Unlike in theater or television, writers generally get the short end of the stick in the movie business. When a film doesn’t work, the script is blamed, when it does work, the director gets credit. Writers get fired, rehired, fired again, rewritten and screwed out of credit. But that’s not to say that once they get the momentum behind them, a screenwriter can’t become just as talked about as actors, actresses and directors around Hollywood watering holes and meeting rooms.
As such, following our picks for the potential stars and starlets on the rise, we’ve chosen five screenwriters who look like they’re going to be in demand over the next few years. We last ran one of these nearly two years ago, and all five of our picks have gone on to big things — Emma Forrest has David Yates and Emma Watson adapting her memoir “Your Voice In My Head“; “Prometheus” writer Jon Spaihts just got hired to reboot “The Mummy“; Michael Diliberti is writing “Little White Corvette” for Emma Stone; Brian K. Vaughan is adapting Stephen King‘s “Under The Dome” for Showtime, and Liz Meriwether created the smash-hit sitcom “New Girl.” Will our latest choices follow in their footsteps? We’d wager that they certainly will.
When you have several of Hollywood’s hottest, edgiest directors falling over themselves to work with you, you know you’re in a good place, and that’s where Andrew Baldwin has landed in the last few years. Not even out of his twenties yet, the writer is a Cornell and AFI grad whose first script, a compelling Western called “The West Is Dead,” about a band of outlaws set against the construction of the Hoover Dam, saw him make the Black List in 2008, and he was subsequently snapped up by CAA. It’s a muscular, taut piece of work, uninterested in being on-trend, and while the film has not been made, he’s continued to work steadily. In 2010, he sold “Red Asphalt,” a top-secret 3D thriller, to Lionsgate, and it soon saw Timur Bekmambetov attached to direct. But it’s the past six months that’s really seen a flurry of activity: The writer’s latest “The Outsider,” about a former WW2 prisoner-of-war who rises through the ranks of the Japanese Yakuza, placed fourth in the 2011 Black List, and is set up at Warner Bros with producer John Linson (“Sons of Anarchy“), who conceived the idea, and his father Art (“Fight Club“) on board. And only a few weeks ago, the film landed one of the hottest directors in town, Daniel Espinosa, and is chasing one of the most in-demand actors, Michael Fassbender. Around the same time, he also became the latest writer — following Alex Garland and “Gangster Squad” scribe Will Beall — to take a stab at “Logan’s Run” for Nicolas Winding Refn and Ryan Gosling. It remains to be seen if he’s the one who will bring it over the finish line, but it’s another indicator that he’s a serious talent to watch.
While the show only lasted a season, Fox’s dinosaur drama “Terra Nova” provided a hell of a calling card for British writer Kelly Marcel, especially considering that she wasn’t involved with the show past the pilot, and that she only wrote it as a lark for her father (“Hawk The Slayer” scribe Terry Marcel). Prior to that, Marcel, who started off as an actor, was best known for writing a musical version of “Debbie Does Dallas” at the Edinburgh Fringe, and for an uncredited, although extensive rewrite of Nicolas Winding Refn‘s “Bronson.” It was on that film that she befriended star Tom Hardy and the pair founded a theater company together, and also wrote a pair of TV comedy-dramas together: “Kickapoo Dust,” which was set up at Channel 4 and “Candy chops” which went to the BBC. It was around that time that she penned “Gondwanaland Highway,” the script that would become “Terra Nova.” That took her to L.A., where she ended up selling it to Fox and Steven Spielberg, and the following week, sold a second pitch, the death row drama “Westerbridge,” to Showtime. She elected to develop the latter, leaving “Terra Nova” to go on its own path, and while “Westerbridge” hasn’t yet made it to screens, she hasn’t looked back since. Her script “Valerio,” about a legendary Italian bank robber, made the 2010 Brit List, and has Kevin Macdonald gearing up to direct soon, but last year saw her write the script that looks to put her on the A-list: “Saving Mr. Banks,” about the relationship between Walt Disney and “Mary Poppins” author P.L. Travers, placed on the 2011 Black List, and sold earlier this year to Disney, which attached “The Blind Side” helmer John Lee Hancock, with the filmmakers targeting no less than Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson for the leads. And Marcel is ludicrously busy going forward: there are two more TV shows set up at Channel 4, “Trans Alice” and “Amazing Grace“; another at the BBC, a contemporary version of “Medea“; she’s executive-producing yet another at HBO titled “The Madonnas Of Echo Park“; she’s penning a top-secret project for Ben Stiller (which she describes as “a dark comedy… a very different character for Ben”); has a film called “Reunion” set up at Working Title and is adapting the book “Mr. Chartwell,” a biopic of Winston Churchill which physicalizes his famous depression as a six-foot-seven black dog. And what have you done with your day?
Topping the Black List isn’t necessarily the shortcut to fame and fortune you’d like it to be. In the seven years of its existence, some of the No. 1 scipts have made it to screens, but didn’t exactly set the world on fire — “The Beaver,” “Things We Lost The Fire,” “Recount” — while some still languish in development hell — “The Brigands of Rattleborge,” “The Muppet Man,” “College Republicans.” But Graham Moore, who topped the 2011 list, doesn’t seem to have any reason to worry: his calling card, “The Imitation Game,” was sold to Warner Bros. last year and has been put right on the fast track. Moore, a 30-year-old Columbia grad (where he studied religious history), began his screenwriting career with pal Ben Epstein, but first turned heads on his own with his best-selling novel “The Sherlockians,” about a Sherlock Holmes-obsessive trying to solve a real murder, while also investigating Arthur Conan Doyle’s face-off against a real-life killer. Despite (or perhaps because of) the mania around Holmes at the moment, the film rights are still available, but Moore had already moved on, penning the spec script “The Imitation Game,” about the life of Alan Turing, the genius computer pioneer who helped crack the Enigma code, only to be persecuted after the war for his homosexuality; he ended up killing himself with a poisoned apple. The script is a thrilling, beautifully-drawn read, and it’s no surprise it ended up being one of the biggest sales of last year. Initally eyed by Leonardo DiCaprio and “Harry Potter” director David Yates, the film recently landed “The Disappearance Of Alice Creed” helmer J. Blakeson, and is moving full speed ahead. But DiCaprio was clearly impressed anyway, as he hired Moore to adapt the beloved best-seller “The Devil In The White City,” about serial killer H.H. Holmes who may have murdered as many as 200 people against the backdrop of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.
Of all the places for the most in-demand tentpole screenwriter around to come from, the British comedy world is somewhere you’d least expect to find that kind of talent. But that’s the unlikely origins of Drew Pearce, and very few writers are hotter than him right now. Pearce started out as the creator of the short-lived entertainment show “Lip Service,” an ITV2 series that compiled clips from talk shows around the world. But soon after, he turned heads as the creator and writer of “No Heroics,” a sitcom that featured a group of hopeless British superheroes gathering in a pub together. The show wasn’t watched by many, and only lasted a season, but it was very funny, and gained enough attention to be picked up for a U.S. remake at ABC. The pilot, which starred Freddie Prinze Jr, Eliza Coupe (“Happy Endings“) and Josh Gad (“Book of Mormon“) didn’t get picked up, but clearly the combination of superheroes and comedy were enough to get some attention, as he was swiftly hired by Marvel to pen their adaptation of “Runaways,” Brian K. Vaughan‘s series about the superpowered teen children of supervillains. The film got as far as casting, under “Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist” director Peter Sollett, but the “Avengers” juggernaut saw it put on hold, and it’s yet to get going again. But clearly it was not because of Pearce’s script: Marvel hired him back for their golden goose, “Iron Man 3” — all the more impressive considering that Shane Black, the writer of “Lethal Weapon” and “The Last Boy Scout,” is directing the film. And after that, Pearce seems to have booked gig after gig: he’s penning an adaptation of DC Comics‘ “The Mighty,” about a cop who takes on a superhero, for Paramount; he was picked for another huge franchise with “Sherlock Holmes 3” (his Twitter by-line wryly comments “I mostly write threequels”) and he’s got an original action-comedy in the works too, “Secretaries Day,” to be directed by “Easy A” and “Friends With Benefits” helmer Will Gluck. And all of this in only a couple of years. Imagine what he can get done in the next 24 months.
It’s quite possible, common even, for a Hollywood screenwriter to make a good living for many, many years without ever having a credit on a produced feature. And Josh Zetumer is about as successful as it’s possible to be without (so far) having a movie in theaters. Zetumer broke in with the taut Black List-ed script “Villain,” about a man confronted and tortured in the mountains by his brother, who blames him for having his kids taken away by social services. That landed him right at the deep end, hired by Leonardo DiCaprio‘s Appian Way company to adapt an Atlantic Monthly article into “The Infiltrator,” a thriller about a British spy undercover in the I.R.A. Again, that film’s not yet made it out of development hell, but it worked, as Zetumer is perhaps the only man to have written for two of the biggest espionage franchises — he did a script polish on 007 entry “Quantum of Solace,” and was hired by Universal (albeit without the knowledge of Paul Greengrass, hence the director’s exit from the franchise) to write an unused draft for a fourth ‘Bourne‘ movie. At the same time, he also did some rewrites on the original “Sherlock Holmes,” and also was one of the many writers who’ve tried to crack Frank Herbert‘s “Dune.” Finally, 2013 will see one of his scripts make it to the screen: he penned MGM‘s “RoboCop” remake, and that film is finally moving forward, with Joel Kinnaman in the lead and Jose Padilha directing. That’s only going to make him more in demand, and he’s got two original projects in the work alongside it: a secret genre project called “Vale” at Warner Bros, which “Gangster Squad” director Ruben Fleischer is involved with, and a script that Universal hope will become a new spy franchise.
Honorable Mentions: In terms of more established names who’ve had a good last few months, there’s Michael Bacall, who co-wrote “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World,” and had two massive hits within weeks of each other, “Project X” and “21 Jump Street.” He’s now writing a “Tropic Thunder” spin-off for Tom Cruise. Craig Mazin‘s been around forever, but he’s one of the hottest comedy writers around after the one-two punch of “The Hangover Part II” and the upcoming Melissa McCarthy vehicle “Identity Theft” — he’s writing the third ‘Hangover’ at the moment.
“Underworld: Awakening” scribe John Hlavin has a bunch of projects in developments, including “Risk” for Will Smith and the Robert Ludlum adaptation “The Janson Directive” for Universal. Matthew Aldrich placed in the top five of the Black List for his comedy-drama “Father Daughter Time,” which Matt Damon is eying. From the comedy world, Lauryn Kahn and Kate Angelo both sold hot comedy specs: Fox bought the former’s “He’s Fucking Perfect,” and are trying to get Zooey Deschanel to star, while the latter has “Sex Tape,” which reteams “Bad Teacher” director and star Jake Kasdan and Jason Segel. “Parks and Recreation” scene-stealer Ben Schwartz (Jean-Ralphio!) isn’t just an increasingly in-demand actor, he’s also a screenwriter, who penned the Black-Listed “El Fuego Caliente,” a telenovela-themed remake of “Soapdish,” and also has “Would You Rather” set up with Brian Grazer and Ron Howard.