Wearing both writer and producer hats is a cinch for TV scribes. But in the world of film, only a handful successfully switch back and forth between the disparate roles.
Simon Kinberg is the latest to excel at the career bifurcation. The “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” scribe, who produced the upcoming Fox tentpole “X-Men: First Class,” joins Akiva Goldsman, J.J. Abrams, Judd Apatow and Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci as a member of the small clique of bigscreen writers-turned-busy producers.
“There’s not a ton of (film writer-producers) out there, but the models that are working are really working well,” says Kinberg, whose Genre Films banner is in the middle of a two-year first-look producing deal at Fox. “The trend is starting to proliferate a bit, and part of the reason is that studios trust that even if the script isn’t all the way there, we will get it there by the time photography starts because that’s what we’re usually paid to do — fix the script. There’s a trust that we’ll help catch the script up to the movie.”
When Fox decided to relaunch its “X-Men” franchise as a prequel, the studio turned to Kinberg, a writer on “X-Men: The Last Stand.” The then-fledgling producer, who was coming off producing the Doug Liman-helmed “Jumper,” nixed the idea of penning the mutant origins tale, but instead opted to produce the film alongside Lauren Shuler Donner.
“Part of what made it a natural evolution for me was the fact that I had done so many production rewrites in the last few years,” notes the London-born, Los Angeles-bred Kinberg. He notes that script polishes are more than just writing; they’re about negotiating and synthesizing all the different points of view, much like what a producer does. Kinberg watched “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” producer Goldsman pull off the writer-to-producer metamorphosis effortlessly.
“My apprenticeship in Hollywood was entirely under the wing of Akiva, and he was definitely my Xavier, my professor,” Kinberg says, invoking the “X-Men” mentor. “I liked how he operated on set, how he was involved in every aspect of the filmmaking process.”
Goldsman, who won an Oscar for his “A Beautiful Mind” screenplay and has produced such megahits as “I Am Legend” and “Hancock,” admits the two jobs require different skill sets.
“Writing asks you to be pretty unilateral in your point of view,” explains Goldsman, who championed a then-unknown Kinberg after hearing his “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” pitch. “You are sort of the king of the universe of one. Producing requires you to integrate, implement and configure (several points of view). … Writing and producing can be very complimentary if you understand them as two very different jobs.”
For Kinberg, that meant resisting any urge to tweak “First Class” drafts penned by everyone from Josh Schwartz to Jamie Moss to Bryan Singer.
“We hired really good writers, and I felt like they did as good or better a job than I ever could have,” says Kinberg, who also produced Fox’s upcoming Reese Witherspoon-Chris Pine starrer “This Means War.” “But by the time we were in photography, I was really involved in (writer Jane Goldman and director Matthew Vaughn’s rewriting) process. It felt like all the best aspects of writing without the drudgery of having to sit and stare at a blank computer not knowing what the next line is going to be.”