Screenwriters historically get a rough ride in Hollywood. If a film works, they’re normally skipped over when it’s time to hand out the credit; if it doesn’t they’re the first to be blamed. They’re rewritten, fired, replaced, rehired, fired again, underpaid, made to do free drafts, generally abused, and disrespected. And then the star takes the credit for the best lines anyway. And yet, no movie that you love would exist without a screenwriter to come up with the damn thing in the first place; they’re the most consistently and perplexingly undervalued part of the process.
As such, we like to give the writers some props from time to time, and having looked at some bright young actors, actresses, cinematographers and composers who are worth paying attention in 2013, we want to focus on the noble typewriter monkeys today. We’ve done this twice before, in 2010 and 2012, and our picks have gone on to find success with things like “Prometheus” and “New Girl,” or be hired for high-profile projects like “Fifty Shades Of Grey” and “The Devil In The White City.” Will our 2013 picks follow in their footsteps? We reckon they’ve got a damn good chance to do so. Take a look below, and let us know who you’re keeping an eye on in the comments section.
It’s probably safe to say that Brian Duffield had a rocky start to the week. His first produced film, the western “Jane Got A Gun,” was supposed to start filming on Monday, but as has been well documented, director Lynne Ramsay failed to turn up for work. But given that, in the first place, the script managed (at one point) to attract not only Ramsay, but also Natalie Portman, Joel Edgerton and Michael Fassbender, and given the quality of his earlier scripts, we have no doubt that the woes around the film are just a minor bump in Duffield’s ascension. The Pennsylvania-born writer (who’s an active and honest presence on Twitter, and a one-time contributor to awards site In Contention) broke through in 2010. While he was working in a clothes factory in Vernon, Cailfornia, his script “Your Bridesmaid Is A Bitch” managed, through friends, to make it into the hands of management/production company Circle Of Confusion, who snapped both it, and Duffield up, with the script landing on that year’s Black List. Following a broken-hearted twentysomething who discovers that his sister has chosen his ex-girlfriend to be the bridesmaid at her wedding, it doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it’s a smart and funny take on the rom-com, with snappy dialogue and characters a few shades more complex than what you’d normally expect from the genre. It’s set up at David Ellison‘s Skydance Productions, with “Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil” helmer Eli Craig attached to direct. This led to some other spec script movement, including the action-comedy “Worst Honeymoon Ever,” about a couple, one of whom is a superspy, and “Monster Problems,” a “Zombieland“-ish post-apocalyptic comedy that’s set up at Paramount with Shawn Levy producing. But it’s ‘Jane’ that got into production first, at least until the recent hitch, and it’s very different; a dark Western, that shows what a versatile writer Duffield can be. We suspect that, once the Ramsay controversy has become trivia, there’s a lot more to see from the screenwriter.
At one point, Brad Ingelsby had one of the hottest scripts in town. His crime drama “The Low Dweller,” another Black List hit, written while AFI grad Inglesby was working as an insurance salesman, sold to Relativity Media back in 2008, with Leonardo DiCaprio set to star, and Ridley Scott considering directing. The latter didn’t commit, ultimately, but commercials helmer Rupert Sanders came on board the next year. Ultimately the film — a pitch-black, brutal and strangely poetic picture about a convict seeking revenge for the death of his brother at the hands of a local crime lord — didn’t move forward in that incarnation. But after a few years on other projects, Inglesby heavily rewrote the script, and it ended up retitled “Out Of The Furnace,” with “Crazy Heart” helmer Scott Cooper directing, and an impressive cast including Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Zoe Saldana and Woody Harrelson. The film’s now in the can awaiting release, and Ingelsby has been busy. He wrote a remake of Korean crime flick “Die Bad” for Marc Forster, adapted comic book “Sleeper” for Sam Raimi and Tom Cruise, and penned another crime flick, “Buried,” that “Little Children” director Todd Field was considering at one point. More recently, he was also tapped for the remake of Gareth Evans‘ cult actioner “The Raid,” although word’s been quiet on that for a while. “Out Of The Furnace” is set to be his first produced screenplay, impressively, but we shouldn’t have long to wait after that. Liam Neeson and Joel Kinnaman are starring in the Jaume Collet-Serra-directed father-son action thriller “All Nighter” this fall, while “Buried” has been retitled “Hold On To Me,” and will star Robert Pattinson and Carey Mulligan, with Field stepping aside for “Man On Wire” helmer James Marsh. Good things come to those who wait, then…
Rajiv Joseph & Scott Rothman
The winners of previous Black Lists have come from a varied range of experiences, from first-time writers to industry veterans. So it’s fitting that the first writing team to place first, Rajiv Joseph and Scott Rothman, are quite the odd couple. Joseph is one of the most acclaimed playwrights of his generation, thanks to works like “Animals Out Of Paper,” “Gruesome Playground Injuries” and the Pulitzer-shortlisted “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo” which hit Broadway in 2011 starring Robin Williams. Rothman, meanwhile, is a screenwriter who leans towards the comic side of things, who’d previously sold screenplays “First Timers” and “Frat Boy” to New Line and Warner Bros respectively. The two were close friends at NYU, and have remained so since, partly due to their love of football, which led to the idea of “Draft Day,” their Black List topper, revolving around the NFL Draft. Compared to “Moneyball” by many, the script, which focuses on a General Manager for the Buffalo Bills, was written in only a week, and swiftly sold to Ivan Reitman‘s company Montecito Pictures, and set up at Paramount. The project faltered at first, put into turnaround by the studio, but after placing first in the Black List, has been revived by Lionsgate, with Reitman and star Kevin Costner still involved. They’ve got another script, an adaptation of Alan Paul‘s book “Big In China,” in the works at Montecito, and were recently hired to pen a remake of German comedy “Kokowaah” as a potential directing vehicle for Bradley Cooper.
As day jobs go, being the producer of “The Today Show” is a pretty impressive one, and you have to wonder how Noah Oppenheim managed to find time to work on screenplays (though he’s since made the movies his full time gig). Oppenheim (who also co-created “Mad Money,” and was director of development at Reveille after leaving ‘Today’) made his screenwriting debut with “Jackie,” a biopic of one Jacqueline Kennedy, that focuses on the then-First Lady in the immediate aftermath of her husband’s assassination. It’s a terrific script, moving and propulsive (we took a detailed look at it back in the day), and it immediately got in front of a lot of A-list eyes: Steven Spielberg flirted with producing it for HBO, before then-couple Darren Aronofsky and Rachel Weisz became attached to the script. When they broke up, the film seemed to hit a stumbling block, but more recently, Fox Searchlight have been trying to sign Natalie Portman up to the project, though no director is on board as yet. Still, Oppenheim’s been busy. He was hired for remakes of “Snabba Cash,” “WarGames” and “1984,” and also has Joe Wright circling his adventure script “The Secret Life of Houdini,” which is set up at Summit. But his first into production is likely to be “The Maze Runner,” a young adult adaptation that’s gearing up at Fox, set for release next spring, though he also did a polish on the Wally Pfister-directed sci-fi actioner “Transcendence,” which will follow soon after. Hopefully “Jackie” will finally be along too…
Pretty much every aspiring screenwriter has the moment where they imagine finishing their script, getting it out there, and seeing it come to the attention of the biggest director and movie star in the world. For most, it’s a fantasy, but for Jack Paglen, it actually happened. His breakthrough script “Transcendence” is set to be executive-produced by Christopher Nolan (the film marks the directorial debut of his regular DoP, Wally Pfister), and will be led by megastar Johnny Depp, with Paul Bettany and Rebecca Hall signed on to join him on a project that Warner Bros have already set as one of their big 2014 tentpoles. And what’s remarkable is that Paglen has made it this far without a single produced credit. The mysterious screenwriter (who some suggested was a pseudonym, but is a real guy) graduated from Columbia in 2006, and ended up on the Black List the following year, with his thesis script “Joy,” a drama about a man who returns from the Amazon only to discover that his suicidal sister has gone missing. The script wasn’t picked up, but did land him representation at ICM. In the meantime, Paglen’s been teaching screenwriting at the New York Film Academy in L.A, while working on his scripts, but it was “Transcendence” that’s been the making of him, and with good reason. It’s an impressive, epic and emotional piece of hard science-fiction, convincing in its scientific detail, but able to handle spectacle and character alongside it. It comes off the rail a touch in its final act (as we said above, Noah Oppenheim has done a rewrite, which may have fixed this), but it’s still no wonder that it got the attention of Pfister, Nolan and Depp. There’s no word what Paglen’s up to next, but we’re sure it won’t be long before he’s working on something equally high-profile.
Nicole Perlman & Chris McCoy
Joss Whedon and Shane Black aside, Marvel aren’t known for hiring big-names screenwriters, but their picks for “Guardians of the Galaxy” are bold even by their standards, with two scribes who don’t have a single produced credit between them. But from what we’ve read, there’s good reason that the comic-company-turned-studio have picked these two out. Nicole Perlman made her name at 25 with a script called “Challenger,” which told the story of physicist Richard Feynman’s investigations into the Challenger space shuttle explosion. The film came close to production with Philip Kaufman directing and David Strathairn starring, only for financing to fall apart, but it got her a job on another factually-based space movie, “Capture The Flag,” as well as a third, Neil Armstrong biopic “First Man” at Universal. Perlman also spent time in Disney‘s now-defunct screenwriting program, coming to Marvel’s attention by writing a well-liked, secretive draft of a “Black Widow” solo movie (that’s never been put further into development), which saw her being brought in to do an uncredited polish on “Thor” as a result. The studio’s happiness with these saw her hired for “Guardians Of The Galaxy” a while back, and if her previous work is anything to go by, she’ll be grounding the fantastical adventure in real science. Whereas Chris McCoy, who was hired for the project more recently, is more likely to be bringing the funny. McCoy is a Black List staple who’s had a number of high-concept comedies in development in recent years. There’s “Get Back,” about time-travelling Beatles fans who try to stop Yoko from breaking up the band, with “Burt Wonderstone” helmer Don Scardino directing, “Good Looking,” an ‘Eternal Sunshine’-ish rom-com with Alison Brie attached, and comedy-drama “Year Abroad.” He’s also got a coming-of-age script called “Good Kids” that he’s set to direct himself, and animation “Little White Lie,” which Jan Pinkava was set to make at “ParaNorman” backers Laika at one point. Last summer, he sold a fairy-tale-themed rom-com to Disney, which helped him land the ‘Guardians’ gig (while Perlman’s also continuing to work with the studio, having sold original sci-fi pitch “Terra Incognita” last year.)
Despite being one of the buzzier titles at Sundance, “The Inevitable Defeat Of Mister And Pete,” about two Brooklyn kids (Skylan Brooks and Ethan Dizon) who leave their drug-addicted mothers to set up for themselves, is yet to land U.S. distribution. But whatever happens to it, the film certainly seems to have served as something of a calling card for screenwriter Michael Starrbury. Starrbury broke through with his Black Listed script “Watch Roger Do His Thing,” about a retired hitman, and after that, penned a Comedy Central pilot called “Black Jack,” which starred Ving Rhames, and was directed by David Gordon Green, and yet somehow failed to get picked up (we’d give our left arm to see that one…), while a half-hour comedy for ABC produced by Peter Tolan (“Rescue Me“) also failed to progress. But he got a lot of attention in Park City this year for ‘Mister and Pete,’ which also stars Jeffrey Wright, Anthony Mackie, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Jennifer Hudson and Jordin Sparks, and drew comparisons to “The Wire” and “Precious.” Beyond that, he’s got two big studio pictures in the works: “The Great Unknown,” a comic book adaptation for “MacGruber” director Jorma Taccone, and actioner “Fully Automatic” at Warner Bros. And he just landed the plum gig of rewriting the Tupac Shakur biopic off the back of the notices for ‘Mister & Pete.’ He seems to have pretty diverse skills, leaping from comedy to action to drama, and we suspect that we’re only just starting to scratch the surface of his success.
If you’re familiar with any of these guys, it’s probably Chris Terrio, seeing as he just won an Oscar about four weeks back for his work on Ben Affleck‘s “Argo.” But the 36-year-old Harvard grad is still a relative newcomer, and is yet one of the most sought-after writers around, so we’d be fools not to include him here. Terrio started out as an assistant for James Ivory, of Merchant Ivory fame, before winning some acclaim by directing and writing the short “Book Of Kings.” This led him to financing for his feature directorial debut, “Heights,” which rode an impressive cast (including Glenn Close, Isabella Rosselini, George Segal, James Marsden, Elizabeth Banks and Rufus Wainwright) to a Sundance premiere in 2005. The film (based on Amy Fox‘s play) picked up decent notices, but was mostly ignored on release, but nevertheless, it managed to get Terrio more screenwriting work, even though he’d only contributed additional material to “Heights” (making “Argo” his first proper screenwriting credit). Terrio’s subsequent work included a version of “Richard II” at Merchant Ivory that Jude Law circled for a while, but Terrio finally got his big break after getting the “Argo” gig, the script landing on the Black List as a result. And in the two years between then and the film reaching the screen, the writer’s been unfathomably busy. He penned a remake of French thriller ‘Tell No One” for Affleck, has a spy thriller called “Weather Service” in development, and took on another true-life tale with “A Murder Foretold,” based on the murder of a man in Guatemala, who left behind a videotape implicating the country’s president in the death. There’s lots more on the way, too. Terrio’s best screenplay to date, a real shift in tone, is period drama “The Ends of The Earth,” which David O Russell and Jennifer Lawrence are reteaming on, while he’s also got a crime movie with George Clooney and Paul Greengrass, and earlier this week he signed up to reunite with Affleck on American revolutionary drama “Bunker Hill.”
Jack Thorne is someone who’s been bubbling under for a little while, coming on our radars quite a few years back, but has exploded into activity in the last year or so with several projects set to hit between now and the end of 2014. Thorne started off as a playwright, and after some time with the Royal Court Theatre’s Young Writers Programme, debuted his breakthrough play “When You Cure Me” at the Bush Theatre in London in 2005 (other ones have followed, including “Fanny and Faggot,” “Bunny,” “2 May 1997” and,most recently, a new version of “The Physicists“). This brought him to the attention of Brian Eisley, who was in the process of creating a new teen series that would end up being called “Skins.” As well as launching the likes of Nicholas Hoult, Kaya Scodelario, Jack O’Connell and Daniel Kaluuya, it served as a breeding ground for writers like Thorne, who penned a number of the show’s best episodes. Other TV work followed, including two that Thorne created, the excellent “Castoffs” and the even better “The Fades,” while he teamed up with Shane Meadows for movie spin-offs “This Is England ’86” and “This Is England ’88.” But at the same time, he was starting to break into movies. His coming-of-age drama “The Scouting Book For Boys” is something of a Playlist favorite; wrenching and dark and beautifully made, it sadly never got a U.S. release, despite being one of the better recent British films, but it’s led to a lot more movie work. Aside from a “Skins” movie, Thorne debuted a short film, “Jonah,” at Sundance this year, and is credited on both the Nick Hornby adaptation “A Long Way Down,” and Kevin Macdonald‘s end-of-the-world romance “How I Live Now,” starring Saoirse Ronan. There’s more where that came from too. He penned the post-apocalyptic young adult adaptation “Blood Red Road,” and a TV movie of Stephen Kelman‘s “Pigeon English” for Ridley Scott, a version of the novel “Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand” for Warner Bros, and most recently, was hired for magician movie “Mortimer Wintergreen” by Johnny Depp‘s company, with Depp likely to star. And when you’ve got Johnny Depp’s attention, you know you’re made…
S. Craig Zahler
While things are moving quickly for the 2012 victors, Joseph and Rothman, topping the Black List doesn’t necessarily automatically lead to instant fame. S. Craig Zahler, for instance, placed first on the second-ever list back in 2006 with his Cormac McCarthy-infused Western “The Brigands Of Rattleborge,” but it’s only in the last twelve months or so that things have really lifted off for him. ‘Brigands,’ widely regarded as one of the best unproduced screenplays of the last decade, is a rule-breaking western epic about a gang who plan to rob a town during an almighty storm, and its unique voice, fascinating characters and twisty plot certainly put Zahler on the map. The script was optioned by Warner Bros, but got stuck in development hell, but Zahler has stayed busy. He was hired by Tobey Maguire to pen a “Robotech” movie, developed a western series at Starz entitled “Men of the Dusk,” and wrote two novels: “A Congregation of Jackals” and the imminent “Wraiths Of The Broken Land.” But of the movie gigs, nothing quite moved forward, with the exception of little-seen horror “Asylum Blackout.” But 2012 saw a flurry of activity. First, Michael Mann became attached to his present-day crime thriller “The Big Stone Grid,” then “Oldboy” and “Stoker” helmer Park Chan-Wook gave ‘Brigands’ a new lease of life by coming aboard, then he set up a martial-arts series called “Downtown Dragons” at FX, and has a directorial debut called “Bone Tomahawk” in the works, to star Kurt Russell, Timothy Olyphant and Richard Jenkins. That looks like it could be the first into production, so it could turn out that we come to know him better as a director than as a writer, but seven years after he break through, it’s clear he’s as much in demand as ever.
Honorable Mentions: There are plenty of other writers to keep an eye on in the near-future. For instance, the most recent Black List featured names like Sean Armstrong (“A Country Of Strangers“), Young Il Kim (“Rodham“), Richard Wenk (“The Equalizer‘), Justin Rhodes (“The Join”), Josh Campbell & Matt Steucken (an untitled project at Bad Robot), Allan Durand (“Willie Francis Must Die Again“) and Patrick Aison (“Wunderkind,” “Echo Station“). Meanwhile, writers who have acclaimed projects in theaters recently, or in the near future, and look to go on to greater things, include Kay Cannon (“Pitch Perfect“), Neil Cross (“Pacific Rim,” “Luther“), Chris Galletta (“The Kings Of Summer“), Aaron Guzikowski (“Prisoners,”), Joby Harold (“All You Need Is Kill,”) and Vera Blasi, whose “Pontius Pilate” has Brad Pitt circling. Anyone else you feel deserves a mention? Let us know in the comments section.