The Girl From Plainville

The Girl From Plainville: Liz Hannah tells how Mindhunter influenced her work

Liz Hannah’s work on The Girl From Plainville is some of the most interesting true crime writing in years. Her skill on the Hulu series comes after she worked on the best true crime adaptation of all time—Netflix‘s serial killer drama Mindhunter. Liz wrote two episodes of the show’s second (and unfortunately last) season, serving as both a writer and producer on season 2.

In the second part of our interview (read the first part here), we discuss her time on Mindhunter and what she learned about writing and human behavior from that experience. If you haven’t seen the series yet; both seasons are streaming on Netflix, while a new episode of The Girl From Plainville premieres today on Hulu.

Brittany Frederick: There’s a psychological angle to The Girl From Plainville, in which the show gets inside Michelle Carter’s head to the best of its ability. Mindhunter was so incisive in its exploration of the psychological and human nature. Did you learn anything from that show that helped you tell this story?

Liz Hannah: I worked on that show for almost two years. I met with [series creator David] Fincher while we were shooting The Post and I was initially going to do just one episode, then I ended up coming on as a writer/producer for the full season and wrote those two episodes as well. And to say that I learned from David Fincher is an understatement, at the least. I look at how I was as a writer before I started working with him and how I was afterwards, and I feel that I was better.

The thing that David does that I tried to bring into [The Girl From Plainville] was questioning everything. And that’s not just questioning in terms of storytelling and in terms of characters—practically questioning things. We would be in rehearsals and he would ask me why I had chosen a word, why was Holt [McCallany]’s character [Bill Tench] saying this word and not that word. And honestly, I would be like, “Well, it just sounded better. I don’t know.” It’s like, “I’m a writer. It sounded great.” And we’d go to the thesaurus and look at other options of those words and really drill into what did that word mean.

It was thoughtful, and careful, and making sure that every second on screen, every second on the page was important, and of value, and that nothing was wasted. I can’t say that I have the attention to detail that he has. I don’t think anybody does; that’s why he’s David Fincher. But I tried to bring some of that to this show and tried to bring the care and thoughtfulness that he has with his work and the value he puts on every moment to this.

Elle Fanning as Michelle Carter in The Girl From Plainville. (Photo Credit: Steve Dietl/Courtesy of Hulu)

BF: Having adapted so many true stories, from The Post to Mindhunter and now The Girl From Plainville, have you learned more about just what makes us tick? Or started asking different questions? What still resonates with you?

LH: Absolutely. The Charles Manson episode of Mindhunter sticks out for me pretty specifically. That episode took a really, really long time to write. I think [the Manson scene] ended up being 17 pages long, which outside of David Fincher, I don’t know anybody else who’d ever let me write and shoot a 17-page scene of dialogue. It was really complicated. We knew we wanted Charles Manson in the show…and we didn’t really know what the scene was other than it’s Charles Manson.

Andrew [Dominik], the director of that episode, really came in with a very strong opinion about emotionally connecting to Manson, which was not something that I necessarily thought I could do or wanted to do. But I think if you remove yourself, again, from the judgment of who Charles Manson is, and you just listen to what he’s saying or know his motives…In that scene in particular, the thing that unlocked for us was that it was really about Tench, and his relationship with his son and what he was going through, and that Manson zeroed in on him immediately and made him his target for that scene.

So we’re writing it really from the perspective of, Charles Manson is using all of his wiles to piss Tench off and to get a rise out of him, because that’s the only joy he has in his life, is doing this. Then it really began to unlock the scene and…really started to show us where we could go, because Manson is right in some ways. We are affected by all of these little things and shouldn’t be. That felt really interesting—to force an audience to listen and be like, “Oh, my God. I hate that he’s making a point,” and how does that change us?

But it’s hard. I’m not somebody who takes their work home with them. I’m pretty easily able to leave it. But Mindhunter stuck with me for a while. The BTK stuff stuck with me for a long time.

The Girl From Plainville is now streaming on Hulu. The complete series of Mindhunter is now streaming on Netflix.

Article content is (c)2020-2023 Brittany Frederick and may not be excerpted or reproduced without express written permission by the author. Follow me on Twitter at @BFTVTwtr and on Instagram at @BFTVGram.

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