Terrio: Scribe worked fringes until ‘Argo’

10 Screenwriters to Watch 2012: Chris Terrio

Insiders have been watching Terrio for some time, but this year, the “Argo” scribe — whose work had landed on the Black List three times — finally had the satisfaction of seeing one of his unproduced scripts reach the screen. Now, with the Ben Affleck-helmed Iran extraction thriller on his resume, Terrio has become one of the town’s hottest talents — a surreal turn for the Harvard-educated lit major, who credits “Argo” exec producer Nina Wolarsky with giving him a chance based on a pair of early screenplays.

The first, “Random Family,” is based on reporter Adrian Nicole LeBlanc’s decade-long study of a struggling Bronx tribe. The second, a period piece called “The Ends of the Earth,” dramatizes a scandalous father-daughter love story that brought down a powerful Oklahoma oil baron.

“He writes like a storyteller, like a director in a way, the way he cuts the picture on the page,” says Affleck, who got the “Argo” script from Smoke House (where Wolarsky was developing the pic for George Clooney to star). “He was so deeply steeped in the research, he became this amazing asset. How many relationships have the writer on the set every day? That’s a rarity.”

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As it happens, Terrio had studied directing at USC. Among the writer’s first believers was producer James Ivory, who hired Terrio as an assistant while he was in grad school. Terrio’s work for Merchant Ivory ultimately led to a rare opportunity: The shingle had the rights to a script by Amy Fox called “Heights” (far different from its usual teacup-rattlers, the film offered a semi-poisonous behind-the-scenes look at ambitious New York showfolk), and Ivory asked Terrio to direct it.

Terrio’s impressive tyro effort went to Sundance in 2005 and gave him hope that a helming career might lay ahead. But when no second feature opportunity came, Terrio turned his attention back to writing. Boosted by “Argo,” he has an original story set in New York criminal syndicates in the works for George Clooney to star and Paul Greengrass to direct, a second script in Affleck’s hands (a remake of hit French thriller “Tell No One”) and a look at Guatemalan political assassinations based on David Grann’s page-turning New Yorker story, “A Murder Foretold.”

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