Writer Angela Workman On Dedication, Gender, and THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE
Major films with a female writer, director, and leading role are incredibly rare. Hopefully films like The Zookeeper’s Wife from Focus Features will help turn the tides for women in film.
Based on the non-fiction best seller by Diane Ackerman, The Zookeeper’s Wife defies its romance-sounding title and somewhat cheesy poster to deliver a truly great World War II story of resilience, bravery, and conviction. The opening scenes at the zoo set a whimsical stage, making the transition to war feel that much more abominable. Suspense fills scene after scene as Antonina (played by Jessica Chastain) and her husband put everything they have on the line to save as many people as they can.
I got the chance to speak with screenwriter Angela Workman about how she constructed this beautiful tale, her view of the film industry, and what writers must do to achieve screenwriting success.
Angela Bourassa: How did this project and your involvement with it come about?
Angela Workman: Diane Ackerman’s book was brought to me by producer Kim Zubick. (It was brought to her by producers Diane Levin and Robbie Tollin.) Actually, Kim approached my agent, Sandra Lucchesi at the Gersh Agency, and Sandra told Kim there was only one writer who could adapt that volume of material — me. The book fascinated me for many reasons, and so I decided to come aboard.
Angela Bourassa: How did you approach the source material? Do you have a method that you follow when adapting books?
Angela Workman: I don’t know that I have one method when I approach an adaptation. Generally I let my instincts tell me what the story is, where the focus needs to be, and to sort of feel out a beginning, middle, and end. If I can’t instinctively find those things in the source material, then I pass on the project.
Angela Bourassa: One thing I really appreciated about this film was that, despite all the death and horror, the darkest moments were handled very delicately. You and Niki Caro showed a great deal of restraint, which must have been hard to do — and do well.
Angela Workman: I think neither Niki nor I felt we wanted to be too explicit in the more atrocious aspects of the story. We wanted the focus to be on the quiet bravery of Antonina and the more masculine bravery of Jan. We wanted to reveal their humanity. But the story had to have its darker moments, and so I shaded them in the writing, and then Niki made her decisions as to how to present them. She actually made some very bold choices, I thought. We didn’t want to shy away from the truth of what happened during that terrible time.Read the full article on LA-Screenwriter.com
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