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On The Rise: 10 Screenwriters To Watch In 2013

Photo of Oliver Lyttelton By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist March 20, 2013 at 2:45PM

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.

Noah Oppenheim
Noah Oppenheim
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... 

Rebecca Hall nabs female lead opposite Johnny Depp and Paul Bettany in TRANSCENDENCE.
Jack Paglen
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.

Guardians Of the Galaxy, art,
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.)

Michael Starrbury
Michael Starrbury
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.

This article is related to: Features, On The Rise Features

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