About The Production
A taut and twisting tale of a Washington powerbroker obsessed with victory, the
Miss Sloane screenplay took filmmaker John Madden by surprise with its richly
detailed portrait of an industry that remains shrouded in mystery. "While having
a sense of the job description, I didn't know exactly what a lobbyist did, which
I imagine is true of a lot of people," says Madden, acclaimed director of such
diverse films as Mrs. Brown, The Debt and Academy Award winner Shakespeare in
Love. "The script was intelligent, unexpected and very satisfying. It is set in
a world where everything is strategy. The natural language of the characters is
irony and indirection, which makes for an extremely clever - and very funny and
surprising - film. The greatest weapon the script has is that it never lands
exactly where you think it's going to."
Elite communications professionals, lobbyists make their living by influencing
the decision-makers of the world, including the most powerful lawmakers in
America. Mysterious, secretive and fantastically powerful, even the origins of
the term lobbyists is unclear, although some say it was coined by President
Ulysses S. Grant to refer to special-interest representatives waiting to
buttonhole him in the lobby of the Willard Hotel.
"The film defies a single description," says Madden. "It is at once a political
drama, an unpredictable and constantly surprising thriller, an expose of a
little-examined, and even less well-understood mechanism of the political
process, and above all, a riveting study of an extraordinary and obsessive
character, defined as much by her intelligence and skills as by her gender. And
most unexpected of all is its portrait of the emotional life of a heroine who
would refuse to countenance that she even has one."
"The film is about a seemingly unattainable political objective," Madden
continues. "It is an issue which has stubbornly refused to respond to legal
challenge. It looks at the many tactics lobbyists use to influence people.
Trying to overcome the insurmountable obstacles is the ride of the film, and
it's driven by Elizabeth Sloane. She takes no prisoners and employs tactics that
might raise eyebrows. She rarely
ever stops to rest. She is an utter obsessive, and obsessives are a very
interesting breed to watch on film."
Madden was perhaps most surprised by screenwriter Jonathan Perera. A U.K.-
educated attorney who left his practice to try his hand at writing, Perera had
never penned a screenplay before or even spent much time in the U.S. "I'd
expected a cocky, knowing, Santa Monica-dwelling film nerd," says the director.
"He's nothing like that. He is very literate about film, but incredibly open,
smart and direct, without the attitude that might go with such a precocious
Perera was living in South Korea, teaching English at an elementary school, when
he started preparing to write his first script. Instead of enrolling in film
school, he read as many scripts as he could get hold of. "I'd read the first 60
pages of a script. And then I'd go to work and think about how I would end it.
In the evening, I'd read the latter sixty pages of the script and see how I
An interview he heard on BBC News gave him the kernel of an idea that he needed
to get started. "It was a man named Jack Abramoff," he remembers. "He was a
lobbyist who had been sent to prison for some kind of wrongdoing. I didn't know
too much about the lobbying industry, but I knew that it could be a great basis
for a film. I felt we hadn't really seen an exploration of the influence
peddling and power brokering that goes on behind the scenes in Washington."
Miss Sloane takes the audience inside the soundproof conference rooms of a
multi-billion-dollar industry that traditionally keeps a low public profile. "I
was interested to explore how they bring their power to bear," says Perera.
"It's kind of an intersection between politics and espionage. They hew as close
to the edge of the law as possible to put pressure on the representatives. And
they don't always manage to stay within the law. I wanted to push a lobbyist to
the legal limit and see where it took the story."
Perera managed to get his script in front of Ben Browning, co-president of
Production and Acquisitions at FilmNation Entertainment. "I got sent a script by
a writer I didn't know," Browning recalls. "It was the first thing he'd ever
written and it was great. The movie got made in the course of just over a year.
In my experience, that never happens in Hollywood."
Browning was impressed by the power of the writing and the originality of the
storytelling. "It is a gripping drama from the very beginning, a script that you
finish in one sitting," he explains. "It has elements of thriller, drama and
politics, but more than anything else, it's a great character piece. It's an
entertaining, fast-paced look at one of the lesser-known aspects of politics
with a spectacular female leading role. And it's not a female role that's
defined by anything conventionally female. She isn't a wife; she isn't a mother.
Miss Sloane could have been a man, but making her a woman in a man's world makes
this character feel so much richer."
Madden and Perera spent several weeks together in London researching the
political and procedural underpinnings of the story before Perera began
reworking it. "It was already a very strong script," says Madden. "It just
needed to be deepened and fleshed out. Jonathan and I are both literate in
American political procedure, but not experts. We didn't want to begin exploring
things creatively without knowing that we were on solid ground with the facts."
From their very first discussion, Perera was impressed by Madden's keen grasp of
the story. "It's very complicated to unpack," he explains. "There are lots of
storylines, lots of threads, lots of layers going on, but John understood it
completely. More than anything else, he knew what was going on inside the
characters' heads. A large part of rewriting the movie was sitting with him and
talking about how the characters should develop over the course of the story. In
the first draft of the script, Elizabeth was always two steps ahead of everyone
and never particularly vulnerable. Developing some of her relationships further
gave us a lot more colors to work with."
The film's central character, Elizabeth Sloane, is a high-powered lobbyist
working at a well-established white-shoe firm. "She's what you might call a
dark-arts lobbyist, meaning she will use ethically questionable methods to
achieve her clients' goals," says Perera. "We meet her at a point in her life
when she's on the verge of a meltdown. She turns down a lucrative offer to quash
a controversial piece of legislation and instead goes to work for the
The piece of legislation in question is the fictional Heaton-Harris Bill, a
bipartisan bill proposing stricter gun control legislation. "But the issue of
legislation isn't itself the film's subject," says producer Kris Thykier. "This
is an engrossing film set in the world of government affairs and lobbying.
Jonathan placed an emotive issue at the heart of it, but it could perhaps have
been one of a number of others. The whip crack of the dialogue and the humor
underneath it refresh our notions of the genre, creating something both
accessible and entertaining. Elizabeth Sloane's pursuit of her goal at any cost
and her ability to play with people's lives are riveting to watch."
When the film opens, a Senate hearing examining Liz Sloane's ethics is underway.
As the committee questions her and the other witnesses, the action flashes back
to the circumstances that have brought her there. "The real challenge was to
make a movie that's so verbal," says Madden. "The talk is smart and really fast,
which made the script an exhilarating read. But a story about a bunch of people
talking has to earn its keep as a piece of cinema, and we looked for ways to
With his cinematographer, Sebastian Blenkov, Madden developed a cinematic
approach to this most verbal of pieces. The story's momentum and immediacy were
the touchstones of this approach, which unfolds in a free-flowing rhythm of
shooting that allowed several ideas and narrative strands to co-exist. This was
further played out in the editorial strategy, where Alexander Berner
externalized Elizabeth's patterns of thought, constantly juxtaposing and
reordering cause and effect. As Madden puts it, "The story develops in bursts of
headlong, adrenalized energy, interrupted by stasis and silence, when the void
underneath the character's obsession opens up and threatens to engulf her."
Browning had faith that Madden would keep the action moving and the atmosphere
dynamic. "John Madden is simply an excellent filmmaker," he says. "I put him in
a category with Ang Lee or Stephen Frears. He's defined by the fact that he
makes good films, period. You can't necessarily draw lines of continuity between
his works, other than that he's clearly attracted to great drama, he brings
forth incredible performances and his films have texture and a sense of place."
"The film will transport audiences into a world that perhaps they thought they
knew, but that is so much more complex than they ever dreamed," says
Thykier. "You're going to be drawn in by this charismatic, compelling, often
dark character and the sheer satisfaction of a tale well told."
"The story is meant to be an exciting ride that keeps audiences on the edges of
their seats," says Perera. "Movies about politics don't have to be stuffy," he
adds. "The audience won't feel lectured or talked down to. They will be
second-guessing where this is going and be upended just as the characters are.
Entertainment can also be intellectually engaging, it can spark a debate, but
that's not the sole objective here. The objective is to send the audience on a
rollercoaster ride with an extraordinary heroine."
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