by Angela Bourassa (@angelabourassa1)
Laura Eason is an Emmy nominated writer who spent four seasons on Netflix’s juggernaut House of Cards. She began her career in theater and has written over twenty produced plays. Now, Laura is moving into features with her debut, Here and Now, which premiered at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival and stars Sarah Jessica Parker. The film, which follows a day in the life of a woman who has just learned that she may only have a year to live, was a collaborative effort through-and-through between Laura, Sarah Jessica, and director Fabien Constant.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Laura about the different appeals of film, theater, and television and what she hopes audiences take away from this heartfelt film.
Angela Bourassa: I first wanted to ask about your overall writing career, because you have a very successful career in television and theater in addition to now film. Which one is your first love?
Laura Eason: Theater is my first love. That’s where I started my career and started writing. I’m still a member of a theater company in Chicago called Looking Glass Theater Company and will be for life. That’s a big part of who I am.
Angela Bourassa: So what drew you to other mediums? Why not just do theater all the time?
Laura Eason: I had been really interested in film and television, but because I was first in Chicago for a long time and then in New York – and didn’t really have an interest in living in LA – I just didn’t think it was possible. But as more and more of my friends were getting into television, and the kinds of opportunities and the landscape were expanding, it just seemed like an incredible place to be able to write.
And the idea of the writer’s room… You know, playwriting is wonderful once you get in the room with everybody after someone has agreed to produce your play, but the writing process can be very lonely. And I’m formerly an actor and love groups, I love being part of an ensemble. Collaboration is a big part of who I am and a process that I love, so being able to be in a writer’s room seemed like a dream. To sit around a table with other writers, to be able to pitch and learn how other people’s story brain works and riff on ideas together just seemed so cool.
So again, I didn’t think it was much of a possibility living in New York, but it turned out that it was, and I was able to get staffed and have been getting TV work in New York, and it’s been a really wonderful turn of events in my career.
Angela Bourassa: That’s great. Is your process different when you write for different mediums? For example, do you outline a television script differently than you would outline a play?
Laura Eason: Well, the mediums are so different. Much of the base is the same in terms of story elements, but the process is really, really different. Plays can be much more open in terms of structure – although there’s a lot of opportunity now around what TV can look like. But plays can be anything. For me, when writing a play I allow myself to sit in ideas and character and moments before it gets too overly structured. I will think and think and think about play ideas and have bits and pieces before I have the whole thing, whereas television is much more structured. I do very strong outlines then move into draft and then rewriting – my approach for television is just much more structured.
Angela Bourassa: Do you ever direct your own work?
Laura Eason: I direct my own plays.
Angela Bourassa: Does that affect your writing process at all?
Laura Eason: Well, my theater company in Chicago is very physical and very visual, so some of my earliest plays were told as much visually as they were verbally. I do think my style of writing lends itself to film and television, and this current film is a real example of that in that we knew from the beginning that we wanted long sections of the film to have no dialogue but to really carry emotional weight and story. And some of my plays – even in the published versions – some of my plays have whole pages that are just stage directions.
Angela Bourassa: You actually just touched on another question I was going to ask. The film has a very deliberate pace. It focuses intently on sounds and small moments that other films would speed through or leave out entirely. How much of that was in the script?
Laura Eason: The thing that was wonderful about this process is that the premise for the film, the concept, was Fabien’s (the director’s) and I was brought on to write the script, and we were in a lot of conversations all through the two years of development about the look and feel of the film. The pacing, the approach, his vision for the film was always part of the conversation. It wasn’t a situation where I wrote a script and then handed it off. We were in dialogue after every draft of the script.
Angela Bourassa: What’s that process like, coming onto a project that isn’t initially your baby but, I assume, it becomes your baby as you go through it? How does that affect, you know, what you want to fight for and where you’re more flexible?
Laura Eason: I feel like it became my baby very quickly. The thing is that, the whole thing was very collaborative – it was always our baby. It was Sarah Jessica’s and Fabien’s and [our main producing partner’s] and mine. We were all in it together. It was all about this thing that we were making together. So it was never about who it belonged to – it was all of us together.
And I think that ultimately people still look at film as the director’s medium. Writing plays, no one can change a word of your play without your approval – the writer is absolutely the top of the pyramid. In TV, if you’re not the showrunner, you might get completely rewritten, and your job is just to put ideas on the table for the showrunner.
But in film, it really depends. Often the writer’s voice is only as strong as the director’s voice in the process when the writer is the director. So I think there’s a notion that as the writer of a screenplay, you’re just not in the mix as much. You do your work and you hand it off, and then it will be what the director and the actors make it. That was not the case with this. I was part of the whole process, I was on set every single day – my place at the table was there from the beginning to the very end. It was an incredibly satisfying artistic experience, because everyone at the table was focused on this same goal, which was the film, and we were all just focused on making the film as beautiful and special as we could.
Angela Bourassa: That’s so wonderful.
So, I watched this film yesterday, and it was a very strange experience for me, because I was actually hoping for a distraction because, as fate would have it, my own mom has a stage four glioblastoma and she was getting an MRI yesterday morning. So I put this movie on, and in the very first scene, there’s Sarah Jessica getting diagnosed with a possible glioblastoma…
Laura Eason: Oh, I’m so sorry.
Angela Bourassa: It’s ok, thank you. I almost turned it off right then, but I decided to stick with it, and I’m glad I did. Because the film, to me, is about the choices we make and how we live our lives day to day, because, you know, how you spend your days is how you’ve spent your life. And I feel like my mom is living a really good life. So that was reaffirming to me.
Laura Eason: Yeah.
Angela Bourassa: So my question for you, going off of that, is how do you see Sarah Jessica’s character and the choices she’s made, and what do you hope the audience sees in her?
Laura Eason: Well, I think she’s made some really good choices and some really bad choices, like pretty much everybody. The film – Sarah Jessica describes it as a reckoning, and I think allowing a woman to live a life where she’s made some bad choices or she’s made some mistakes but she also has pursued a dream that has resulted in something really powerful or important – I just feel like it was a pleasure to write a really complicated character who even I have mixed feelings about her choices. She’s not a villain, she’s not a hero – she’s a real, complicated woman.
I think, for me, the reckoning that Sarah Jessica’s character makes because she’s forced to in this moment is a reckoning and a taking stock that any of us could do at any point in our lives. And I think it’s important in this moment when we can be so distracted by how busy we are and the 27 articles we have saved on our phone to read while we’re waiting in line at Trader Joe’s, that actually what we can do is not do any of that and instead take a step back and think about our relationships. Because the thing that this is all about, the whole film is about her relationships – the choices that she’s made in relation to the people who she loves and who she has chosen to be connected to in her life or to disconnect from.
So for me, if the audience walking away takes a breath and a moment to think, “Ok, let me take stock for a moment of where I’ve been and where I am and what I want to do with the time I have left…” Because we all kind of live in this suspension of disbelief that the end is ever going to come. In a way it’s how we get through our lives, but all of our time is limited, and the one thing that’s really important above all is, how are we using our time?
Regardless of how young or old or successful or fulfilled a person is, I think that question is valuable and pertinent, and I hope people will ask it.
Here and Now came to theaters November 9 and is available on demand and digital.
Angela Bourassa is the founder of LA Screenwriter and the co-founder of Write/LA, a screenwriting competition created by writers, for writers. A mom, UCLA grad, and alternating repeat binger of The Office and Parks and Recreation, Angela posts articles through @LA_Screenwriter and unique daily writing prompts through @Write_LA.