Sharing our stories is what connects us, and anyone who has taken the plunge — or even dipped their toes — into the writing pool has heard the old adage: write what you know. It sounds so straightforward and obvious, but it can be an exercise in vulnerability to take something personal and translate it into something for others to experience. We’re putting our faith in the notion that there is an element of universality to our experience that will resonate with others.
“The Lies We Tell Ourselves,” began in the midst of the pandemic. The idea to delve into some of the events that shaped my life has been rattling around my head for a while but, when my mother became seriously ill, a more urgent need to explore them arose. And while the lockdown forced disconnection and required us to grieve remotely, writing about a secret that I have never shared with my parents was actually healing.
The biggest challenges were creating the script’s context, tone and visual revelations. After all, our lives don’t unfold filmically over a compelling three-act structure with great character arcs. I learned a great lesson when writing a play about another personal experience: the best way to get at the heart of your script is to create an entirely new life for your protagonist. If it’s too close to you, you can get mired in details instead of what serves your story. I also wanted the screenplay to be representative of life — a mix of drama and comedy, and a story of strength and survival. As far as visual elements, it helped to look at every bit of dialogue to see what could be shown versus explained. In a scene about how complex life can be, for example, a character’s necklace that was riddled with knots was more telling than words.
One of the best decisions was to dive in and finish a first draft without editing myself. Writing is hard enough, so it was freeing to throw paint at the wall and see what stuck. The other was to share early drafts with people. The feedback was helpful because the primary theme because clearer, including where the story should diverge from or echo actual events. For instance, the protagonist is younger than I am and from a smaller family, and my late brother was actually brought back to life. Where it did converge can be seen in some of the character details, including a larger-than-life, complicated and fiercely loving mother, and a caring yet complex father, sister and brother.
I am grateful to Filmmakers Connect for offering me the opportunity to contribute to this blog as I further develop, “The Lies We Tell Ourselves,” and to Los Angeles Film Awards for honoring my script with the January Screenplay of the Month and Best Feature Screenplay awards.
PHOTO: The character of Mimi in “The Lies We Tell Ourselves,” is based on my mother, Lovey, who recently passed away. These are some of the photos described in the script, when she modeled in Europe in the late 1940s and early 1950s. She shared amazing stories from these days, including one about Kirk Douglas giving her a rose. She was very flattered, but told him to go back to his date.