With six internationally performed plays to her name and much respect in the legit community, Goldberg has made a daring midcareer shift from stage to screenplays in pursuit of a passion she developed as a movie usher.
Growing up in Woodstock, N.Y., Goldberg spent her teenage years working in an arthouse theater where, she says, her love for writing was fueled by modern silver-screen classics such as “Wings of Desire” and “Do the Right Thing.”
But despite spending plenty of time watching movies, Goldberg says living near the Big Apple eased her toward curtain calls rather than movie sets.
After high school, she enrolled in NYU’s dramatic writing program and later Juilliard. From there, she wrote a series of plays including “What You Need,” which was commissioned by the Atlantic Theater Company, and Off Broadway production “Refuge.”
“I felt like theater was more accessible to me, but I think in the back of my mind I always wanted to write screenplays,” she says. It’s “such a wonderful way to merge actual playwriting with narrative.”
With years of accolades from the dramatic community under her belt, including the honor of becoming a Tennessee Williams Fellow at the U. of the South, Goldberg decided to chase her dream of writing screenplays structured around meaty social conflict.
Popular on Variety
“I love films where the political meets the personal in people’s lives — really intense portraits of human beings,” she says.
Her early screenplay work caught the attention of filmmaker Peter Berg and exec Sarah Aubrey at Universal and Imagine, who were convinced she could turn an emotionally weighty Vanity Fair article written by Buzz Bissinger — Berg’s cousin — into a film.
Aubrey says the scribe has a light, natural touch with dramatic material and was willing to tackle an ambitious project.
The result was “Absent Hearts,” a teenage love story set on a Colorado military base where many young adults are growing up as one of their parents serves in the Iraq War. Goldberg’s script was motivated by the original article but evolved from relationships that she built with military families.
“Just by its very nature and what’s going on in the world, it’s a very sensitive subject and it’s easy to become a polemic,” says Aubrey. “Jessica has avoided all of that but at the same time given us a really detailed portrait of that world and what it’s like to be a kid on an Army base right now.”
Goldberg’s also writing “Amadou Ly,” the true story of a 13-year-old Senegalese illegal immigrant who faced deportation by the U.S. government after gaining attention by winning a high school robotics competition.
Provenance: Provincetown, Mass.
Inspired by: Character-driven pics like “Nashville” as well as several by Martin Scorcese; a favorite legit production: “The Pillowman” by Martin McDonagh
Reps: Agents: Julien Thuan, Marc Korman at UTA; managers: Jack Heller, Dallas Sonnier at the Schiff Co.; attorney: Jeff Frankel at Colden McKuin & Frankel