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Joshua Zetumer

10 Screenwriters to Watch

When you grow up in a household with “two shrink parents,” investigating the unpleasant recesses of the human mind is as natural as talking baseball or politics. So it was for Zetumer. The tyro scribe is already turning heads — and scoring plum studio assignments thanks to his uncanny ability to humanize the darkest of characters.

“He is especially good at developing complex male characters in whom danger is always lurking just beneath the surface,” notes Kevin McCormick, exec VP of production at Warner Bros.

For Zetumer, who grew up in an upscale beachfront community just outside of San Diego, the original plan was to become a jazz drummer. But once he enrolled at USC and began studying American noir films from the early ’70s, he switched his focus to screenwriting.

While Zetumer’s earliest spec efforts were grand-scale action films, he didn’t hit his stride until he decided to go small. After graduating, he wrote “Villain,” a psychological thriller about two brothers at odds in the Alaskan wilderness. The script scored him an agent, and his career is now off and running.

“I had been writing these much bigger scripts, but at some point I decided I wanted to create something that was really contained, something that would boil down to two characters in one location,” Zetumer says. “I tried to make it as taut and economical as possible, and everything just proceeded from there.”

After selling “Villain” to 2929 Entertainment, Zetumer got an opportunity most young writers can only dream about: He successfully pitched his take on “The Infiltrator,” a story about British soldiers going undercover in the IRA (based on an article in Atlantic Monthly) that was set up at Warner Bros with David Benioff producing and Leonardo DiCaprio attached to star.

” ‘The Infiltrator’ is a thinking-man’s action movie,” Zetumer says. “It’s got these big set-pieces, but at the same time it’s kind of an anti-James Bond film. It’s inspired mainly by John le Carre, but with a good dose of ‘The Bourne Identity’ thrown in.”

Zetumer is working on another dramatic script he wants to set up independently. “Once that’s finished, I’d love to do a big science-fiction epic fantasy,” he says. “It’s about time my characters started having some fun.”

Age: 26
Provenance: Del Mar, Calif.
Inspired by: Film noir, early-’70s American cinema (“‘Chinatown’ has influenced my work more than any other film”); and Stanley Kubrick
Reps: Agent: Jason Burns at UTA; manager: Guymon Casady and Darin Friedman at Management 360; attorney: Rob Szymanski at Eclipse Law Corp.

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