10 Screenwriters to Watch

Nat Faxon and Jim Rash never intended to become screenwriters, but after enduring years of getting passed over for plum roles, the two actor buddies decided to take matters into their own hands and write parts for themselves. The result: a handful of high-profile film and TV sales that may very well turn the two comedy vets into leading-man material.

Faxon and Rash met nearly nine years ago at the Groundlings Theater, the legendary L.A. improv outfit. After eventually rising through the ranks to the Groundlings’ Main Company, the two thesps began scoring gigs as series regulars on sitcoms as well as the occasional film job. At the same time, they began teaming up to write sketches for the Groundlings’ live shows.

“It was pretty clear from the beginning that we worked very well together,” says the Charlotte, N.C.-raised Rash. “It didn’t take long for us to decide that we might as well take this to the next level.”

Unlike many fellow Groundling members, Faxon and Rash eschewed high-concept slapstick in favor of a more personal storytelling style.

The duo crafted their first feature-length script using a true story concerning Rash’s family as a jumping-off point. “One summer, when I was a kid, I was in the car with my stepfather, and he was asking me where I thought I ranked, on a scale of 1 to 10,” says Rash. “I said 6, and he said 3. I think it was his way of telling me that I needed to get out and really attack life.”

With that premise in hand, the duo went to work on “The Way Back,” a comedy-drama in the “Little Miss Sunshine” mold that centers on the relationship between a boy and his mother, set against the backdrop of a summer water park. Project is set up at Mandate Pictures, with Principato-Young and 21 Laps Entertainment attached to produce.

“The Way Back” generated serious industry buzz last year, and the scribes soon scored their first job-for-hire, an adaptation of the novel “The Descendants” for their idol, writer-helmer Alexander Payne.

“Nat and Jim are rare among today’s screenwriters for the humanity with which they write and their lack of interest in gimmick or contrivance,” says Payne, who’s producing “The Descendants” under his Ad Hominem shingle for Fox Searchlight. “I still get confused, however, remembering which one is Jim and which one is Nat.”

The pair are developing a number of film and television ideas, and are looking forward to writing leading parts for themselves as well as possibly co-directing one of their scripts. “We’d love to try a range of things, big or small, as long as it involves great characters, a strong point of view and identifiable, universal themes,” Faxon says.

SHORTHAND

Age: Faxon (pictured, top): 32; Rash: 26

Influences: “Alexander Payne, because he loves stories about people who make bad decisions in their lives,” the duo say.

Favorite unproduced script: “The Way Back”

Up next: Writing “The Descendants” for producer Payne, at Fox Searchlight

Reps: Agents: CAA; managers: Paul Young and Brian Dobbins at Principato-Young; attorney: Rick Genow at Stone Meyer & Genow

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