October 15, 2008 | Comments ()

By Dustin Rowles | Guides | October 15, 2008 |


If you check Entertainment Weekly or Premiere online, or peruse the industry news on a site like ours or Slashfilm, Spout, or Cinematical (or even Ain’t It Cool News, though we’ll have to revoke your Pajiba card for doing so), you can get a pretty decent idea for who the blockbuster writers and directors of the future will be. In geek circles, most of them are household names already, and within six months or a year, they’ll be household names in actual Middle-American households. The release schedule is well represented by the future star filmmakers of Hollywood, and even if they’re names are not necessarily widely known yet, their projects are. If you read this site regularly, you already know who I’m talking about: Star Trek’s J.J. Abrams; The Watchmen’s Zak Snyder; Pineapple Express’ David Gordon Green; Cloverfield’s Matt Reeves; V for Vendetta’s James McTiegue; Eagle Eye’s D.J. Caruso; The Hobbit’s Guillermo del Toro; i>The Wrestler Darren Aronovsky’s <; Green Hornet’s Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg; Atonement’s Joe Wright; Clash of the Titan’s Louis Letterier; and even Night at the Museum’s Shawn Levy. These guys are your next Speilbergs, Wes Andersons, Charlie Kaufmanns, Judd Apatows, Kevin Smiths, Christopher Nolans, Peter Jacksons, Wachowski Brothers, and even Bret Ratners.

This Guide is not about those guys.

Today, we’re going to dig a little deeper. After all, being a filmmaker is not always about being a huge, blockbuster star whose every film title is prefaced with your name. There are hundreds of writers and directors who work a little more below the radar, but who manage to consistently get projects. People who are smart, talented or political enough to exist in the Hollywood establishment for years without ever appearing on the cover of a magazine. Even a filmmaker magazine. Do you know what Alex Proyas looks like? Akiva Goldsman? What about Simon Beaufoy? Gabrielle Muccino? David Frankel? Don Roos? David Anspaugh? Gary Winick? Harold Zwart? Donald Petrie? Miguel Arteta? Cinephiles may have heard of a couple of these guys, but most people have never heard of any of them, but they’ve probably seen one of their many, many successful movies. They are, among many others, Hollywood’s working class. Today’s Guide is about the next class of Hollywood’s blue collar writers and directors.

It’s not a sexy list. In fact, it’s full of names many of you have never heard. It’s industry inside baseball, or at least as close as we’ve ever come to it. A few of these writers and directors may eventually break out, and one or two may even become the next Zak Snyder or J.J. Abrams. Moreover, there’s not a lot I can write about most of them, because one of the prerequisites to being on this list is a short resume. But I’ve seen enough, read enough, or heard enough buzz about them to say that most of them will still be around a decade from now. They are the writing and directing versions of character actors — you may not know their names, but you will know their films.

This is Pajiba’s version of Vanity Fair’s Hollywood issue, folks. Drop and give me 25:

Jonathan Aibel and Glen Burger: Aibel and Burger have been around for a long time now, as little known Emmy-winning writers for television shows like “King of the Hill” (which they also produced) and “Mad TV.” But it was only this year when they finally struck it big in Hollywood, penning the script for the $415 million internationally grossing Kung Fu Panda. Suddenly, they are in demand. Not only have they signed on to pen a sequel to Kung Fu Panda, but they’re also writing an untitled spy comedy featuring Jack Black as a character who wakes up on a Cuban beach and believes he’s the equivalent of Jason Bourne. Buffoonery ensues. They’ve additionally written the script for next spring’s Monsters vs. Aliens, an animation film featuring the voices of Seth Rogen and Reese Witherspoon. Combined, these guys could be the next John Lasseter.

Sean Anders: Anders debuted in 2005 with the little seen Never Been Thawed, a mockumentary about fanatical collectors hosting the first Frozen Entree Enthusiasts Convention. It was filmed on a meager $35,000 budget, and though few saw it, enough folks noticed Anders’ potential in it to sign him to write and direct the teen comedy Sex Drive, which will actually be released this Friday. It’s being described as funnier than the recent Apatow films. If it does well, Anders may become a hot commodity in a genre (comedy) where so few films are any good anymore. If not, he’s got another bite at the apple; he wrote She’s Out of My League, a Jay Baruchel dating comedy due out next year, which puts him two degrees from Apatow. By Monday, Anders may even be famous enough to warrant his own Wikipedia page.

Pete Chiarelli: Chiarelli is a product of the studio system, rising the ranks over the years to become the President of Kurtzman/Orci, the production shingle behind Transformers, Mission Impossible III, and most recently, Eagle Eye, which Chiarelli co-produced. He’s currently producing four projects due out over the next three years, including this month’s romantic-comedy, The Other End of the Line. But of more importance is a script for The Proposal, currently in post-production, that Chiarelli wrote, starring Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds, and directed by Anne Fletcher, hot off her successful 27 Dresses (blurgh). The Proposal has been given a plush June release date, which bodes well for the flick. And Chiarelli, who submitted his script to his own studio under a pseudonym to avoid favoritism, is just the kind of guy smart and political enough to stick around for decades, writing and producing profitable studio flicks mostly under the radar.

Derek Haas and Michael Brandt: One of several writing teams on this list, Haas and Brandt have already written films you know and love: Wanted and 3:10 to Yuma, plus the stinker, 2 Fast 2 Furious. But you can expect to see a lot more of Haas and Brandt over the next few years. They’ve already been tapped to write up to two sequels for Wanted, and they are writing two of next year’s higher profile films, The A-Team and Spy Hunter, starring Dwayne Johnson. They are also attached, as writers, to Bret Ratner’s Beverly Hills Cop IV and David Cronenberg’s The Matarese Circle. Additionally, they also have two other scripts in various stages of development. Plus, Brandt — working from a script both and Haas wrote — is directing Countdown next year, adapted from the Richard Matheson short story.

Craig Gillespie: Gillespie so far is one for two, having directed the enchanting Lars and the Real Girl, starring Ryan Gosling, and the awful, Mr. Woodcock, starring Stiffler. But even in Woodcock, he displayed talent, creating a movie infinitely better than the horrendous script deserved. So much so, in fact, that he’s been tapped to direct the pilot of The United States of Tara, a Showtime drama written by Diablo Cody, created by Steven Spielberg, and starring Toni Collette and John Corbett. But the movie that just might make him an Oscar contender is next year’s The Dallas Buyer’s Club, starring Ryan Gosling as Ron Woodruff, an electrician who — in the 80s — got full blown AIDS and was told to go home and die. He managed, by exploring the pharmacopeia underworld, to prolong his life and, ultimately, the lives of many others. If it doesn’t win Gillespie some metal, I’m sure it’ll get Gosling some.

Seth Gordon: Gordon, who has cinematography, editing, and visual effects credits under his belt, directed last year’s out-of-this-world phenomenal documentary, The King of Kong, which rightfully gained him enough recognition to get him attached to a big studio film, this holiday season’s Four Christmases, starring Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon, which seems a waste of Gordon’s talent. After that, he’s directing The Only Living Boy in New York, working from a script from another up-and-comer who just missed this list, Alan Loeb (Things We Lost in the Fire, 21). He’s also producing, along with Morgan Spurlock, a documentary based on Steven Levitt’s, Freakonomics. Gordon may never rise to celebrity director stardom, but he’s definitely a guy I expect to firmly entrench himself into the studio system.

John Hindman: This one is based strictly on a hunch, as Hindman has absolutely nothing on his resume but for a romantic comedy he wrote and directed coming out in 2009, Dream of the Romans. But the cast includes a couple of the future of Hollywood actresses, Kat Dennings and Olivia Thirlby, as well as a couple of respected veterans, Lauren Graham and Jeff Daniels. This one, I just have a solid feeling about: John Hindman is gonna be big. Mark my words, folks. Check back in 2010.

Jody Hill: Jody Hill, who had a tiny role as Long John Silver in Superbad, is the guy who wrote and directed the little-seen, but well-received Foot Fist Way, a movie that didn’t introduce Danny McBride to the world (David Gordon Green did that in All the Real Girls), but did lead McBride onto his status as a member of the acting equivalent of this list (you’re going to be seeing a lot of McBride in the next several years). Hill also has a TV show in the works, starring McBride as a former major league baseball player who returns to his hometown to teach middle school phys ed. But the project that’s probably going to be the break-out hit for Hill is Observe and Report, a comedy due out next year starring Seth Rogen as a mall cop who wages war on the real cops (not to be confused with the awful looking, Paul Blart: Mall Cop with Kevin James). After that, Hill already has deal in place to write and direct another untitled project for Warner Brothers.

Grant Heslov: Heslov has been around for a long time as a small-time actor in everything from “Joanie Loves Chachi” to “Mama’s Family” to The Scorpion King and Leatherheads. You’d probably recognize his face, but you’d never know his name. He has 61 acting credits, and most of those are from television shows, but he’s rarely been in any more than one episode of anything. Recently, however, he’s had the good fortune of apparently befriending George Clooney (probably as co-producer of Intolerable Cruelty), just as he turned his career to the other side of the camera. Heslov co-wrote Good Night and Good Luck with Clooney, and directed several episodes of Clooney’s HBO show “Unscripted.” And recently, he hit the jackpot; he’s now attached to direct Men Who Stare at Goats (screenwriter below), which will star Clooney, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey, and Ewan McGregor. As a producer, Heslov also has three other films in the works, including the James Ellroy adaptation, White Jazz.

Rian Johnson: Johnson, arguably, is one of a couple of guys on this list with the best chance of transcending the working class, and probably the best known among our readers. Johnson, you see, wrote and directed Brick, an unbelievably, breathtakingly awesome noir that made only $2 million at the box office, though a quarter of that was probably from our readership. He’s already won several awards naming him the best directing newcomer, and this fall, he has another film out that’ll probably push him into the next level, The Brother’s Bloom, a modern take on the con man picture, starring Rachel Weisz, Mark Ruffalo, and Adrien Brody. And if that doesn’t work out, surely his follow-up, Looper will. It’s a film about hitmen who are sent their victims from the future.

Karyn Kusama: Kusama should’ve already moved up into the A-list, after directing the well-received, little-seen Girlfight. But she took a step backwards, signing on to the big-budget, awful Aeon Flux, one of the worst films of the decade. However, she’s now got a chance to reinvent and redeem herself, as she’s currently directing the horror comedy, Jennifer’s Body, written by Diablo Cody and starring Amanda Seyfriend, Allison Janney, J.K. Simmons, and Megan Fox. And if that cast and writer doesn’t jump start your career, you probably don’t deserve to have it jumpstarted.

Jonathan Levine: Levine has floated way under the radar for a few years, directing the obscure All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, a 2006 slasher film which — so far as I can tell — is still sitting on the shelves collecting dust. Levine caused a blip, however, when Wackness became a huge success at this year’s Sundance Festival (it won the audience award), though the film itself barely put a dent in the box-office. But, it is a movie likely to gain a cult following on DVD, and it revealed Levine’s deep talent. And despite the failure of Wackness, Levine has two films in development, Echelon Vendetta, adapted from David Stone’s novel, and Positive, a romantic thriller which he will write and direct.

Scott Moore and Jon Lucas: I wouldn’t call Scott Moore and Jon Lucas a particularly talented writing team, but they do seem to the kind of guys who know the system well enough to continue getting scriptwriting projects despite a relative lack of success. The team wrote the dreadful Rebound, the awful Full of It, and despite showing little knack for creativity, they have three projects in production and three more in development. They wrote the previously mentioned Four Christmases, starring Vince Vaughn, as well as Jennifer Garner’s upcoming Ghosts of Christmas Past, and The Hangover, a film we’ve been pretty excited about here, if only because it stars Zack Galifianakis. Clearly, there’s something more to the team than what they displayed in their script for Rebound, which was admittedly directed by one of the worst directors in Hollywood (the script, too, was probably watered down in revisions). Of the three projects in development, the highest profile one is Snow and the Seven, a retelling of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs set in British colonial China, directed by Frances Lawrence, who is also on tap to direct the I Am Legend prequel.

Thomas McCarthy: McCarthy, clearly, is one of the most talented people in Hollywood. You may know him as an actor — he has a history of movie and television roles, though he’s perhaps most recognized as the ethically-challenged journalist on the fifth season of “The Wire.” But the reason he’s on this list is because he’s written and directed two of the most underappreciated, unseen films of the last five years, The Station Agent and The Visitor, films that deserved 10 times their combined box-office ($15 million). He’s been cast in four more films in 2009 alone, but what I’m so excited about is his next script, Glory Days, about a woman at her 10-year reunion who experiences love and heartbreak as she renews old friendships. And no one writes love and heartbreak better than McCarthy.

Martin McDonagh: McDonagh has only one feature-length film under his belt, and absolutely nothing in development. And even though that movie scored a relatively meager $7.6 million at the box-office, despite the presence of Colin Farrel. But that movie was so good. It has slowly but surely developed such a cult following that I suspect McDonagh, who wrote and directed the film, will have several projects lined up soon. That film? In Bruges, one of the best — if not the best — directorial debut of the year.

Joe Penhall: Before Daniel Craig was James Bond, he was in a movie called Enduring Love, a film that made less than half a million dollars at the box office. But, that movie, along with a couple of TV shows he’s written, was enough to get Penhall one of the best writing gigs of the year. He adapted the Cormac McCarthy’s novel, The Road (out in November), and though he has nothing else in development after it, you can bet your sweet ass he soon will.

Nicholas Stoller: Stoller is another member of the Apatow clan, but his star is surging enough so that, in a year or so, we may be able to separate him from Apatow. After co-writing and directing the moderately successfulForgetting Sarah Marshall with his writing partner Jason Segal (also of Marshall, “Undeclared,” and currently, “How I Met Your Mother,”) Stoller was put on the fast track. He and Segal are currently co-writing Get Him to the Greek, a spin-off of Forgetting Sarah Marshall, starring the Russell Brand and Jonah Hill, reprising their characters from the film. Stoller also made a pass at the script for Jim Carrey’s holiday film, Yes, Man. He’s got two writing projects in development for 2010, and another Apatow-produced romantic comedy, The Five-Year Engagement, he plans to write and co-direct as a starring vehicle for Segal. But the movie that’s likely to put Stoller on the map, in a huge way, is the as-yet untitled Muppet movie that he’s writing with Segal, featuring Jim Henson’s Muppets, who have to put on a show to save their old theater.

Peter Straughan: Straughan has only written one film most people may have heard of, the terrible adaptation of How to Lose Friends and Alienate People. But, he also wroteMen Who Stare at Goats, a script that’s been floating around for quite a while, which was recently purchased by Clooney as a starring vehicle, which Grant Heslov (above) will direct. It’s about an Army Battalion that employs paranormal powers in their missions. I’ve had the good fortune to read Men Who Stare at Goats, and it’s brilliant enough to say that Straughan may be the Charlie Kaufmann of our future. The two projects that Straughan has in development both suggest he could be a metafictional genius: The Inventor is a dark romantic comedy about what would happen if a fan could become the person he idealizes; and Our Brand Crisis, which has been optioned by Clooney, focuses on American political campaign strategies used in South America.

Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg: Eisenberg and Stupnitsky have been writing and producing “The Office” since its American inception, and have — in fact — been responsible for some of the better episodes. More recently, however, the two wrote the script for the forthcoming summer of 2009 comedy, The Year One, directed by Harold Ramis and starring Jack Black and Michael Cera as a couple of lazy primitive hunter-gatherers banished from the village and forced to journey through an ancient world. Apparently, the script was very well received, because now among a few other projects (one, The Intern will be directed by Ivan Reitman), the two have been tapped to write Ghostbusters 3, and they’ll probably succeed or fail, ultimately, based on its reception. Despite misgivings, I’ve heard great things about their plot outline, and the idea of a new generation of Ghostbusters (perhaps, including a female member) is compelling as all hell.

Justin Theroux: Theroex is another guy with a long acting career (he’s probably most famous for his role as the villain in Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle) who recently made the jump to writing and directing. Two years ago, he directed the underappreciated, Dedication, starring Mandy Moore and Billy Crudup, a formulaic romantic comedy with a cool indie vibe and twist. Earlier this year, however, Theroex hit the jackpot, scripting Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder. In fact, his Thunder script was so well-received, Theroux was hired to write Iron Man 2 before Thunder was released, replacing Iron Man’s original writers, who went over to script The Avengers. Theroux, thus, solidified a future success in his second career.

Rawson Marshall Thurber: Thurber, a protégé of scriptwriting great John August, got his big break years ago, first with the hilarious Terry Tate Superbowl commercials and then finding commercial success with his writing and directing feature debut, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story. His output has been mysteriously absent since Dodgeball, though he’s quietly risen the ranks behind the scenes. He eschewed more commercial opportunities to write and direct a pet project, an adaptation of Michael Chabon’s Mysteries of Pittsburgh, a moderate success at this year’s Sundance Festival (the film is still awaiting distribution). Meanwhile, he also wrote the script for Magnum P.I., his next directing project (it’s currently searching for a lead), and he’s on tap to write and direct the fantasy film, Elfquest, based on Richard and Wendy Pini’s comic-book series, expected to be a tentpole film in the summer 2011. In between those projects, he’s also done a rewrite of a heist film Bret Ratner will direct, starring Eddie Murphy and Chris Rock as janitors in the Trump Tower who plan to burglarize the hotel’s luxury tenants (Ratner may suck as a director, but he’s almost always blessed with great material). Along with Rian Johnson and Nicholas Stoller, Thurber has the most talent, business acumen, and mainstream savvy among those on this list to have a huge breakthrough in the next few years. He’s definitely someone we’ll be writing about in 2018.

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Guides | October 15, 2008 | Comments ()




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