10 Screenwriters to Watch 2012: Kelly Marcel

Ironically, Marcel won the job of adapting the kinky literary phenomenon “Fifty Shades of Grey” based on the strength of “Saving Mr. Banks,” a 2011 Black List script about Walt Disney’s struggle to secure the movie rights to “Mary Poppins” from author P.L. Travers.

“I didn’t know anything about Travers and Disney until the producer, Alison Owen, came to me with a script by Sue Smith, who had written a birth-to-death story of P.L.’s whole life. Alison felt that the most interesting bit was about ‘Mary Poppins,’ so I started to research that part of her life,” says Marcel, a Brit who was fascinated by the behind-the-scenes struggle. “I jumped at the chance to write it knowing it was virtually an impossibility it’d get made since the songs from ‘Poppins’ are in it and there would only be one place we could go with it: Disney.”

Unlike many other scribes competing for the coveted “Fifty Shades of Grey” gig, Marcel was unable to surrender herself to the arduous pitching process. She hadn’t even found time to read the book until producers Mike De Luca and Dana Brunetti asked her to meet on the project.

“I couldn’t jump through all the hoops because I was working on ‘Mr. Banks,’?” says Marcel, best known for co-creating Fox’s big-budget series “Terra Nova,” which she ankled after her dinosaur-free pilot took a different turn. “Nobody walks away from a Steven Spielberg TV show when they don’t have anything else to go on to, but if I had written about dinosaurs for three years, then I probably never would’ve written anything else again.”

In the end, she had only two meetings: one with the producers and one with author E.L. James, her agent Val Hoskins and execs from Universal and Focus that lasted about an hour.

“E.L. and I immediately got on and liked each other a lot. She had read ‘Mr. Banks’ and a couple of my other scripts and she liked my character work, so we chatted and giggled for about an hour.”

As for her plans to adapt the kinky source material, Marcel declined to divulge her secrets, but promised “to stay true to this very adult book. It’s sexy and will remain so as a film.” Marcel and James will work together for a week in December to talk about what is important for the film, and then Marcell will go off to write it.

To the skeptics wondering how the X-rated book can be adapted for mass audiences, Marcel points out, “People didn’t know how Mike and Dana were going to turn ‘The Social Network’ book (Ben Mezrich’s “The Accidental Billionaires”) into a movie, either.”

Reps: WME and Casarotto Ramsay & Associates

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