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On The Rise: 10 Screenwriters To Watch In 2013

Features
by Oliver Lyttelton
March 20, 2013 2:45 PM
49 Comments
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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.

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49 Comments

  • Sue | August 20, 2013 11:33 AMReply

    What about Brit Marling? Watch her....

  • __ | March 27, 2013 8:32 PMReply

    Olivia Milch. Daughter of David Milch. She's going to be big these next two years

  • Isabel | March 25, 2013 11:32 AMReply

    There is not one single female screenwriter to watch in 2013? I find that hard to believe.

  • EAD | May 7, 2014 10:31 AM

    Just enjoy the list, is that so hard or are your feminazi sences tingling?

  • Da Truf | March 24, 2013 1:38 PMReply

    This list is inconsequential...being dubbed "one to watch" by a film blog will not have any effect on the careers of the above writers. Their lives will go on and the industry will demand them as needed.

  • GERARD KENNELLY | March 23, 2013 4:29 PMReply

    here is the last amazing script i read

    http://www.mediafire.dot com/view/?ni15n668i8a65hk

  • M. Dunbridge | March 22, 2013 5:39 PMReply

    WTF?!?!? Only one woman, and she's half of a writing team? If the moving picture hadn't been invented in the twentieth century, I'd think this was 1800...

  • WAd | May 7, 2014 10:32 AM

    You're sexist for thinking men can't fulfill a list

  • ilya | March 22, 2013 6:54 AMReply

    I am overwhelmed by the number of women on this list.

  • Sasha Is Crazy, Everyone Knows It | March 20, 2013 10:19 PMReply

    Not enough Korean babies and a Negro born with his heart on the outside on this list.

  • Gob Bluth | March 25, 2013 10:29 PM

    Nail. Head. Hit.
    Very funny. I still can't believe there isn't an octopus on the list - Imagine how fast they can type!

  • Alan B | March 21, 2013 4:16 AM

    Yeah, don't try to be funny, OK?

  • Alan B | March 21, 2013 4:15 AM

    Yeah, don't try to be funny, OK?

  • Alan B | March 21, 2013 4:14 AM

    Yeah, don't try to be funny, OK?

  • Susan | March 20, 2013 7:06 PMReply

    Really? You couldn't find a single woman for this list?

  • ryan | March 20, 2013 7:30 PM

    Nicole Perlman is a woman, and she's super awesome!

  • ryan | March 20, 2013 7:28 PM

    Nicole Perlman is a woman, and she's super awesome!

  • ryan | March 20, 2013 7:27 PM

    Nicole Perlman is a woman, and she's super awesome!

  • gk | March 20, 2013 6:50 PMReply

    I'm not proud of the Sundance Institute for not asking the question "Why aren't there ANY woman on this list?" Incredibly disconcerting and reveals no change has come in the boys' club mentality. Congrats, Sundance, you're keeping the good ole boys club alive. #irritated #shameonSundance

  • Solid | March 22, 2013 1:06 PM

    The sense-changing typo - sentence in my comment should read "but men are only interested in stories about..."

  • Solid | March 22, 2013 1:03 PM

    @Please,Stop There are many more *produced* male writers than female writers. Not necessarily because the scripts by men are better but because the conventional wisdom (and possibly the truth) is that women will go see stories with either male or female protagonists but are only interested in stories about men (or male characters in women's bodies, e.g. Lara Croft, Ripley).

    I'd like to know on what you base your observation that there are many more competent male writers than female. I teach screenwriting in an MA scriptwriting program and I can tell you that the best scripts in class are just as likely to be written by female students as male.

  • Please,stop | March 20, 2013 8:04 PM

    Maybe because there are way more man than women writers? And subsequently many more competent male writers?

  • Iu | March 20, 2013 6:44 PMReply

    The list consists of 1/2 a woman. She shared her spot with a man.

    This world. *sigh*

  • Iu | March 20, 2013 6:44 PMReply

    The list consists of 1/2 a woman. She shared her spot with a man.

    This world. *sigh*

  • Iu | March 20, 2013 6:44 PMReply

    The list consists of 1/2 a woman. She shared her spot with a man.

    This world. *sigh*

  • Iu | March 20, 2013 6:43 PMReply

    The list consists of 1/2 a woman. She shared her spot with a man.

    This world. *sigh*

  • Iu | March 20, 2013 6:43 PMReply

    The list consists of 1/2 a woman. She shared her spot with a man.

    This world. *sigh*

  • Iu | March 20, 2013 6:43 PMReply

    The list consists of 1/2 a woman. She shared her spot with a man.

    This world. *sigh*

  • Iu | March 20, 2013 6:42 PMReply

    The list consists of 1/2 a woman. She shared her spot with a man.

    This world. *sigh*

  • Reed | March 20, 2013 6:24 PMReply

    Only one woman on the list - and no picture for her. Come on!

  • AA | March 20, 2013 6:17 PMReply

    Julia Hart should have been on here.

  • Alexa | March 20, 2013 6:10 PMReply

    You know what's lame? Having to do affirmative action for movie features. These guys didn't create the male-dominated film industry. I'm sure sex and race doesn't even factor in here, they're just looking at what's popping at the moment like they usually do.

  • oogle monster | March 20, 2013 6:49 PM

    True- but they overlooked some notable female writers who, as you put it are, "popping at the moment." I mentioned one below. So, yes in a way they certainly overlooked female writers who are very much having a moment and chose to include 9 men instead.

  • oogle monster | March 20, 2013 5:51 PMReply

    How the heck is the writer of Middle of Nowhere not on here?!!!!!!!!!!!!! And why the heck is Terrio on here? I'm not even saying this is sexist like the person below me- this is just lazy.

  • Eggman | March 20, 2013 5:50 PMReply

    I also don't see any female names named in the comments, either.

    Do the readers crying "sexist" actually think there are writers' names missing -- if so, why aren't those readers dropping names? Or is it just a quota-type thing? Because that doesn't help anybody.

  • Sasha Stone | March 20, 2013 5:38 PMReply

    Um. Yeah. Very sexist. Terrio?

  • Alan B | March 20, 2013 6:33 PM

    Damn this system.

  • Alan B | March 20, 2013 6:32 PM

    Damn this system.

  • Alan B | March 20, 2013 6:31 PM

    Thank God: Sasha Stone - who represents ALL WOMEN and EVERY APPROACH TO FEMINISM EVER - has explained THE TRUTH. You fools at The Playlist (which consists of male AND female writers) don't understand that you should have consulted with Stone before writing this article. And every article. She knows all and is all. Thank God she checked in to explain the rampant SEXISM of The Playlist. In fact, can Sasha please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please comment on EVERY article, because only Sasha Stone understands feminism.

  • Alan B | March 20, 2013 6:31 PM

    Thank God: Sasha Stone - who represents ALL WOMEN and EVERY APPROACH TO FEMINISM EVER - has explained THE TRUTH. You fools at The Playlist (which consists of male AND female writers) don't understand that you should have consulted with Stone before writing this article. And every article. She knows all and is all. Thank God she checked in to explain the rampant SEXISM of The Playlist. In fact, can Sasha please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please comment on EVERY article, because ONLY Sasha Stone understands feminism.

  • Alan B | March 20, 2013 6:30 PM

    Thank God: Sasha Stone - who represents ALL WOMEN and EVERY APPROACH TO FEMINISM EVER - has explained THE TRUTH. You fools at The Playlist (which consists of male AND female writers) don't understand that you should have consulted with Stone before writing this article. And every article. She knows all and is all. Thank God she checked in to explain the rampant SEXISM of The Playlist. In fact, can Sasha please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please comment on EVERY article, because ONLY Sasha Stone understands feminism.

  • YZZ | March 20, 2013 4:57 PMReply

    How is an Oscar winning A-lister "on the rise" and one to watch? Everyone knows Terrio is brilliant.

  • YZZ | March 21, 2013 1:15 AM

    That's not even accurate, Freinz. He worked on Heights. He's literally the hottest writer in Hollywood and has a rich blind deal at a studio. He's not "on the rise". He's made it x 10000. Could have given that spot to plenty of other, legitimately rising writers.

  • Freinz | March 20, 2013 10:17 PM

    90% of the population never knew who this guy was until he won an Oscar. He's had ONE produced screenplay in his career. Argo.

  • XX | March 20, 2013 3:42 PMReply

    weak, sexist list.

  • Arch | March 20, 2013 3:02 PMReply

    That's a list I hoped to see but wasn't sure would happened.
    I mean for some reasons (most notably the writer/director icon and the "script" issue in indie cinema) it almost seems to me screenwriting is on the verge of becoming a lost art.

  • Yss | March 20, 2013 2:49 PMReply

    Only 1 female screenwriter is on the rise? Sad.

  • ML | March 20, 2013 3:35 PM

    And she's paired with a guy, so it's like a 1/2 vote of confidence.

  • spassky | March 20, 2013 3:07 PM

    Was just about to say the same thing :(

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