A conversation with Emmy-nominated showrunner Liz Hannah on mental health in the industry.
Out-of-breath and slightly sweaty, dressed in her sweatpants and a loose tee, Emmy-nominated screenwriter and producer, Liz Hannah, rushed to sit at her laptop to start our meeting. Moments before, she was deep in a workout: a high intensity session of playtime with her eight-month old baby.
“There’s no such thing as a work-life balance, at least for me,” Liz says, laughing. “It’s more like work-life bumper cars.”
Or, perhaps, work-life transpo vans, as she's constantly traveling between home to set. A self-proclaimed "workaholic", Liz's successes in the past seven years have been enormous; she quickly went from unemployed, defeated, and exhausted to scripting The Post, writing on The Dropout, and showrunning and creating a major Hulu limited series, The Girl from Plainville, in a time span that seemed impossible.
“This industry is so slow, except when you don’t want it to be,” Liz says. “And then everything happens at lightning speed.”
However, the timeline listed on Wikipedia is a little misleading, and Liz wanted to make the truth known. And the truth is this:
In reality, Liz Hannah's rise to fame was slow and steady, the result of years of hard work, long nights, and active caring for her mental health. She also took a big risk: quitting her comfy, full-time development job at Denver & Delilah to write full-time.
“When I was working [at the development company], I was sort of writing off and on,” Liz said. “I didn’t think I was ever going to write.”
Once she quit her job is when the grind really began. Liz struggled often to make enough money with her part-time jobs. She wasn't selling much, if anything, and four years later, her big break still hadn't come. Liz was highly discouraged. Much like Jenna Fischer's famous story of wanting to give up on acting just before she booked The Office, Liz thought of giving up, purely because she was struggling to feed herself.
“I worked at a telemarketing firm and little line-producing jobs to sort of keep myself afloat,” Liz says. “But I was extremely poor.”
Liz decided, reluctantly, that she was going to return to her old development company and ask for her job back. Or she was going to apply to other development jobs: she just needed something stable.
“It was really hard,” Liz said.
However, with support from her then-boyfriend (now-husband), Liz decided to give herself one more summer to write a feature story she was passionate about... A story that quickly made history.
"[My then-boyfriend] told me I should write the Katherine Graham story I had been talking about for a while. So, I wrote it in like three months.”
This story, of course, became The Post, a 2017 film starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, which opened the door for Liz to all her future projects. Liz's bumper car life had picked up speed.
However, even with this fame, Liz is still human (newsflash!) and she still struggles with depression, like many of us in and out of the industry. It doesn’t just go away, even with success, or (like Liz) even with a new baby boy.
“I'm always eager to talk about mental health," Liz says. "I think mental health in general just as humans is really important."
So, Liz chooses to use her influence to talk about mental health, especially for creatives in the industry and for mothers, like her. Something most people don't know is that Liz went into labor the day they picture-locked on The Girl from Plainville, and yet she was still on Zoom from home, days later, helping with the process. She's a workaholic, so she didn't want to stop.
“As a writer, you’re kind of expected to be working at all times,” Liz says. “And that’s just not liveable.”
This year, Liz will be at Austin Film Festival to talk about this grind.
On Saturday, October 29 (tomorrow!) Liz will give a panel on mental health, alongside Jenna Bond (Run the World) and Jeffrey Lieber (Lost) titled, "Human First, Writer Second". If you're an anxious nerd like me and you can make it out, this is a must-see. As is Liz's new movie, Lee, currently in production and starring Kate Winslet!
All thanks to Liz Hannah and her assistant, Grace Marlowe, for setting up this interview, and I can’t wait to see what Liz writes next.
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About the Thoughts Blog:
Before Payton wrote pilots, before articles and poems, Payton wrote in her journals and on Google Docs, always titling the entry: Thoughts. For this reason, this blog was easy to name.
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