Magee1
David Magee didn’t traverse the ocean by ramshackle boat to script the Ang Lee-directed “Life of Pi,” but he did bridge a few professional seas to make himself into the writer he is today.

“I was a mostly unemployed theater actor who was having a great time and earning nothing,” said the upbeat Magee (above right, with Lee and lead actor Suraj Sharma) in a Friday phone interview. “I did a lot of voiceover to support my acting habit, and out of that had opportunities to narrate audio books.”

Through that work, he found himself comparing the full-length edition of a book with the abridged version.

“I read the abridgement of this one novel that I liked and thought, ‘This is horrible, what this abridgment has done. This is terrible. I could do better than this,’” Magee recalled. “They asked, ‘Would you like to try?”

Over the next five or six years, Magee estimates, he did 80 abridgements, taking 200,000-word novels and eliminating more than 80% of the content. That became his screenwriting training, focusing on paring the dialogue, action and description, while remaining true to the story.

“I think if I had done it consciously, I never would have done it quite so well,” Magee said.

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more