Chappaquiddick, achieves the seemingly impossible. It’s a movie about the powerful Kennedy political family that was acclaimed by both liberal and conservative critics.
Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan, who met at the University of Texas at Austin, co-wrote the screenplay, their first feature film script. It first attained industry buzz in 2015 by appearing on the Blacklist, an annual list of the most admired screenplays that have yet to be produced. Theirs recounts the fateful night and aftermath of a car accident that resulted in the tragic death of Bobby Kennedy campaign worker Mary Jo Kopechne and ended the presidential ambitions of Ted Kennedy, who was driving the car and attempted to cover up the incident. It is more character study than conspiracy thriller.
Allen and Logan spoke to Redbox about why they were drawn to this story, rescuing the legacy of Kopechne and why they will not be called to write the script for a movie about the Thai soccer team rescue.
Redbox: Chappaquiddick is a dimly-remembered political scandal that took place in 1969 involving the least-known of the Kennedy brothers. I’ve read you only learned about it in 2008 watching an episode of Real Time with Bill Maher. Not the most commercial of projects.
Taylor Allen: Believe it or not, when we came up with this, we were, like, ‘This is the most commercial idea we’ve ever come up with.’ It reflects our taste and the sort of movies we’ve always loved, A Few Good Men, The American President—I could list Aaron Sorkin credits all day. The reason this particular story resonated so strongly for us is this specific incident had never really been covered in a substantial way (onscreen). We felt there was a big missing piece we could fill in.
RB: Why do you think this film has been able unite Kennedy family lovers and haters?
TA: The truth has no political party. Even though I deeply admire Ted Kennedy’s political career, when I researched this specific incident, I was left with a lot of questions and was not happy with the answers. I needed to know more.
Andrew Logan: Liberals and conservatives praising the movie realize that the truth was our North Star.
RB: Have you heard from anyone in the Kennedy family?
TA: Only people (from the outer circles of the family). But as we went into production and refined what we were trying to do, it became clear that this was opportunity to honor Mary Jo’s legacy. Newspaper headlines at the time (‘Ted Safe, Blonde Dies’) dehumanized her and lost sight of what the real loss and tragedy was. We got in touch with the Kopechne family. They gave us their book, Our Mary Jo, which never mentions Chappaquiddick. It was dedicated to her life prior to that. We were excited to honor that legacy. The most nervous I was before any screening of the movie was a screening for her family. They told us they were nervous and skeptical, but they were really pleased with the way Kate Mara portrayed her.
RB: All the performances are outstanding. Ed Helms (as Kennedy cousin Joe Gargan) and Jim Gaffigan (as attorney Paul Markham), most associated with comic roles, are particularly effective playing against type.
AL: One of my favorite performances in the movie is Bruce Dern, who plays Joseph Kennedy, Sr. In early talks we said to him that he only had about five words of dialogue, and he said, ‘That’s five words too many! I’m going to do it all with my eyes.’ That’s exactly what we wanted Bruce Dern to bring (to the movie); that intimidation.
RB: I was surprised to be reminded by the movie that the scandal coincided with the moon landing. I thought you were taking poetic license, but no, they actually occurred the same weekend. You can’t make this stuff up!
TA: No one had connected the dots in the way Chappaquiddick was discussed and it was just completely by luck that we were going through the New York Times archives and realized that the front page was telling us that this was the same weekend of the height of the JFK legacy and the low point of Ted Kennedy’s political career.
AL: That was a big light bulb for us; connecting the legacies of the family over the course of this one weekend. I still have yet to meet somebody who was alive at the time of the moon landing who knew that those two things coincided.
RB: Why did you not want to direct your own screenplay?
TA: We entered into this believing in the idea that a movie is written three times, on paper, then on set and then finally in the editing room. So for our first feature film, we really wanted to see what a director would bring to it. We got lucky that John Curran is a fantastic actor’s director and is also dogged when it comes to the truth. And the editor is a friend of mine from the University of Texas who worked for years with Terrance Mallick. That was a nice reunion.
RB: Talk about getting on the Blacklist
AL: Literally a dream come true. I had started my career as an assistant on the Paramount lot in 2005, the first year of the Blacklist. I was fresh out of college ready to conquer Hollywood and not getting very far. I remember saying to myself that one day my name would be on the Blacklist, and 10 years later, we were.
RB: With the attention Chappaquiddick has received, are you being offered scripts, or do you want to continue writing original stories?
TA: (Laughing). Andrew and I were fortunate to be listed last year on Variety’s “10 Screenwriters to Watch” list. We have a text thread with the other screenwriters on the list. Yesterday, the text thread exploded because there was a rash of calls going around for (developing a script about) that Thai soccer team cave rescue. A lot of the people on the list were getting calls for that movie. Andrew and I—the makers of this political conspiracy thriller or whatever you want to call it—did not. I guess we’re not known for inspirational stories.
Chappaquiddick is now available on DVD, Blu-ray and On Demand.