Remember how much I loved the adaptation of the novel WATER FOR ELEPHANTS? Stand back. I love the adaptation of Kathryn Sockett’s amazing novel. From the moment our creative team member, Shilpa Mysoor, put it in my hands I was hooked. A brilliant new voice in the wonderful tradition of Southern American writers! I looked at the movie poster the first time I saw it with more than a little bit of trepidation…I hate it when my favorite books turn into horrible movies. Thank heavens that my fears were assuaged from the first frames of the film – just like the novel, the film of THE HELP had me at “hello.”
What can attorneys learn from seeing this amazing film? So much – but I am going to concentrate on only one aspect. It is the amazing portrayal of how people get other people to tell them their stories. This is what attorneys do with their witnesses all the time. I am especially moved by one of these relationships we get to follow in the film. It is between the young would-be journalist, Skeeter (Emma Stone), and her first interview subject, the maid Aibilene (Viola Davis). The arc of the relationship reflects how sometimes, as a lawyer, you have to “hang in there and keep trying.” Emma has to first learn that getting the story wasn’t going to be easy. She then has to be willing to be quiet. To listen. To be open. To earn the respect of her “witness.” How often have I been brought in to “open up” an Aibilene because a Skeeter hasn’t been willing to put aside ego, preconceived notions of how things “must be,” and to put her/his honor on the line to earn trust. The arc of this relationship changes each of them individually, their relationship, and ultimately this country.
TIP: Are you willing to find the way to get this witness to “open up” and tell you the story?
I most certainly agree with Katherine. THE HELP is a remarkable film with outstanding performances. Performances that stayed with me.
What I want to talk about here is RELATIONSHIPS. What we follow, as an audience, are the relationships among the characters. The stronger the relationships, the more they change and matter to us, the more we care about the story. How we follow a story is through the development of these relationships.
In this film, the relationship between the two main black women, characters played by the stunning Viola Davis and the equally compelling and strong Octavia Spencer is what helps propel the narrative…the story. And their relationship with the character played by Emma Stone, the development of that relationship is what makes us care and helps drive us into and through the story.
What can lawyers learn from this? What the jury follows is relationship. To an outsider, a juror, the courtroom is a foreign world. Despite all the lawyer shows on TV, we all come into this world with expectations, preconceptions and distortions. Part of your job is to be our guide. To take us, and take care of us, through the journey of the trial. And we will learn about this world and about the story you want us to follow through how you treat your client and your witnesses. And also, how you treat the judge and bailiff and all the all the other characters who populate the world of the courtroom. Your relationship to all of them and to us, the jury, will inform and shape our understanding and caring of your story.
And make no mistake. Do not underestimate the effect of your behavior, your relationships with everyone in the courtroom – and in the lunchroom, in the hallway, in the parking lot. You may be observed and those observations will lead to judgments about you and your case and your story.
TIP: Are you aware of your relationships with your clients and with your witnesses? Are you aware of how these relationships are perceived and of what story they tell?