10 Screenwriters to Watch

With exactly one produced script to her credit (a TV pilot called “Sluts”), Liz Meriwether has found herself in a position the average screenwriter could only dream — or write — about: She’s got four major projects in development, one of which — female spy caper “Honey Pot” — sold for six figures to Paramount off a one-sentence pitch.

Friends With Benefits” (aka “Fuckbuddies”), Meriwether’s romantic comedy script written for Ivan Reitman’s Montecito Picture Co., is set to star Natalie Portman.

“She has a very fresh and very original voice,” says Reitman. “I’ve been trying to find comedy voices for my entire career of making movies, and I think her words utterly represent the craziness of relationships amongst 20-year-olds today. It’s fairly unique, but also insightful.”

The singularity of her situation isn’t lost on Meriwether. “It kind of went like: I was working as a receptionist at a real estate investment management company, and then a week later I was in a golf cart, hiring a production designer,” she says, grinning through her geek-chic glasses and disheveled tawny blond hair. “I think I’m still recovering.”

That was for the “Sluts” pilot, which the Yale grad and then-budding New York playwright was hired to write, based on the strength of a 10-minute play.

Meriwether says the transition to Hollywood, where she’s also done uncredited work on pics like “Transformers,” felt quite natural. “The films I write tend to be a bit on the talky side, and the plays that I wrote were crazy and cinematic,” she says. “I think of it all as comedy; you’re just trying to get a laugh.”

A big fan of fart jokes and profanity, the Michigan native gives props to Judd Apatow for reviving the R-rated comedy, but she chooses to tell stories about the female experience. “Benefits” turns the romantic comedy upside down, beginning in bed and then exploring whether the relationship is worth pursuing. Refreshingly, the female lead character — the Portman role — just may not be that into him.

“People want to put women in one box,” Meriwether says, “and I’m interested in how women can be everything at once. She can be a slut who wants to fall in love, or she can party too much, but she’s still very smart. I want to expand the vocabulary.” With impeccable comic timing, she adds, “We’ll see how long I last.”

AGE: 27

HOMETOWN: Ann Arbor, Mich.

INSPIRED BY: Woody Allen, Tina Fey and the writers of “30 Rock”; 1930s screwball comedies; “Party Girl”; “The Goonies”

UP NEXT: “Maynard & Jennica,” a romantic comedy for Scott Rudin and Miramax; “The Bailout” for Marc Platt

REPS: Agent: Cliff Roberts (WME); attorney: Jeff Frankel (McKuin Frankel Whitehead)

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