They went from low-level assistant jobs in development and distribution to knocking out the final draft of what could be the biggest studio kidpic franchise since “Harry Potter.”
Straight-shooting scribes Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely met at UC Davis in the graduate writing program and struggled for years in Los Angeles.
Based on the buzz of their first purchased (and nearly produced) script, “Screenland,” about the 1997 murder of the owner of Los Angeles’ Silent Movie Theater, HBO Films commissioned the duo to draft warts-and-all biopic “The Life and Death of Peter Sellers.”
“They believed we were just demented enough to handle Peter Sellers,” says Markus, “as we were.”
In turn, “Shrek” director Andrew Adamson dug the “Peter Sellers” script so much that he asked the writers to polish Disney’s epic fantasy “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”
“I was really impressed with their inventive way of storytelling,” says Adamson. “They’re also wonderful guys, who are very collaborative and open to discussing ideas.”
Markus and McFeely are now gaining a reputation as a top go-to team for true stories and adaptations. “Pain and Gain,” their oddball true-crime tale of Miami bodybuilders-turned-extortionists, is set up with Michael Bay at Paramount. They’re also tackling Universal’s long-in-the-works remake of Ernst Lubitsch’s 1932 screwball classic “Trouble in Paradise” for Cameron Crowe.
What’s their secret to making the familiar feel fresh on the page? “We flippantly say (it’s) because we don’t have an original idea,” jokes McFeely.
“I think we’re good editors,” explains Markus. “I think we’re good at finding what’s good and what’s bad in the material.”
Citing the type of egoless craftsmen who toiled away in obscurity during Hollywood’s Golden Age, Markus and McFeely approach their job with a similar systematic approach.
“When I tell people I’m a screenwriter, people think I’m automatically artistic, but hell no, I like being part of a team and I like having a skill that the team values,” says McFeely. “It’s like laying bricks and I try to be the best bricklayer I can.”
Adds Markus, “There’s a place for art in the world, but it can’t be at the top of the list for a working screenwriter.”
Age: Both 35
Birthplace: McFeely: Walnut Creek, Calif.; Markus: Buffalo, N.Y.
Inspirations: Says McFeely, “Every screenwriter worships at the altar of Robert Towne, and we do.” Adds Markus, ” ‘Chinatown,’ ‘Shampoo,’ ‘The Last Detail’ — that’s a pretty good tombstone.”
Favorite unproduced script: “There’s an underrated script that we did for Lasse Hallstrom’s company called ‘Burden,’ based on a book,” notes McFeely. “It’s a coming-of-age story about a kid who wants to commit suicide by sleeping with married women in the hopes that one of their husbands will shoot him.”