10 Screenwriters to Watch 2011: Jon Spaihts

In the early 2000s, Jon Spaihts was on another career path entirely as an executive for the New York-based educational technology company Teachscape.

“It was dangerous, because it was challenging, satisfying and intellectually demanding and I could see a good life there from which I would never return to writing,” he says.

So Spaihts took a year off from work to write his first script, and, before the time was up, he had completed “Shadow 19″ and sold it to Warner Bros.

That project languished in development with Keanu Reeves attached to star. Then Reeves asked Spaihts if he had another project that might suit him. Spaihts pitched him an idea he had for a sci-fi film noir that prominently featured the image of a man stranded alone in space.

After hashing over the idea for six weeks, Reeves decided it was just too bleak for him, but he loved the idea of the stranded spaceman. So Reeves’ production partner Stephen Hamel called Spaihts and asked him if there was a happier story to be told about the lone figure.

“It was one of those magical fertilizing questions that you haven’t thought to ask yourself, which causes an answer to spring fully formed from your skull,” recalls the Paradigm client, a Princeton grad who planned to become a novelist before turning his attention to screenwriting. “I riffed at him in response, and in 30 minutes had sketched on the phone the spine of what became my screenplay ‘Passengers,’ ” currently in development at Universal.

“Passengers” eventually found its way to the folks at Scott Free Prods., who invited him in for a general meeting, during which company president Michael Costigan mentioned that they were thinking of developing an “Alien” prequel for Ridley Scott to direct.

“Again, I riffed,” Spaihts says, “and in about an hour had spat out what remains the spine of the story of ‘Prometheus,’ ” which Fox is scheduled to release next June.

More recently, he’s scripted New Regency-Summit’s upcoming “The Darkest Hour” and “World War Robot” for producer Jerry Bruckheimer, for whom he’s also penning an untitled space adventure.

TEN SCREENWRITERS TO WATCH 2011:
Josh Appelbaum & Andrew Nemec | Jay Baruchel & Jesse Chabot | Justin Britt-Gibson | Neil Cross | Andrew Haigh | Kurt Johnstad | Lauryn Kahn | Paula Pell | Jon Spaihts | Brian Yorkey

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