There’s nothing conventional about Helen Crawley, the Brit scribe whose debut screenplay “Hearts and Minds” was snapped up late last year by IEG for Leonardo DiCaprio’s Appian Way shingle.
She divides her time between jetting to Hollywood for meetings and farming rare-breed pigs in Norfolk, a rural county in eastern England, where she lives with her girlfriend and their new baby.
Almost completely unknown within Brit film circles, Crawley pursues her writing career exclusively in the U.S., where she’s establishing herself as a scribe of complex, character-driven stories with an epic geopolitical bent.
If that makes her sound like a female version of Stephen Gaghan, that might not be a coincidence. He was one of her mentors at Chesterfield Writer’s Film Project, based at Paramount, which awarded her a stipend to pen two scripts after she won the graduate screenwriting prize from NYU in 2001.
Although she worked as a script editor at the BBC in London during the late ’90s, she only turned her hand to writing when her partner was transferred to New York and Crawley signed up for NYU’s dramatic writing program.
That led to a writing fellowship at Gotham’s Ensemble Studio Theater, and then the Chesterfield selection.
She says she can’t imagine being a screenwriter in Blighty. “I feel more at home in that American sensibility, that bigger-scale, epic approach. The Americans have a completely different approach to writing. It’s a very stimulating world, and I had access to amazing teachers. Gaghan in two sentences could talk about writing in a way I had never experienced,” she enthuses.
Her second Chesterfield script was “Hearts and Minds,” a contempo drama about an embedded war photographer who has to abandon journalistic neutrality to lead a platoon of young soldiers to safety after their helicopter crashes in Afghanistan.
Crawley believes her interest in geopolitical stories beyond narrow British confines, and the fact that she feels more at home in the U.S. film biz, stems from her nomadic childhood. She was just 3 months old when her parents, an architect and a journalist, decided to leave Scotland and head for Africa. They spent the next 11 years traveling and working throughout that continent.
“I think there’s a sense of brutality in Africa that connects to my interest in war stories,” she says. As a self-proclaimed atheist who studied theology at university, she’s also fascinated by characters confronted by a “crisis in their identity and belief systems.”
Birthplace: Bridge of Allan, Scotland
Inspirations: Volker Schloendorff’s uncut version of “The Tin Drum” and landscapes with big skies.
Favorite unproduced script: “I would like to do an African love story.”
Rep: Agents, Charlie Ferraro and Stuart Manashil (UTA); manager, Judi Farkas; attorney, Alan Wertheimer (Jackoway Tyerman Wertheimer Austen Mandelbaum & Morris)