Michael Carnes & Josh Gilbert

10 screenwriters to watch

Almost 10 years after Michael Carnes and Josh Gilbert, both new to L.A., met while performing at “a very bad improv theater” in the San Fernando Valley, they’ve forged quite a screenwriting career.

Their first produced film, New Line pic “Mr. Woodcock,” is well into shooting. Billy Bob Thornton toplines as a gym teacher from hell, with Seann William Scott as the young man who comes home to find his mother (Susan Sarandon) dating his school days nemesis.

New Line also bought their spec “Furry Vengeance,” about a greedy real estate developer who’s at war with the animal kingdom.

Meanwhile, Paramount fell for their pitch “Life Coach.” The studio also purchased their spec “Stalker: A Love Story” for $1.75 million and has lined up Owen Wilson to star.

But they paid their dues on the way up. Shortly after their bad improv experience, they teamed up to produce and star in an evening of live sketch comedy. It played to mostly empty houses, but it taught them that they could work as a team. They’ve been writing together ever since.

They wrote for a country music trivia gameshow on CMT and put in a stint on “The Wayne Brady Show,” where they took home Emmy statuettes for top talkshow in 2003.

Getting out of TV and into features has liberated their sense of humor, which Gilbert describes as “darker, a little out there.”

New Line exec VP of production Kent Alterman agrees. “They have a sly, slightly subversive quality to their writing,” he says. In “Mr. Woodcock,” for example, their spec script included their hero hiring a hit man to kill his mom’s boyfriend.

“I think everyone can relate to having a figure like that in their past, and they’ve taken it and applied it in the most extreme, Oedipal way possible,” says Alterman.

While currently working on production rewrites of “Stalker,” they’re also readying a pitch and rewriting “Puberty” for Ben Stiller and Red Hour Prods. (at New Line).

There’s no more improv comedy in their future, though Gilbert has been known to pick up acting jobs now and then. The next step, they hope, is directing.

Carnes, 34; Gilbert, 31
Birthplace: Carnes, Washington, D.C.; Gilbert, St. Charles, Ill.
Inspirations: “Wayne Brady, Danny Gans and the third season of ‘Walker: Texas Ranger’ (when they really seemed to hit their stride).”
Favorite unproduced script: All of their screenplays are set up, but, quips Carnes, “We’re currently working on many ideas which could very possibly go unproduced in the future.”
Agent: Cliff Roberts, William Morris Agency