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5 Screenwriting Takeaways: 'I’m Your Woman' Focuses On the Thief’s Wife In a '70s Crime Drama

April 1, 2021
3 min read time

What’s the story behind the women in 1970s crime dramas? When you watch those '70s-era crime films, you’re apt to see stories of men – cops and robbers – who fill the screen with compelling stories from the grittiest cities. That was the inspiration behind I’m Your Woman, written by Julia Hart and Jordan Horowitz, whose intention was to turn the spotlight onto the often-overlooked women who generally support the leads in their paranoia and cops-and-robbers downward spiral crime.

I’m Your Woman is about Jean (Rachel Brosnahan), the housewife to a professional thief who finds herself suddenly on the run after he betrays his partners. This sends her off on a dangerous journey while caring for an infant child to find the answer that we all want to know: What’s going on?

It's a thrilling ride, full of good screenwriting takeaways. Here are your top five from I’m Your Woman.

1. Keeping the audience in the dark

One of the compelling aspects of I’m Your Woman is that the audience doesn’t know any more than the lead characters. As viewers, we’re literally on this journey with Jean as she struggles to find answers and keep both herself and her adopted son alive.

We’re joining in on the paranoia, second-guessing everyone Jean comes in contact with, and constantly wonder how she is going to make it through this journey alive.

According to Horowitz, “The audience never knows things that Jean doesn’t know. There’s a paranoid dread that comes from that because you know the movie she’s in, but you don’t know the story she’s telling inside of that movie.”

By dropping the audience in the journey by putting them in the protagonist's shoes — withholding any information until the lead character finds it out — screenwriters can intensify the thrills and keep the audience more invested in the outcome.

2. The innocent bystander

One of the unusual aspects of the story is that its writers are taking a look at the often innocent bystanders in crime movies. Not only are female characters largely overlooked in crime stories, but the '70s films that inspired I’m Your Woman barely gives them screen time.

This movie puts the thief's wife into the spotlight. Jean is a housewife whose responsibilities are keeping a clean house, making meals, and taking care of a baby who her husband brings home one day. She’s aware of his criminal activities, but never expects that one night she will awake to find one of her husband’s partners telling her she has to run. This forces Jean to break free of her dependence and learn to survive on her own.

What screenwriters can take away from a character like Jean is studying the supporting and bystander characters in their favorite movies and shift the lens onto them. They don’t have to be specific characters — maybe you’re intrigued by a shop owner in a TV show and you want to explore that life. Or perhaps it is someone specific (just don’t make it based on a character you don’t have the rights too!). You could take someone like Peter Lorre’s Ugarte in Casablanca and wonder what a guy like him would be like in 2021...


3. Historical context

I’m Your Woman doesn’t have to take place in the 1970s. What Hart and Horowitz wanted to accomplish was taking their love of 1970s crime dramas and present a different take. It adds an interesting layer to the story, especially when you can tap into similar social and political themes, as well as a tactic to take out what would ruin the plot in a mere second: texting technology didn't exist yet. In a world with less technology, Jean couldn’t just text her husband to find out what was going on, and also creates a setting filled with paranoia, misinformation and changing racial views.

Screenwriters can see how using history helps create a more compelling story, while also hitting modern-day themes that viewers can relate to.

4. Write what you know

While writers Hart and Horowitz weren’t involved in crime during the 1970s, they did start writing I’m Your Woman when they had their first child. They could take the pressures of taking care of an innocent, helpless little being and make that part of Jean’s dangerous journey.

Screenwriters can add a unique element to their stories by looking at their life and putting those aspects into their characters. Having to take care of a child isn’t unique, but put that into the context of running for your life, and now you’ve upped the stakes.

5. Start off in prose

Julia Hart and Jordan Horowitz were interviewed on Final Draft’s Write On podcast where one of the topics they discussed was their writing style. For any screenwriter, finding the best pre-planning methods can be difficult to figure out or evolve as they learn new ways to outline.

For Hart and Horowitz, they wrote out their story in prose form and connected the dots of how each character knew each other and figured out who was betraying who, first, before starting the script. If you’re looking for a new way to outline your screenplay, consider writing it like a treatment before diving into the script.

I’m Your Woman is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

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