Writers, filmmakers, and moviegoers: get familiar with the people who wrote your favorite movies of 2017!
Despite being a huge part of the filmmaking process, screenwriters often don’t get as much attention as the filmmakers nominated for other categories. These talented writers are not just behind the inventive films nominated for Oscars this year, but many other projects you may love or have never heard of–yet. This well-rounded group of writers come from different backgrounds and have some great advice for upcoming writers. You can download their scripts here. Below you’ll find a comprehensive list of their other writing work and what writing means to them in their own words.
Dee Rees – Mudbound
Diandra “Dee” Rees is a queer African-American director and writer from Nashville, Tennesee. Her first film was her thesis at New York University, Pariah, which was semi-autobiographical. It began as a short film and would eventually become a feature. Rees was the first black woman to ever be nominated for the Best Adapted Screenplay award. Her words below on picking out the kind of stories to write should be how all writers consider their subjects.
“The challenge with this kind of work is in trying to make it everyone’s story. That can quickly make it no one’s story, and so I like projects that are risky and scary and that aren’t sure-shots.”
Dee Rees has a knack for writing extremely personal stories. Her first feature-length documentary Eventual Salvation follows her grandmother as she returns to her community in Liberia to help rebuild after the civil war she escaped a decade earlier. After that, she turned her short thesis film into her first feature, Pariah, which premiered at Sundance in 2011. Her HBO film Bessie, about jazz singer Bessie Smith played by Queen Latifah, won four Primetime Emmy Awards. Rees keeps her heritage very close to the surface in her authentic and revolutionary work.
Martin Mcdonagh – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Screenwriter, playwright, and director Martin Mcdonagh was born in London, England but is of Irish descent. His extensive experience in theater includes two trilogies and three other stand-alone plays. He specializes in dark comedy, which his Oscar-nominated film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri uses along with serious drama. The Best Original Screenplay nomination along with his Best Picture nomination will make four in total for McDonagh. His short film Six Shooter won Best Live Action Short Film in 2005. In a Q&A at the AFI Fest, McDonagh talked about the most important part of considering what to write:
“There is always pressure on a writer to create something that sells or something you think other people will like. Before anything, though, you must write something you like. How else can you expect other people to?”
Vanessa Taylor – The Shape of Water
Vanessa Taylor is a writer and producer with experience in both film and television. As a child, Taylor liked to write fairy tales. She has been hired by J.J. Abrams and Greg Berlanti to write for their television shows. Last month, Taylor wrote a great article addressing sexism in Hollywood for Variety. This is Taylor’s first Oscar nomination. In an interview with IndieWire, Taylor spoke about what she wanted to focus on for her screenplay for Hope Springs, which all writers should consider:
“I was interested in the question of intimacy and distance, when it creeps into a previously close relationship. Is it possible to bridge that distance, the physical and emotional of it? I wondered about it in my own life. These characters were my way in to exploring that. Their problems were so stark. I wanted to see if I could imagine them solving their problems. I didn’t know where I was going. I usually outline in a more detailed way.”
Taylor’s work mainly consists of TV, but you will probably still recognize her work. She wrote three episodes for HBO’s Game of Thrones while she also produced for the show. Taylor wrote “Dark Wings, Dark Words,” “The Old Gods and the New,” and “Garden of Bones.” Her other writing experience in television includes Everwood, Jack & Bobby, Cupid, and Tell Me You Love Me. Taylor has also turned notable film scripts as well, like her adaptation of a Veronica Roth book for the first installment in the Divergent franchise. Her original script for Hope Springs is a wonderful drama starring Meryl Streep. She is working on the script for the upcoming live-action version of Aladdin.
Scott Neustadter – The Disaster Artist
Scott Neustadter is a writer and producer from New Jersey. He has a lot of experience writing adaptations of books, including several for author John Green. However, Neustadter has written for television and several original screenplays like (500) Days of Summer, which he based on two relationships he had. He is currently working on another adaptation for John Green’s “Looking for Alaska.” Although Neustadter has been nominated for a Writers Guild of America Award in the past, this is his first Academy Award nomination. In an interview for Go Into the Story, Neustadter gave great advice on themes:
“I heard a story once about Jeffrey Katzenberg that he used to make his animation writers put the theme of the movie at the top of every single page of the screenplay so they wouldn’t forget. I used to think that was madness but so often you do wind up falling in love with a character or a line or dialogue or a scene that has virtually nothing to do with the point of your story. Having one eye on the theme at all times informs the legitimacy or de-legitimacy of those tangents.”
Scott Frank — Logan
Scott Frank is a screenwriter, director, and author from Florida. He has written screenplays for Steven Spielberg, Jodie Foster, and Steven Soderbergh. This is the second time Frank has been nominated for an Academy Award, the first being for his screenplay Out of Sight. In an interview for IndieWire, Frank talks about writing a western and the importance of plot movement that applies to other genres as well:
“The challenge is to translate the feel of those novels into something visual, and then from a story standpoint, the moves in these stories are very small. They’re pulp stories, they’re not giant dramatic moves, they’re very small pulp moves. And the challenge is to make those little moves feel big enough that they warrant a movie.”
Frank has been writing for television and film since the 1980s. He has writing credits for The Wonder Years and episodes of Shameless as well as the adaptation for Marley & Me. Frank is very talented in the western genre, writing the script for modern classic A Walk Among the Tombstones and the new Netflix western series Godless. Before he wrote the screenplay for Logan, he wrote the script for the film Wolverine.
Greta Gerwig — Lady Bird
Greta Gerwig is an actress, writer, and director from Sacremento, California. Much like her main character in Lady Bird, Gerwig has described herself as an intense child. Gerwig wanted to be a playwright but turned to acting when she didn’t get into MFA programs. Her acting career began in mumblecore films, a subgenre of indies that focus on often improvised dialogue and relationships between characters in their 20s and 30s. Lady Bird is not her first solo screenplay, but this is the first year she has been nominated for an Oscar. This year she could earn two. Greta Gerwig has had a lot of advice for young writers and filmmakers since the release of Lady Bird, but one of her most interesting tidbits came from NPR:
“I find writing to be a process of my unconscious knows a lot more than I do and then I try to trust it as much as I can and consciously craft it into something that has story and propulsion trusting that underneath there’s something at work that I don’t have control over.”
Gerwig has a hand in writing some of her early films in which she acted in. These include her work with Noah Baumbach, with whom she worked on Mistress America and Frances Ha. Gerwig writes young drama highly effectively; her characters’ confusion for life resonates well with young viewers because of its unmistakable authenticity. Gerwig has worked on feature scripts but has had experience with television writing as well. She wrote several episodes for China, IL and even wrote a failed pilot for a spinoff of How I Met Your Mother called How I Met Your Dad.
Virgil Williams – Mudbound
Virgil Williams is an African American and Puerto Rican producer and writer that specialized in television until his work with Dee Rees on their feature Mudbound. He has written and produced several successful network television shows like 24, ER, and Criminal Minds. His black heritage is very important to him and part of the reason he wanted to write Mudbound. He talks about this in an interview with The Los Angeles Times:
“And like any good piece of art, this story makes you think and feel because it’s honest. Honest in its portrayal of who we were. Which means it also shows us who we are. And in doing so, maybe it’ll help us figure out who we will be.”
His other work is vastly different from his feature, but still worth the watch if you love TV dramas.
Michael Green– Logan
Michael Green is a writer and producer from the state of New York. After he graduated from college, Green worked as a junior developer at HBO where he got his first writing credit for Sex and the City. He has written several successful screenplays for movies that were released in 2017, including Blade Runner: 2049, Murder on the Orient Express, and Alien: Covenant. Green has also written several Batman and Supergirl comic books for DC Comics. This is Green’s first Oscar nomination. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Green talked about the experience of working with a legendary filmmaker like Steven Spielberg:
“There’s a strange point in meetings with people who are as legendary as Spielberg where you have to get over the fact that their name is Steven Spielberg. As a writer, you’re hired for your opinions, and your opinion can’t be “no” — no one wants a dick — but you’re hired to talk to them like they’re a person, so that you can get to your common goal. You have to find a way to build and bring ideas and bring your enthusiasms, and often just help them translate something that’s in their head that they haven’t seen yet. He doesn’t want a movie that’s just dictated.”
Guillermo del Toro – The Shape of Water
Guillermo del Toro is a Mexican screenwriter, director, producer, and novelist. Throughout his prolific filmmaking career, del Toro has created mainstream American and Spanish language films. He is a poetic filmmaker and writer with an affinity for fairy tales and monster stories. He has written novels and adapted two of them into television series: The Strain and Trollhunters. del Toro has been very successful so far this awards season and has been nominated for two Oscars in the past for Pan’s Labyrinth. During a talk about one of his books, del Toro spoke about writing:
“If you get bored with nothing to do, you are not a writer. We are in the business of reproducing reality from nothing. We are the biggest liars in the world, seeking truth.”
Michael H. Weber – The Disaster Artist
Michael H. Weber is a screenwriter and producer from New York. Working with his writing partner Scott Neustadter, Weber has also co-written adaptations for John Green and original screenplays like (500) Days of Summer. Growing up, Weber connected with teen movies like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and The Breakfast Club. Despite the fact that his adaptation for The Disaster Artist was about a cult classic, Weber was interested in what made the film have heart:
“What intrigued us about ‘The Disaster Artist’ was not the inside baseball of making a movie. When we read the book, it was the relationship that jumped out at us. We wanted to explore how this friendship was a little dysfunctional at the start, then was tested and ultimately solidified.”
Emily V. Gordon – The Big Sick
Like her character in autobiographical The Big Sick, Emily V. Gordon studied to be a therapist. However, she quit that career path to become a writer and comedy producer. Gordon was diagnosed with the rare Stills’ disease after being placed in a medically induced coma. After she was nominated for her first Oscar, Gordon was hired to write an adaptation for Amazon’s The Nest. Her nominated script is about her real life, the writing process of which she discussed for Deadline:
“I don’t have a magical power that other writers don’t have. As a therapist, I was taught to empathize with every single person who came in the room, even if they’d done really heinous things, even if they had been arrested. That was my job, to understand where they were coming from and understand that they were doing the best they could at the time.”
She has written episodes for The Carmichael Show and Crashing. She helped create, write, and produce The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail for Comedy Central.
James Mangold – Logan
James Mangold is a screenwriter, director, and producer from New York. After being mentored by Alexander Mackendrick, Mangold got a writing and directing deal at Disney in the 80s. After that, he went back to film school and wrote several famous screenplays after that including, Kate & Leopold and Girl, Interrupted. Mangold also directed the first Wolverine film back in 2012. Mangold, who wrote and directed the final Wolverine film Logan, wanted the film to be focused more on character than superhero spectacle. This paid off, as Mangold earned his first Oscar nomination for the script. In a podcast for ScreenCraft, Mangold talked about his process for writing, which many teachers advise against:
“I can’t outline. I don’t like to outline… I try to write in full screenplay [format] and try to figure out my movie at the same time. If I start writing in some abbreviated version, I already hate the scene. It’s dead. It’s inert. And to me, writing an outline creates stories that feel that they were made in an outline.”
Mangold wrote several of the films he also directed including Girl, Interrupted, Heavy, Cop Land, Kate & Leopold, and Walk the Line. He has some notable and reoccurring collaborations with celebrities like Debbie Harry, Viola Davis, and Patrick Stewart. Mangold has an affinity for drama, which only helps deepen his scripts when he veers outside of the genre.
Jordan Peele – Get Out
Jordan Peele is a writer, director, and comedian from New York City. He dropped out of college at Sarah Lawrence College to created what became Key & Peele. He performed comedy at Boom Chicago before joining the cast of Mad TV. Peele went on to become successful in television. Afterwards, he wrote his first feature, comedy Keanu. With the popularity of Peele’s horror film Get Out, he earned the position as a writer for an HBO horror series called Lovecraft Country. This is Peele’s first Oscar nomination. Our own Natalie Mokry put together a list of filmmaking tips from Jordan Peele, which included some great writing advice:
“First off, write your favorite movie that you haven’t seen. Don’t worry about whether it is going to get made. Write something for yourself. After you have that draft, then worry about what you need to do to sell it. I also say, as a director, enjoy yourself, and if you take the time to take a breath and have quiet moments for yourself and just say ‘how the fuck did I get here, this is awesome.’ That will seep into the work and people will feel the joy.”
Kumail Nanjiani – The Big Sick
Kumail Najiani is a Pakistani-American writer, actor, and comedian. He is a stand-up comedian and had a Comedy Central special before getting his own show on the network. Najiani has also guest starred on several shows like Broad City and Portlandia. Along with his wife, he wrote about the struggles of being a Muslim American for their co-written script The Big Sick. You’ll get know Najiani quickly if you check out his Twitter, where he is very active. This is his first Academy Award nomination. Nanjiani talked about writing autobiographically for Backstage:
“As long as you’re writing about stuff that is interesting to you, you have to trust that it’s going to be interesting to the audience. You can’t predict what people are going to relate to. All you can do is try to articulate your own life and your own issues in the clearest way you can, and trust that we’re all similar enough that people will find something to connect to.”
Kumail is also a comedian with much more acting credits than writing credits. However, he wrote for both of his projects with Comedy Central, The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail and Kumail Nanjiani: Beta Male. If his nominated feature proves anything it’s that Kumail is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to writing rather than just acting. Hopefully, this leads to more writing opportunities for him.