Screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna has her finger on the pulse of what’s driving young American women in the workforce today. In her new film, the screenwriter switches from fashion to morning news to write about a woman struggling to make it in the turbulent world of broadcasting. Morning Glory is the story of a go-getter producer who takes a failing news show to new heights despite the difficult talent. The film stars Rachel McAdams, Harrison Ford and Diane Keaton. Is achieving success as a screenwriter as difficult for women as climbing to the top of a newsroom? There are obstacles in every industry, she says. “Hollywood is a different kind of work place from those I depict,” McKenna says. “You have to make your way by yourself.” A writer with a hefty portfolio in female-driven films (The Devil Wears Prada, 27 Dresses, Laws of Attraction), Aline Brosh McKenna sat down with Script to share her secret to success.
SCRIPT: Where did you get the idea for Morning Glory?
ALINE BROSH MCKENNA: I had always thought it would be fun to do a movie set in the world of morning news shows. It’s something I’d been thinking of for a while. I wanted to write about the character of an anchorman who had to adjust to the world that’s changing. Then I met J.J. Abrams, who produced the film, and we talked for a long time. That’s when it struck me that he might be the right person to do this.
SCRIPT: How do you ensure that the audience will root for your main characters?
ALINE BROSH MCKENNA: In the process of developing the script, the character of Becky became more of an underdog. Originally, she wasn’t from New Jersey, she was from Rhode Island. In the evolution of it, we increasingly emphasized her outsider status. In the early drafts, I wrote a mother character who wasn’t very helpful. But then it was cut. After we shot the movie, we needed a character that showed how low the expectations were for her. I worked on clarifying that her dream is ridiculous for the people in her life. Everyone at some point in his or her life has felt they’re not getting a fair shot. She’s also very good at her job. The opening of the movie shows that she’s good at her job and that the people she works with really respect and love her.
SCRIPT: What’s your secret to depicting women in such a relatable way?
ALINE BROSH MCKENNA: To a certain extent all the characters are defined by what people expect of them. In Prada, she’s thrust into a world and expected to be a type of person that she didn’t even know existed. In 27 Dresses, she’s been brought up to show how she can serve other people. In Morning Glory, she’s been underestimated. I try to look for things myself or my friends have really experienced. What are some of the challenges these women would be facing? That’s where I start.
SCRIPT: Being a woman in Hollywood, do you sometimes feel like the characters in your movies?
ALINE BROSH MCKENNA: Hollywood is a different kind of work place from those I depict. You have to make your way by yourself, that’s for sure. It’s much more like being an entrepreneur. In that sense, the movies are different. I’ve certainly been the young woman trying to prove herself, and make her way. In terms of the work place movies, Prada and Morning Glory are different. Prada is about the phase in your life when you’re realizing how little you know. Morning Glory is the phase when you feel you have some experience and expertise under you belt, but now you’re trying to implement it. Those are two distinct stages.
SCRIPT: There is a lot of electricity in the film. How did you create that in your writing?
ALINE BROSH MCKENNA: The director made a point of making sure everything was as quick as possible. He gave Rachel a copy of His Girl Friday. We both had in mind those fast-paced newspaper comedies of the 30s. When I spent time in a newsroom, I noticed that people talk quickly and it’s because they have to.
SCRIPT: Describe your writing process.
ALINE BROSH MCKENNA: I write every day, and I usually write bankers hours, 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and if I have more work to do, I’ll do it after the kids go to bed. I have an office outside of my house. I outline, although it depends on what I’m writing. I almost always do cards after the first draft. Sometimes a script needs to have every beat spelled out in advance. Sometimes, I leave a little more room for exploring. It’s pretty flexible. I feel my way forward with each screenplay.
SCRIPT: How did you get into writing?
ALINE BROSH MCKENNA: I did a little writing in college. When I graduated, my roommate and I wrote a humorous guide to college for women. She got a job on Married With Children. And, I stayed in New York and took a screenwriting class. And it was that script I wrote that ended up getting me my agent and my first job. I moved to Los Angeles shortly after I got my agent. It was too hard to do it from New York.
SCRIPT: What’s your advice to aspiring screenwriters?
ALINE BROSH MCKENNA: My advice would be to write. The more you write, the better you get at it. The only way to learn how to write is to write. The good news is, it’s subject to practice. You want to run to a marathon, you get out every day and run a certain number of miles. You have to be constantly writing.
SCRIPT: What’s your advice on breaking in?
ALINE BROSH MCKENNA: Write the best script you can and try to get it to anyone you know, anyone who is related to show business. An intern or someone’s assistant. Anybody you know. Contrary to what people think, Hollywood is looking for good material and talented writers.
SCRIPT: What’s next for you?
ALINE BROSH MCKENNA: Two scripts that I wrote start shooting next year. We Bought a Zoo – Cameron Crowe is directing that. And I’m writing I Don’t Know How She Does It, which is being directed by Doug McGrath. I’m also writing a new version of Cinderella for Disney and an action comedy with Simon Kinberg who wrote Mr. & Mrs. Smith.