key motivation of one of the survivors, Laura Madden, who has three daughters and a son. At one point, she goes on the record because she doesn’t ever want her daughters to regard abuse and bullying as normal. This is a topic all working mothers can very much relate to.”

(from left) Matt Purdy (Frank Wood), Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan), Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan), Rebecca Corbett (Patricia Clarkson), Rory Tolan (Davram Stiefler) and Dean Baquet (Andre Braugher) in She Said, directed by Maria Schrader.

“She Said”

Universal Pictures

Not surprisingly, the filmmakers never intended to depict the sexual abuse on screen. They effectively play actual Weinstein audio tapes over a series of tracking shots through hotel corridors from cinematographer Natasha Braier. “That was edited as written,” the editor confirmed.

The interviews conducted by the reporters are scary and riveting. These include three survivors from the Weinstein workplace — Madden, Zelda Perkins (Samantha Morton), and Rowena Chiu (Angela Yeoh) — along with the Deep Throat to this 21st century “All the President’s Men”: Weinstein corporate accountant Irwin Reiter (Zach Grenier). The longest is the one with Perkins in a restaurant that lasts nearly 10 minutes, where she recounts confronting Weinstein after the rape of colleague and friend Chiu and her own humiliating settlement. “We would stick to what she’s telling and the reaction of Jodi hearing that story,” Weißbrich said.

Overall, Weißbrich found the theme of sisterhood inspiring throughout the editorial process. “That makes it such a complex film about the female experience in the workplace and society,” he said. “And also they have caring, modern-thinking husbands who support them in their work and at home. So that’s the opposite of the toxic masculinity that people like Weinstein spread.”