10 Screenwriters to Watch (2011)

December 5th, 2011 by

Every year around this time, the trades focus on various aspects of the filmmaking business including screenwriters. Here is Variety’s annual “10 Screenwriters to Watch” list:

Josh Appelbaum & Andre Nemec

In the initial stages of “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol,” screenwriters Josh Appelbaum and Andre Nemec huddled with star Tom Cruise, director Brad Bird and producer J.J. Abrams hashing over the broad story points.

“It was a communal process,” says Appelbaum. “But when it gets down to me and Andre …”

“We spend a lot of time in room alone, laying it all out, beat for beat,” continues Nemec.

Jay Baruchel & Jesse Chabot

Jay Baruchel thinks it’s ridiculous that he and writing partner Jesse Chabot wound up working on two sports movies back-to-back, the hockey comedy “Goon” and “Baseballissimo.”

While they’re big sports fans, “we’re are about as far away from (athletic) as you could possibly get,” says the Montreal native, best known for his roles as awkward young men in movies such as “She’s Out of My League” and “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.”

Justin Britt-Gibson

Justin Britt-Gibson is obsessed with tough guys, the cynical, obsessive, hard-living, hair-trigger types found in the fiction of the Donald Westlake and Mickey Spillane and movies like 1971’s “The French Connection” and 1967’s “Point Blank,” starring Lee Marvin.

“I live and breathe in that world,” Britt-Gibson says. “That’s what gets me up in the morning, punching the keys.”

Neil Cross

Don’t let his dark stories and disturbed characters fool you; for a guy who has made a living out of weaving tales of crooked cops, mass murderers and scheming psychopaths, Neil Cross is a damn funny man. It’s a fact that sometimes takes fans by surprise.

“Bizarrely, I get a lot of people who are, I think, disappointed to discover that I’m not a psychopath,” says the writer, whose stints on British television shows include “Spooks” and “The Fixer,” and a creator credit on the hit BBC psychological crime drama “Luther.” It was only a matter of time before studios came calling.

Andrew Haigh

British filmmaker Andrew Haigh began his career as an assistant editor on films like “Black Hawk Down,” but he soon came to realize he’d rather be telling his own stories than piecing together someone else’s.

After honing his writer- director skills on a handful of shorts, Haigh tackled his feature-length debut in 2009 with “Greek Pete,” a film that blurs the line between fact and fiction to tell the tale of a male prostitute in London. That same year, the film played at the San Francisco Intl. LGBT Film Festival.

Kurt Johnstad

It’s no coincidence that every movie Kurt Johnstad writes is about warriors of one stripe or another, from the epic “300” and Relativity Media’s upcoming “Act of Valor,” starring active-duty Navy SEALs, to more recent script assignments like “The Gunslinger,” about an ex-Texas Ranger avenging the murder of his brother.

“Save for a few people in my life, every close male relationship that I have, they’re all warriors, whether they’re SEALs, competitive martial artists or professional mountain climbers,” Johnstad says. “They have a certain code. It’s how I’ve lived my life. You show up, work hard and be humble.”

Lauryn Kahn

Last year, Lauryn Kahn was making her living as an assistant to multi-hyphenate Adam McKay of Gary Sanchez Prods., a shingle he co-owns with Will Ferrell. Last month, Kahn sold her comedy spec “He’s Fuckin’ Perfect” to Fox 2000 in a deal that is reportedly worth $1 million. Emma Stone is attached to star.

Kahn’s life is about to get a lot more interesting, but she admits the transition has taken some getting used to. “I’m still working out of the Gary Sanchez office and people keep saying things like, ‘Stop ordering lunch for everyone!’?”

Jon Spaihts

In the early 2000s, Jon Spaihts was on another career path entirely as an executive for the New York-based educational technology company Teachscape.

“It was dangerous, because it was challenging, satisfying and intellectually demanding and I could see a good life there from which I would never return to writing,” he says.

So Spaihts took a year off from work to write his first script, and, before the time was up, he had completed “Shadow 19″ and sold it to Warner Bros.

Brian Yorkey

Brian Yorkey entered the world of screenwriting an accomplished playwright and lyricist — he penned the book and lyrics for “Next to Normal,” the 2009 Broadway musical about a mother suffering from bipolar disorder, which won three Tony Awards and a 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

While the worlds of stage and screen rarely mix, Yorkey sees a blurry area between the two, and he approaches new material for both in the same way.

“When I was a kid, whenever we’d go anywhere new, I would be less interested in seeing tourist stuff than in looking at the houses and apartments and trying to figure out what it was like to live where these people lived,” he says. “So whether I’m writing a song or a screenplay or a musical or stage play, I start by asking myself one question: What is that world like?”

Paula Pell

During her 17 seasons as a writer on “Saturday Night Live,” Paula Pell has seen the pattern play out time and time again.

“People will say, ‘I want to write a movie this summer,’ but by the end of the season, you’re just wiped out,” says Pell, who also has recurring roles as Paula Hornberg on “30 Rock” and Ron Swanson’s (Nick Offerman) mother, Tammy, on “Parks and Recreation.” “You start and you quickly say, ‘Oh, I’ll think I’ll do that next summer.’ “

Here are other annual lists from Variety:

2008

2009

2010

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