First Ten Pages: I, Tonya (2017)

Screenplay by: Steven Rogers

I, Tonya reveals the dysfunctional truths and miss-truths behind the astounding athlete Tonya Harding. What the infamous incident (Nancy Kerrigan’s knee being slammed by a police baton) entailed… But more interesting, and without a doubt devastating, what Tonya’s life was like as a child, up until The Incident, and thereafter. 

1. Establishing tone and/or genre:

From the very start, a clear-cut biopic filled with black comedy – dark subject matter (severe physical and verbal abuse) communicated through perfectly timed comedic beats, dialogue, and cleverly edited juxtaposition. All the while, never making a joke of the matter… Being able to firmly grasp how grave this was in Tonya’s life. 

DIANE

Yes, but she’s not my child.

LAVONA

No she’s mine. And I’m not throwing my

money away so she can fit in with

these little shits. You can dress up a

pig however you want, ya know what I’m

saying?

DIANE

It’s not about fitting in. It’s about

how she’s growing up.

LAVONA

Lick my ass, Diane. She can do a

fucking triple.

And in the background, Tonya does.

2. Introducing the main characters:

By the end of page three all notable characters – lead, supporting, featured – are brought in, exhibiting a wide (to say the least) range of essence in personality. Being unapologetic, up front, about the kind of individuals that make this story what it is. But, to keep focus on the three characters that carry I, Tonya… 

Tonya: a says-it-how-it-is bold woman and athlete who, at an all-too-young age, lived (and continued to live) a life consumed by relentless violent abuse, mockery, and economic struggle. 

TONYA

What’s people’s impression of me?

That I’m a real person. That I

didn’ ever apologize for growin’ up

poor or bein’ a red neck which is

what I am. In a sport where the

friggin’ judges want you to be this

old-timey version of what a woman’s

supposed to be. Um. For bein’ the

first U.S. woman to land a triple

axel. So fuck ‘em.

Jeff: the rather needy and mostly abusive ex-husband of Tonya. 

JEFF

At 27 I was the most hated man in

America. Maybe the world- with a

moustache I still can’t apologize

enough for. My name was a verb.

Like, if you bash someone in the

kneecap, you ‘Gillooly’ them…

That was cool though.

Lavona: the scarily abusive and demoralizing mother of Tonya.

On the ice, Tonya, 8, in an ugly homemade skating outfit,

flounders. Parents sit as far from Lavona as possible.

LAVONA (CONT’D)

Are you even trying. Cause there’s

other places I’d fucking rather be…

Concentrate. Is that what you call a

clean skate, for Christ sake?

SKATER MOM

Could you not swear in front of the

kids please, Lavona?

LAVONA

I didn’t swear, you cunt. (To Tonya–

Talking to a skater) Stop talking to

her! That girl is your enemy. You’re

not here to make friends.

3. Crafting the world of the story:

There are two worlds that Tonya was immersed in as a toddler, both being all that she knew for a considerable part of her life: competitive skating’s ruthless domain and politically driven antics vs. a wildly toxic personal life at the hands and mouth of her loved ones (unknowingly and knowingly perpetuated by Tonya, as well). Each world blended together drives the uncomfortable, yet hilarious delivery of truths… All of which lead to The Incident.

4. Establishing theme and/or the message:

Prior to writing the script, Rogers individually interviewed Tonya and Jeff. As doing so, he quickly discovered that he’d never get a straight story – both of them claimed to remember (essentially) everything as an opposite… Which is precisely how I, Tonya’s most centralized theme came to be: what is truth? 

Rogers explores this question brilliantly, exposing contradiction through tactics that fluidly carry throughout. Done so via countless particular beats, juxtaposition, and through a powerful approach of bleeding voice overs into characters’ dialogue real time – synching together opposing truths as if one (example pulled from beyond page-ten):

TONYA (V.O.)

He was really sweet in the

beginning. He was a good kisser. He

told me he loved me. And I believed

him. But then-

INT/EXT. JEFF’S TRUCK – STREET – NIGHT 

BAM! Jeff pops Tonya in the face. Tonya turns directly to the

camera.

TONYA

He started hitting me a few months in.

INT. MOTEL ROOM – NIGHT 

Tonya holds Jeff close as they make love for the first time.

TONYA (V.O.)

Then he’d say it’d never happen again.

But I figured-

Tonya turns to the camera.

TONYA

My mom hits me. She loves me.

INT. HARDING HOME – KITCHEN – DAY 

Jeff corners Tonya. He SLAPS her.

TONYA (V.O.)

That’s just what I knew.

INT/EXT. JEFF’S TRUCK – ROADSIDE – NIGHT 

Jeff’s truck ROCKS as inside, he and Tonya have sex.

TONYA (V.O.)

He’d say he was sorry. And things

would be normal for a while.

JEFF

I’m sorry.

TONYA

I know.

INT. HARDING HOME – HALLWAY – AFTERNOON 

Jeff chases Tonya around the house.

TONYA (V.O.)

He was the first boy I ever loved.

The only catch was-

Jeff shoves Tonya’s head into a mirror. Then to camera:

TONYA

He’d beat the living hell outta me.

INT. TONYA’S HOUSE – DAY – CLOSE ON: MODERN DAY TONYA 

TONYA

And I thought it was my fault. Look

Nancy gets hit one time-

INT. ICE RINK – DAY 

Wounded Nancy Kerrigan cries out, “WHY?? WHY??”

INT. TONYA’S HOUSE – DAY – CLOSE ON: MODERN DAY TONYA 

TONYA

… and the whole world shits. For me

it was an all the time occurrence.

INT. NAIL SALON – DAY – CLOSE ON: MODERN DAY JEFF 

JEFF

I never hit her. That’s not me. I’m

actually a pretty meek guy. (He

giggles) She hit me though. And she

packed a wallop!

INT. JEFF AND TONYA’S HOUSE – NIGHT 

Tonya, 19, fires a shot gun at Jeff, BAM.

JEFF (V.O.)

Fired a gun at me too.

TONYA

(To the camera, with a smoking gun)

This is bullshit. I never did this.

Keeping in mind that I, Tonya also exposes the deplorable fact that… People flat out lie. Many who convince themselves of their “truth” to uphold a reputation, to save face, to cope, to sleep at night… Whatever it may be.

INT. HARDING HOME – DAY – CLOSE ON: MODERN DAY LAVONA

LAVONA

To hear her tell it, I would operate

on her daily without anaesthesia. One

fuckin’ time. I hit her one time, with

a hairbrush.

INT. PRACTICE RINK – BATHROOM – OREGON – DAY 

Lavona WHACKS 8 year old Tonya with a hairbrush.

LAVONA

Fucking terrible, scum sucking, loser!

A female skating judge walks in, catching them. Tonya and Lavona

look up at her, caught.

LAVONA (V.O.)</p4

A child sometimes wants to be

corrected.

INT. HARDING HOME – DAY 

Lavona kicks over a tall chair 8 year old Tonya is sitting in.

LAVONA

Answer me when I talk to you.

INT. HARDING HOME – DAY – CLOSE ON: MODERN DAY LAVONA 

LAVONA

When I felt this, I gave her

criticism.

INT/EXT. LAVONA’S CAR – PARKING LOT – NIGHT 

Through the car’s BACK WINDOW, we see Lavona slap 8 year old

Tonya across the face.

INT. HARDING HOME – DAY – CLOSE ON: MODERN DAY LAVONA 

LAVONA

The thing about Tonya was, she skated

better when she was enraged. If there

was no “You can’t do it” type of

thing, she wouldn’t do it.

The bird poops on Lavona’s shoulder. Lavona keeps on talking.

LAVONA (CONT’D)

On the ice, I was there to inspire

her. Off the ice she was a happy, well

adjusted girl. 

Which all brings the theme full circle… How can we ever know what to believe? And in terms of The Incident, that’ll likely remain the case. 

5. Setting up the dramatic situation: 

The first ten-pages focus on world and character set up, planting the foundation for what “…you all came for folks!” 

Prior to that, though, a deep understanding of Tonya’s life is fundamental, to grasp her world beyond the media’s portrayal of whom Tonya “was” or “is”: “white trash” Tonya Harding vs. “perfect” Nancy Kerrigan. And for once, after being endlessly publicized as “one way”, Tonya was able to unveil what media paid no attention to… Opening room for new perspective and possible understanding, good or bad, toward the obvious…

INT. NAIL SALON – DAY – CLOSE ON: MODERN DAY JEFF 

JEFF

I admit it. A part of me still thought

the sun rose and set with her. I just

wanted her to look at me like she used

to. I just wanted to hold on.

INT. JEFF AND TONYA’S HOUSE – BATHROOM – AFTERNOON

Tonya covers her face with makeup to hide the bruises. Jeff

hands her a beer, apologetically. He kisses her neck and she lets him.

TONYA (V.O.)

I figured it was just for 3 weeks. The

second I made the team I was gonna

dump his ass. But…

INT. TONYA’S HOUSE – DAY – CLOSE ON: MODERN DAY TONYA 

TONYA

Before I could think too much on that,

I mean, it’s what you all came for

folks! THE FUCKING INCIDENT.

INT. MADDOX NEWSROOM OFFICE – DAY – CLOSE ON: MARTIN

MARTIN MADDOX rubs his hands together gleefully.

MARTIN MADDOX

The incident!

INT. RAWLINSON HOME – DAY – CLOSE ON: MODERN DAY DIANE

Diane looks away, distastefully.

DIANE

The incident…

INT. HARDING HOME – DAY – CLOSE ON: MODERN DAY LAVONA 

Lavona looks directly into the camera.

LAVONA

The fucking incident!

INT. NAIL SALON – DAY – CLOSE ON: MODERN DAY JEFF 

JEFF

Everyone remembers the incident

differently and that’s a fact.


Danielle Karagannis is a writer/director. She currently has a feature script entitled INSOMNIA (ensemble comedy) that’s been accepted into filmmaker labs and is taking her to the 2018 Berlinale / EFM. You can watch Danielle‘s latest film, GIRL (short), here: http://www.daniellekaragannis.com/watch and can follow her on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/cansathefan/.


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