Freshman writers face blockade

Strike stalls chances for sophomore success

This year’s freshman class of award-contending writers once imagined that the theatrical release of their screenwriting debuts would be followed by meetings with agents, directors and producers about their next projects.

Instead, they found Writers Guild picket lines that put those dreams on hold — a waiting game all too familiar for those whose scripts had taken years to come to fruition.

“It was a little overwhelming, because a lot of people wanted to talk to me after the film was released, and then what happens? We have the strike,” says Kelly Masterson, who wrote for the stage before scripting “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” seven years ago. “During those years it would get close to (being made), and then it would fall apart. And then one day my lawyer called and said, ‘They have the funding. It’s all in place and Sidney Lumet is directing.’ I couldn’t believe it.”

Nancy Oliver’s patience was also put to the test after writing “Lars and the Real Girl” in 2002.

“There wasn’t a huge amount of interest (at first),” Oliver admits. Then in 2003 she began a two-year stint as a writer for HBO’s “Six Feet Under.”

It was after meeting producers Sarah Aubrey and John Cameron, who were friends with director Craig Gillespie, that “Lars” got made in 2006, which “floored” Oliver. “I’m surprised that Ryan (Gosling) went for it along with the other topnotch actors. I never aimed so high.”

Diablo Cody, an ex-stripper from the Midwest, also admits that her expectations were not too lofty. “Writing ‘Juno’ was actually a pretty painless process because I felt like I had nothing to lose,” she says. “I really looked at it like a writing exercise.”

Cody, who garnered a Hollywood Film Fest kudo for “Juno,” isn’t holding her breath when it comes to the Oscar race, either.

“Statistically, it is a miracle that my first screenplay got produced,” she says. “So many astonishing things have happened this year that that kind of talk is obviously exciting to me. But I don’t get too caught up in it.”

Three additional newcomers in the adapted screenplay race are Sarah Polley (“Away From Her”), John Orloff (“A Mighty Heart”) and Aaron Stockard (“Gone Baby Gone”). Each has garnered praise for their scripts, which have in turn put the actors they worked with on this year’s award season map.

Polley did not intend to turn Alice Munro’s short story into a feature but “it sort of naturally formed itself into a feature film,” says the Toronto-based thesp, adding that she is “addicted” to writing features. The film, which also marked Polley’s directorial debut, won over critics after making its debut at Toronto last year and earning actress Julie Christie some serious Oscar buzz.

Orloff, a writer on HBO’s 2001 miniseries “Band of Brothers,” adapted Mariane Pearl’s “A Mighty Heart”; Angelina Jolie’s performance therein is getting Oscar buzz, never a bad thing for a writer. But Orloff calls writing the script “a grueling experience.”

He explains: “There’s no way in 100-plus minutes that you can reproduce with 100% accuracy a real-life experience. … It’s a very, very tricky balancing act.”

Now Orloff and his fellow freshman screenwriters face another tricky act: Navigating through the strike and avoiding the sophomore slump.

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