Hear how writer/director Kimberly Peirce developed BOYS DON'T CRY and took it from the Sundance Labs to winning an Oscar.
Key Insights
  • The best narratives ultimately come from a place of passion and personal experience. Using your history makes for stronger storytelling and is key to building longevity in your career.
  • Always ask yourself "what does it mean to be truthful to a story?" This is especially important when dealing with historical or biographical material. Do your research and enter into the world respectfully as you seek to develop the story. 
  • Stories that resonate the most are those in which the character's motivations are honest and inherent to who they are as a person.
  • A dramatic story can be driven by a protagonist who has one need. In the case of Brandon Teena, his one need was to be loved; everything else flowed from that singular drive. 
  • When you find yourself consistently rewriting a scene that you know isn't working, it's likely because it's not necessary to advance the plot. Allow yourself to move on and explore other avenues. 
  • When crafting a film, if you pursue the story of a character wanting to do something and then they do it, the film should follow that action out; however, if you pursue the story of a character that has already decided to do something, then the movie should follow the consequences of that decision. 
  • In order to facilitate the audience's relationship with your protagonist, make sure the character is empathetic and truthful. You should never have your audience should be made aware of any decisions your character has already made. For example, the audience meets Brandon at a point where he is trying to live as a man, not already living as man. 
  • The texture of a scene often comes from complicating the truth - that's to say that working through a lie in your character's reality creates more depth in a story. Lana is an example of a character who consistently complicates the truth and is therefore central to the story's evolution (and the protagonist's demise).
  • Your protagonist's "first act choice" should unconsciously create the "second act crisis." This crisis should turn out worse than your audience can imagine, where your character loses everything--referring to the common cinematic trope: all is lost.
  • When your character does inevitably reach the "all is lost" plot point in the narrative, it's important to do so in a way that doesn't brutalize or lose the emphatic connection the audience has already established with them.
  • It's critical to understand the average movie-goer's level of tolerance when dealing with violent material so that you don't risk alienating your audience.
  • Finding the entry point to a film may not happen on the page. In Boys, the opening scene of the film originally occurred later in the script - but the visuals of Brandon getting dressed as a man ended up giving the strongest narrative and replaced the earlier written scenes.  
  • "Life of the spirit, death of the body," is a classic cinematic finale used in films to emotionally satiate those invested in the story. This allows for the character's physical body to perish, while their spirit lives on in such a way that creates acceptance of the outcome and makes peace with the audience.
  • Films based on real life sociological truths of the human condition - that expose larger cultural issues - are important stories to tell because to some extent, it helps to rectify a wrong that happened to a person, uplifts their legacy, and opens the door to create change through empathy.
  • Being a "good enough" filmmaker should never scare you when you hit a wall narratively, it simply means that you have to find a different approach to the material. Placing yourself in your character's shoes is a great entry way toward finding a solution.
Writer/Director
Kimberly Peirce staked her place as a writer and director of singular vision and craft with her unflinching debut feature, BOYS DON'T CRY. She is a proud to be a Governor of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, head of the Diversity Committee, and Executive Board member of the Director's Guild of America, and a member of Time’s Up and the WGA.

Join the Discussion