Amanda Idoko: Writing Was Destiny

It all starts with the script, yet the Breaking News In Yuba County story also starts earlier than that — in fact, in a twist worthy of fiction, it may never have been written at all had screenwriter Amanda Idoko stayed on the path everyone thought she should be on.

Read more about Breaking News In Yuba County

I was supposed to be a doctor,” says Idoko with a laugh. “I’ve always loved performing and storytelling, since I was a kid — I wrote short stories starting when I was 8, growing up in The Bronx, but it was always a hobby.”

Idoko, whose mom is a Nigerian immigrant, was a science major in high school who’d planned to be on a pre-Med track when she went to Cornell University, where she began by majoring in Biology. Yet she always leaned into her love of the arts by taking theater classes — and in her sophomore year at Cornell, there was a plot reversal.

“I was performing in As You Like It, and we were on a rehearsal break, and I was cramming for a Biology test the next day,” she says.

“Then I had an ‘a-ha’ moment, like, What am I doing? What I love to do is literally right in front of me! So when my mom saw the show, she took me out to dinner afterward and I asked what she thought, and she said, ‘You were amazing’ — and I said, ‘Great, because this is what I want to do, I’m changing my major from Bio to Theater!’ She told me to think about it.”

“I started getting calls from everyone in my family, everywhere from Bayside, Queens, to places overseas,” Idoko continues. “My relatives in Germany called and said, ‘If you want to take a semester off and just regroup, you can stay with us… ’

All the medical professionals in my family were contacting me. I smelled an international intervention about to happen! So I made a PowerPoint presentation that laid out all the reasons why I should change my major from Biology to Theater, complete with reviews from school newspapers of my performances and of shows I put up. I was ready to show it to my family when I came home for Christmas, but I ended up not needing it, because I got an email from my mom — it was a casting notice for The Lion King on Broadway, saying, ‘I thought you would be interested in this.’ I knew I was set with her. It’s like I got the green light!”

After graduation, Idoko attended writers’ workshops, and landed a job as a writer’s assistant on the FOX TV program Bones and was accepted into the prestigious Disney ABC Writing program, and spent her downtime writing.

Having never written a film before, she took a film-writing class — and in 2015 finished a script adapted from a play called Punching Glass that she wrote at Cornell, about a family of women trying to decide what comes next after their patriarch disappears without a word. (The play was later selected for the Manhattan Repertory Theatre’s One-Act Play Series.)

The script, originally titled Missing, was renamed Breaking News In Yuba County because Idoko loved the sound of the place a friend of hers grew up in: Yuba, California.

“I gave the script to my reps and started sending it out that year,” Idoko recalls. “It got a lot of good responses, and got me some meetings, and that was the year it got on the Black List, which was absolutely amazing.” The Black List, founded in 2005 by producer Franklin Leonard, showcases the best unproduced screenplays in the film business, surveying over 500 development execs to set its annual list and bring projects to the attention of industry professionals.

A partial list rundown of high-profile Black List scripts that have been made into features includes Oscar winners Juno, The Social Network, Whiplash, and Spotlight, and Oscar nominees In Bruges, Margin Call, The Wrestler, and The Wolf of Wall Street, among many others.

Idoko says adding a media satire element to her character-rich, female-centered crime-comedy-whodunit allowed for even more levels of wild, crazy, yet spot-on commentary.

“There is this idea in American culture of how the ‘story’ on both the media and audience side becomes more important than the actual people involved, and how the media has to strip away the humanity of who it’s about to keep pushing the sensationalism,” says Idoko. “In the eagerness to get attention or in the rush to break a story, we can forget these are real people these things are happening to. I wanted the story to comment on how you can lose track of the humanity — and, on the flip side, how someone can take advantage of that so they become the story.”

“It’s so rare to laugh out loud when you’re reading something alone on an iPad, and I found Amanda’s characters so complex and irreverent,” says Marker. “I love how she flipped the genre on its head, and that it’s a cartel of women going further and further down an existential rabbit hole.”

“I really love this kind of tone,” says Idoko. “I love the Coen brothers, and I was definitely influenced by them, and went into this with the intention of writing something like Burn After Reading.”

“It was one of those scripts that was so vividly written, and the characters so colorfully portrayed, that you could really see it on the screen as you were reading it,” says Stuart Ford.

Idoko says that when crafting the character of Sue Buttons, the universality of this very unique character was clear.

“When I thought of Sue Buttons reciting daily affirmations to herself, I thought, ah, I know who she is,” says Idoko.

“She is saying these to herself every day, because the world isn’t confirming them for her. I love her journey, because people who reach a tipping point are unpredictable, and it becomes like a chaotic game of dominos!”

When Taylor matched up with Amanda Idoko’s screenplay, the two found a creative kinship that would bring this wild, and wildly entertaining, caper to life.

“Tate and I discovered we had very similar sensibilities, so it was an easy process because we were coming at it from the same place,” says Idoko.

“It was great working with him. He brought such a fun energy to this project. Being on the set, you could tell everyone loved being there because of him — it felt like camp, we were all building this fun project together! Tate was great about creating a fun and safe environment, and allowing people to play with their creativity, and hiring great people and listening to them. It was a very collaborative process. And he’s a real actor’s director, he allows his cast to figure their characters out.”