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Matthew Michael Carnahan

10 Screenwriters to Watch

On Sept. 10, 2001, Matthew Michael Carnahan — there are two other Matthew Carnahans in the biz — flew to Los Angeles to deliver a presentation for his employer, the Advisory Board, a D.C.-based heath-care industry think tank. The following morning, while driving with his brother, director Joe Carnahan (“Narc,” “Smokin’ Aces”), to visit his parents in Northern California, he began re-examining his life, he says.

“Joe has always had more confidence in me than I’ve had in myself,” he asserts. “Even before that, he was always pushing me to write. And Sept. 11 was certainly enough to get me thinking about doing something else.”

Carnahan graduated from USC with a degree in international relations and political science. In 2001, he was working as a spokesman for the Advisory Board.

It wasn’t until his brother urged him to make the transition that he tried screenwriting for the first time.

When Radar Pictures commissioned his first screenplay, “Soldier Field,” about a young ex-cop in Chicago (where Carnahan now lives), Joe was his backup. “He wasn’t just instrumental,” says Carnahan of his brother’s involvement, “he’s the one who said, ‘Let my little brother write the script.’ And it was implicit that if it was horrific, he’d fix it.”

Much to Carnahan’s surprise, he says, “People seemed to love the first draft.”

After “Soldier Field,” he wrote “TV” for MGM, and then “The Kingdom,” an FBI thriller set in Saudi Arabia, developed with director Peter Berg (now shooting for Universal with Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner and Chris Cooper).

In addition to adapting “White Jazz,” James Ellroy’s follow-up to “L.A. Confidential,” for Warner Independent, he’s also at work on U’s “State of Play,” based on the BBC conspiracy thriller miniseries.

“In a very short period of time,” notes Universal Pictures production prexy Donna Langley, Carnahan “has proven that he is a writer of immense talent,” adept at steering through complex subject matter with “complete deftness.”

Indeed, Carnahan relishes the complexities and contradictions of politics. “I love the idea of someone being honest and human, but still being able to navigate the dreck and bring about a change,” he says. “It’s a schoolboy look at politics, but I love it.”


Age: 32

Birthplace: Port Heron, Michigan

Inspirations: His brother, director Joe Carnahan; novelist James Ellroy (” ‘American Tabloid’ just knocked me on my ass,” Carnahan says); Michael Mann (“especially ‘The Insider’ “); and 17th Century political philosopher Thomas Hobbes.

Favorite unproduced script: “TV,” based on Brian Brown’s novel and set up at MGM, chronicles the struggles of one of the first live-sports television directors. “They really put sports on the front burner in American homes,” he says. “The ESPN-style craze had its genesis in these guys developing things like instant replay.”

Reps: Agent, Chris Donnelly (Endeavor); attorney, Stuart Rosenthal (Bloom Hergott Diemer Rosenthal & LaViolette)

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