By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com April 10, 2012 at 11:59AM
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.