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5 Screenwriters You Need to Know: Part VIII

By Terris Ko · June 23, 2015

Directing: the brass ring. Some go to film school to fulfill the dream, some work their way up the ladder on-set; others write their way into the director's chair. Here are five filmmakers who parlayed successful screenwriting careers into opportunities behind the camera.

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5. David Ayer

David Ayer began his career sharing credits on submarine thriller U-571 (2000) and The Fast and the Furious (2001), then broke out with a sole writing credit for Training Day (2001). By 2005, he had begun writing/directing (Harsh Times (2005) and End of Watch (2012)), building up to more ambitious projects like war actioner Fury (2014), followed closely by D.C. Comics’ Suicide Squad (in production).

4. James Schamus

To be fair, James Schamus was probably known as a producer first, and then a writer. As co-founder of Good Machine and CEO of Focus features until its recent merger, Schamus the producer helped to shepherd a generation of quality films to the screen. However, Schamus also had a long-standing collaboration with Ang Lee, credited as a writer on virtually all of Lee’s films, beginning with Lee’s early work (the Father Knows Best trilogy of Pushing Hands (1992), The Wedding Banquet (1993) and Eat, Drink, Man, Woman (1994)), and including Hulk (2003), The Ice Storm (1997), Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), and Lust, Caution (2007). Schamus is now helming a screen version of Philip Roth’s Indignation, based on a screenplay Schamus adapted (currently in production).

3. Dan Fogelman

A Writers Guild of America interview introduces Dan Fogelman like this: “Less than a month after Dan Fogelman sent Crazy, Stupid, Love to his agent, his spec was in production with an A-list cast. It sounds crazy, but don’t hate him because he’s lucky.” Fogelman himself characterizes himself as being “very lucky”; leading up to Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011), Fogelman got his first break–an assignment to write Cars (2006) for Pixar–after having written only one script. Fast forward to Crazy, Stupid, Love, which marked a US$2.5 million payday for Fogelman, followed by US$5 million (combined) for two other pitches, and you can understand why for a while, Fogelman was considered by some to be the “embodiment of the screenwriting dream.” With a number of other writing credits under his belt (Bolt (2008), Tangled (2010), The Guilt Trip (2012) and Last Vegas (2013)), Fogelman’s already made the transition to writer-director with Danny Collins (2015), and recently has inked a TV production deal after creating both The Neighbors and Galavant. Fogelman attributes at least part of his success to his “weird ability to write readable scripts.”

2. Charlie Kaufman

John Malkovich reportedly found himself “half intrigued and half horrified” after the first time he read Being John Malkovich (1999). Writer Charlie Kaufman went on to fashion a career out of writing similarly quirky stories, offering audiences an off-kilter view of the world through his Kaufman-esque looking glass in Adaptation. (2002) (in which he actually wrote himself–and a fictional twin brother–into the story), and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) (which he won an Oscar for, after being nominated previously for Being and Adaptation). In recent years, Kaufman has turned director, interpreting his own singular writing voice in Synecdoche, New York (2008) and the upcoming stop-motion project Anomlisa.

1. Christopher McQuarrie

Not that long after winning an Oscar for writing instant classic The Usual Suspects (1996), McQuarrie had the opportunity to jump in the director’s chair by writing/directing The Way of the Gun (2000) (his second feature writing credit). Now looking back 15 years later, McQuarrie and star Tom Cruise have collaborated on several films together, including with McQuarrie credited as a writer on Valkyrie (2008) and Edge of Tomorrow (2014), and with McQuarrie as writer/director on Jack Reacher (2012). Next up: McQuarrie takes his writing/directing to another level by reuniting with Cruise to take on the newest installment of the Cruise’s action franchise juggernaut in Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015).