Elizabeth Chomko Interview: ‘What They Had’ director and writer
“It was a personal story that I felt compelled to write,” reveals Elizabeth Chomko about “What They Had,” which is her feature film debut as a writer and director. This story about a family coming to grips with an ailing matriarch (Blythe Danner) was inspired by Chomko’s own experiences with her grandmother, who died from Alzheimer’s disease after a 17-year battle. “It came from a place of grief and not wanting to let go of things, people and places that I wasn’t ready to let go of.” Watch our exclusive video interview with Chomko above.
This Bleecker Street release stars Hilary Swank and Michael Shannon as siblings trying to convince their father (Robert Forster) to commit their mother to a nursing home before her condition further deteriorates. Taissa Farmiga co-stars as Swank’s daughter, who travels with her to Chicago to deal with the family drama.
In writing the script, Chomko hoped to “make some sense … out of something that felt really chaotic and unfair, make something beautiful out of it if I could.” She penned the first draft in a “three-day, crazy writing binge,” lacing the script with “a lot of really personal details” that resulted in “this kind of love poem to my family and to my hometown.” Over the course of many drafts she tried to “think about the spirit of the story rather than the plot points of the story as they actually happened,” in order to “make it as dramatically compelling” as possible.
“What They Had” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year before playing at Toronto, Mill Valley, and Middleburg. Chomko won the Audience Choice Award at the Heartland International Film Festival. The film then opened in limited release on October 19.