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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.
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Chris Terrio
Chris Terrio
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
Jack Thorne
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
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.


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


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