The Washington Post

Working on His Acceptance Speech?

The Reliable Source
By Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts
12/17/07

In glam Hollywood style, Jeff Porro was off in an exotic time zone -- family vacation in Thailand -- when he got the wee-hours call that his movie had received a Golden Globe nod. The D.C. speechwriter and PR guy is one of the brains behind Denzel Washington’s “The Great Debaters,” opening Christmas Day and nominated for best drama.

Leaving the country at the kickoff of awards season? The showbiz newbie didn’t know until the last minute if his name would even make the credits, though he developed the story and helped write it. “In Hollywood it's a complex negotiation of who gets credit,” he said. “In the end it worked out.”

Porro, who has written for Kofi Annan and Jimmy Carter, was just another D.C. scribe “with a novel in the desk or a screenplay in our mind” when he found his movie idea 10 years ago in a short magazine piece about the 1930s African American debate team from tiny Wiley College in Texas. He dove into research (even interviewing Wiley debater-turned-civil rights icon James Farmer before his death), then partnered with an old friend, veteran screenwriter Robert Eisele. They quickly got a deal with Oprah’s Harpo Films and Harvey Weinstein, but the project didn’t get off the ground until Washington decided to direct and star.

Can a D.C. speechwriter find a future in the movies? Porro’s game to try. “In both speechwriting and screenwriting, you have to capture characters,” he said. “That’s what I love about it.”