April 10 – The Circle

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Meet on the Fox Studios backlot on April 10th for an in-depth analysis and discussion of the screenplay THE CIRCLE.

Logline: A woman lands her dream job at the most powerful tech company in the world only to find herself facing questions of privacy, identity, and freedom that will determine the future of humanity.

Writers: The Circle is based on the novel by DAVE EGGERS, who wrote the first draft of the screenplay. He also wrote screenplays for Away We Go with his wife, novelist Vendela Vida, and Where the Wild Things Are with director Spike Jonze, and has a story credit on Gus Van Sant’s Promised Land. The Circle is Eggers’ tenth novel. His 2009 book, Zeitoun, has been optioned by Jonathan Demme, and his novel A Hologram for the King was made into a movie in 2016 by Tom Tykwer starring Tom Hanks. JAMES PONSOLDT rewrote the script for The Circle and is the film’s director. Ponsoldt’s other writer-director credits include Off the Black starring Nick Nolte and Smashed starring Aaron Paul. He also directed The End of the Tour starring Jason Segal and Jesse Eisenberg and the acclaimed The Spectacular Now starring Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley.

The Black Mirror-esque sci-fi thriller stars Emma Watson (Harry Potter film series) and Tom Hanks in his first-ever villain role, with John Boyega (Star Wars: The Force Awakens), Karen Gillan (Doctor Who, Guardians of the Galaxy), Ellar Coltrane (Boyhood), Patton Oswalt (Young Adult), and the late Bill Paxton in his final film appearance.

Producers and Production Companies: Hanks optioned the novel in 2014 to star in and produce through his Playtone banner with producing partner Gary Goetzman (Sully, Game Change). Anthony Bregman (Collateral Beauty, Sing Street, Foxcatcher) joined the producers with his company, Likely Story. Sophia Dilley (Netflix’s Tallulah) co-produces through Route One Entertainment. Writer-director Ponsoldt also has a producing credit. The film’s financing came from Image Nation (Rings, Contagion).

Release Date: April 28 (STX Entertainment), after its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Not Yet Rated. 141 pages. Drama, Sci-Fi, Thriller.

LINDA COWGILL will provide in-depth analysis and lead our discussion. After completing her MFA at UCLA’s School of Film and Television, Linda landed her first TV writing job on The Incredible Hulk and sold her first feature screenplay to Orion Pictures. She continued writing scripts for Paramount, Universal, MGM, Warner Bros., and for the acclaimed series Life Goes On, until deciding to focus on teaching screenwriting. She has since taught seminars and workshops at AFI, Kennedy Center, Boston Film Institute, Loyola Marymount, IFP Miami, and NALIP and now heads the Screenwriting Department at Los Angeles Film School. She has also published three books, The Art of Plotting, Secrets of Screenplay Structure, and Writing Short Films, and has many useful screenwriting articles on her website, Plots Inc.

March 13 – Hidden Figures

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Hidden Figures (UK poster)Meet on the Fox Studios backlot on March 13th for an in-depth analysis and discussion of the screenplay HIDDEN FIGURES.

Logline: The untold true story of a team of African-American women mathematicians who served a vital role in NASA during the early years of the US space program.

Based on the 2016 bestseller Hidden Figures: The Story of the African-American Women Who Helped Win the Space Race by debut author Margot Lee Shetterly, the script was adapted by ALLISON SCHROEDER and rewritten by the film’s director, THEODORE MELFI, focusing on balancing the home lives of the three protagonists with their careers at NASA. Schroeder, a former production assistant on Smallville who had interned at NASA as a teenager, previously wrote Mean Girls 2. Hidden Figures is her first feature writing credit. Melfi previously wrote and directed St. Vincent and wrote the upcoming remake of 1979’s Going in Style, scheduled to be released in April.

The 1961-set historical drama stars Taraji P. Henson (Empire), Octavia Spencer (The Help), Grammy Award nominated singer Janelle Monáe (Moonlight), Kevin Costner (Dances with Wolves), Kirsten Dunst (Spider-Man), Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory), Mahershala Ali (Moonlight), and Glen Powell (Scream Queens) as John Glenn, and features the music of Pharrell Williams, who is also one of the film’s producers.

Awards and Nominations: Hidden Figures is nominated for three Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress (Spencer), and Best Adapted Screenplay. The ensemble cast recently won the top honor at the Screen Actors Guild awards, and the screenplay is also nominated for BAFTA, WGA, and USC Scripter awards.

Producers and Production Companies: Academy Award winning producer Donna Gigliotti (Shakespeare in Love) acquired the book’s film rights for Levantine Films (Beasts of No Nation, The Fundamentals of Caring), where she is the president. Gigliotti has had two other Best Picture nominations (Silver Linings Playbook and The Reader) since beginning her career as an assistant to Martin Scorsese on Raging Bull. Gigliotti produced Hidden Figures with former News Corp. COO Peter Chernin and his Chernin Entertainment production company (Rise of the Planet of the Apes, The Heat, St. Vincent).

Release: Fox 2000 gave the film a limited Christmas Day release for awards qualification. Having grossed over $130 million since its wide release on January 6, Hidden Figures is currently the highest grossing of the nine films nominated for Best Picture and of all ten films nominated in the two screenplay categories. If you have not seen it yet and plan to go to the movie before our meeting, reading the script before watching the film is advised.

Rated PG. 127 minutes. 121 pages. Historical Drama, Biopic.

BSchiffmanhead150Script consultant and book adaptation coach BARBARA SCHIFFMAN will lead the discussion. For over 35 years, Barbara read scripts for Miramax, Dreamworks, Mandalay, HBO, CAA, UTA, and more. The writing guide NOW WRITE! Screenwriting Exercises by Today’s Best Screenwriters and Teachers includes her chapter “Key Things to Know About Your Script Before You Write.” She has also evaluated candidates for NBCUniversal’s Emerging Writers Fellowship programs and in 2016 presented seminars on Adapting Books and True Stories to Film/TV at the 26th annual Flathead Writers Conference in Kalispell, Montana. Barbara currently offers script coaching and “first look” feedback for screenwriters, as well as book coaching and editing for authors and self-publishers. Get info on Barbara’s services at her website, barbaraschiffman.com.

February 13 – Manchester by the Sea

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Manchester by the SeaMeet on the Fox Studios backlot on February 13th for an in-depth analysis and discussion of the screenplay MANCHESTER BY THE SEA.

Logline: A troubled janitor must return, permanently, to a town that holds painful memories for him in order to raise his nephew when his brother dies unexpectedly.

KENNETH LONERGAN wrote and directed this original screenplay. After finding success as a playwright, Lonergan broke into screenwriting with the Billy Crystal/Robert De Niro comedy Analyze This (1999). A year later, he received his first Academy Award nomination, for Best Original Screenplay, for You Can Count On Me, his motion picture directorial debut. That script also won WGA and Spirit awards as well as the Sundance Film Festival’s Waldo Salt award for screenwriting. Lonergan earned his second Best Original Screenplay Oscar nomination for his contributions to Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York. Manchester by the Sea is Lonergan’s first outing since 2011’s heavily litigated Margaret starring Anna Paquin.

Manchester by the Sea stars Casey Affleck (Gone Baby Gone), Michelle Williams (Brokeback Mountain), with Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights), Gretchen Mol (Boardwalk Empire), Tate Donovan (Damages), an appearance by Matthew Broderick (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), and a breakthrough performance by newcomer Lucas Hedges, son of the Oscar-nominated screenwriter of About a Boy, Peter Hedges.

Awards and Nominations: Widely expected to have a strong showing at the Academy Awards, Manchester has so far racked up five Golden Globe nominations, including Best Picture, Best Screenplay, and Best Director, four SAG award nominations, five Independent Spirit Award nominations including Best Feature and Best Screenplay, and a WGA nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

Update: Manchester by the Sea was nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Director, Best Actor (Affleck), Best Supporting Actor (Hedges), and Best Supporting Actress (Williams).

The writing has also received accolades from the Broadcast Film Critics Association, Atlanta Film Critics Society, Boston Online Film Critics Association, Alliance of Women Film Journalists, Chicago Film Critics Association, Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association, Hollywood Film Awards, Indiana Film Journalists Association, Indiewire Critics’ Poll, National Board of Review, New York Film Critics Circle, Oklahoma Film Critics Circle, San Francisco Film Critics Circle, Southeastern Film Critics Association, Toronto Film Critics Association, Vancouver Film Critics Circle, and the Village Voice Film Poll, with 20 additional nominations, and the film has appeared on over 50 ten-best lists for 2016.

Producers and Production Companies: Actors Matt Damon and John Krasinski first brought the idea to Lonergan and were both originally going to act in it, with Damon directing. Both actors eventually dropped out of the project due to scheduling conflicts but retained producing credits. Other producers and production companies include Kimberly Steward of K Period Media, Kevin J. Walsh (The Way Way Back) of B Story, and Chris Moore (Project Greenlight) of CMP. Damon’s production company is Pearl Street Films.

Release: Premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. Amazon Studios won a bidding war against Sony, Universal, Lionsgate, and Fox Searchlight, paying $10 million for distribution rights, and is co-distributing with Roadside Attractions. The film opened in limited release on November 18, 2016, and reached the top ten at the box office for the weekend of December 9, despite having expanded to only 366 screens. It went wide on December 16 and has grossed over $33 million to date against an estimated $8.5 million budget. If you have not seen it yet and plan to go to the movie before our meeting, reading the script before watching the film is advised.

Rated R. 137 minutes. 112 pages. Drama.

Beverly GrayBEVERLY GRAY will provide in-depth analysis and lead our discussion. As story editor and development executive for Roger Corman’s Concorde-New Horizons Pictures, screenwriter Beverly Gray oversaw the making of 170 low-budget features. More recently, she has covered the entertainment industry for The Hollywood Reporter and currently teaches online screenwriting workshops for UCLA Extension’s Writers’ Program. Beverly has also written books on filmmakers Corman and Ron Howard, as well as the upcoming Seduced by Mrs. Robinson, scheduled for release in November 2017 for the 50th anniversary of The Graduate. Visit her popular Beverly in Movieland blog and follow @Bev_Movieland on Twitter.

January 9 – Miss Sloane

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Miss Sloane movie posterMeet on the Fox Studios backlot on December 12th for an in-depth analysis and discussion of the screenplay MISS SLOANE.

Logline: A ruthless lobbyist faces off against the powerful gun lobby in an attempt to pass gun control legislation.

First-time British screenwriter JONATHAN PERERA wrote Miss Sloane while working as an elementary schoolteacher in South Korea after a BBC News interview with corrupt D.C. lobbyist Jack Abramoff inspired him to explore the untapped milieu of the behind-the-scenes power players pulling the strings in American politics for his first-ever attempt at writing a screenplay. The original spec script found representation through a query letter and landed on the 2015 Black List. Perera is managed by Scott Carr of Management SGC and the script was repped by Peter Dodd and Carolyn Sivitz at UTA.

Directed by John Madden (Shakespeare in Love). Starring Jessica Chastain (The Help, Zero Dark Thirty), Alison Pill (The Newsroom), Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Dr. Who), John Lithgow (3rd Rock from the Sun), Michael Stuhlbarg (Trumbo, Steve Jobs), Mark Strong (The Imitation Game), and Sam Waterston (Law & Order).

Producers and Production Companies: Perera’s manager took the property to executive producer Patrick Chu at FilmNation (Arrival, The Founder) where Ben Browning (Passengers) produced alongside Kris Thykier (Kick-Ass) of Archery Pictures. EuropaCorp (Taken franchise), the France-based international distributor co-founded by Luc Besson (The Professional), picked up Miss Sloane for distribution after a bidding war in Toronto.

Release Date: Opened in limited release on November 25th, followed by a wide release on December 9th. If you have not seen it yet and plan to go to the movie before our meeting, reading the script before watching the film is advised.

Rated R. 132 minutes. 123 pages. Drama, Thriller, Political Thriller.

Wendell WellmanWENDELL WELLMAN will provide in-depth analysis and lead our discussion. Trained at the Actors Studio and the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute, Wendell has acted in feature films, television, and on stage. He has taught screenwriting at UCLA and wrote FIREFOX, SUDDEN IMPACT, and the final Dirty Harry script for Clint Eastwood. He recently completed adapting the novel The River Journey by Robert Nathan and is currently working on setting up his screenplay Top Hat. Wendell’s book, A Writer’s Roadmap, is available at Amazon.

December 12 – GOLD

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Gold (2016)Meet on the Fox Studios backlot on December 12th for an in-depth analysis and discussion of the screenplay GOLD.

Logline: An unlikely pair venture to the Indonesian jungle in search of gold in a treasure hunt story inspired by the 1996 Bre-X scandal, the most elaborate fraud in the history of mining.

Writers: PATRICK MASSETT & JOHN ZINMAN, the team who adapted the video game Tomb Raider into the massive 2001 hit Lara Croft movie that made Angelina Jolie an international superstar, were nominated for an Emmy and five WGA awards for their work on the series Friday Night Lights. More recently they have written for such shows as The Blacklist and The Chicago Code. Massett is a former actor who has appeared in Star Trek: The Next Generation, Murphy Brown, and Quantum Leap.

Directed by Sephen Gaghan, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic (2000), Gold stars Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club), Edgar Ramirez (The Girl on the Train), Bryce Dallas Howard (Jurassic World), Timothy Simons (Veep), Corey Stoll (House of Cards), Bruce Greenwood (Star Trek (2009)), and Stacy Keach (The Bourne Legacy).

Producers and Production Companies: Two-time Oscar-winning screenwriter Paul Haggis (Crash, Million Dollar Baby), who began developing the script in 2011 with the writers, executive produced the film with Michael Nozik (Haggis’s The Next Three Days, Syriana, Quiz Show) through their HWY 61 Films. Producers Teddy Schwarzman (The Imitation Game) and Ben Stillman provided financing through their Black Bear Pictures. McConaughey and the two writers also have producing credits.

Release Date: December 25 (TWC-Dimension).

Rated R. 121 minutes. 129 pages. Adventure, Drama, Thriller, Crime.

Lane Shefter-BishopLANE SHEFTER-BISHOP will provide in-depth analysis and lead our discussion. Currently the CEO of Vast Entertainment, the go-to book-to-screen company, producer/director Lane Shefter-Bishop has won numerous accolades for her work including an Emmy, six Telly awards, and the DGA Fellowship Award for Episodic Television. Lane holds a BA in Literature from UC Santa Barbara and an MFA in Production from USC’s School of Cinematic Arts and began her career producing and directing projects at ABC, Showtime, HBO, and MTV. In 2016 she released her first book, Sell Your Story in a Single Sentence: Advice from the Front Lines of Hollywood. Follow @LaneShefterBish on Twitter.

November 14 – Nocturnal Animals

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Nocturnal Animals (Amy Adams)Meet on the Fox Studios backlot for an in-depth analysis and discussion of the screenplay NOCTURNAL ANIMALS.

Logline: An art gallery owner is haunted by her ex-husband’s novel, a violent thriller she interprets as a veiled threat and a symbolic revenge tale.

Writers: Director and producer TOM FORD penned the script, based on the 1993 novel Tony and Susan by AUSTIN WRIGHT. Ford gained worldwide acclaim as a fashion designer before making his motion picture directorial debut in 2009 with A Single Man, which he also co-wrote. That film earned its star, Colin Firth, his first Oscar nomination. Novelist and literary critic Austin Wright died in 2003 at the age of 80. The only novel of his to be adapted for the screen to date, Tony and Susan was not successful in Wright’s lifetime. Released posthumously in the UK for the first time in 2010, the book finally found its audience and was re-released in the US to critical acclaim.

The stellar ensemble cast includes five-time Oscar nominee Amy Adams (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Big Eyes), Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler, Demolition), Michael Shannon (Man of Steel, Revolutionary Road), Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick-Ass, Avengers: Age of Ultron), Isla Fisher (Now You See Me, Confessions of a Shopaholic), Armie Hammer (The Social Network, The Birth of a Nation), Laura Linney (The Big C), and Michael Sheen (Masters of Sex).

Producers and Production Companies: As with A Single Man, Ford produced Nocturnal Animals through his production company, Fade to Black Films, again with Robert Salerno, whose other credits include 21 Grams and next year’s Going Places, a spin-off of The Big Lebowski.

Premiere: Venice Film Festival, September 2 (Grand Jury Prize winner). Also played at Toronto International Film Festival and BFI London Film Festival.

Release Date: November 18 (L.A. & New York), November 23 (limited), December 9 (wide) (Focus Features).

Rated R. 115 minutes. 126 pages. Drama, Thriller.

Jeff KitchenJEFF KITCHEN will provide in-depth analysis and lead our discussion. Jeff is a sought-after script doctor and working writer who has taught screenwriting professionally since 1989. He is the author of Writing a Great Movie: Key Tools for Successful Screenwriting, and has trained development executives from all the major studios who have consistently said that he teaches “the most advanced development tools in the film industry.” Creative Screenwriting listed him as one of the top five screenwriting teachers working today. Visit his website DevelopmentHeaven.com.

October 10 – The Accountant

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The AccountantMeet on the Fox Studios backlot for an in-depth analysis and discussion of the screenplay THE ACCOUNTANT.

Logline: After a life spent un-cooking the books for the world’s most dangerous criminal organizations, a brilliant forensic accountant tries to go straight just as the US Treasury Department closes in on him and the body count starts to rise.

Screenwriter: The Accountant is the third feature writing credit for BILL DUBUQUE. In 2008, the newbie scribe won the PAGE International Screenwriter Award for Best Drama for his original spec script Confessions of a Headhunter, which premieres this month at the Toronto International Film Festival as The Headhunter’s Calling starring Alison Brie and Gerard Butler. Before that got made, Dubuque was hired to rewrite The Judge for Robert Downey Jr.’s production company, Team Downey, and director David Dobkin. The Judge became Dubuque’s debut writing credit in 2014 and earned an Academy Award nomination for Robert Duvall. The Accountant was on the 2011 Black List.

Ben Affleck (Argo, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) stars in the title role alongside Anna Kendrick (Twilight, Pitch Perfect), J.K. Simmons (Whiplash), Jon Bernthal (The Walking Dead, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl), Jeffrey Tambor (Transparent) and John Lithgow (3rd Rock from the Sun). The film was directed by Gavin O’Connor (Jane Got a Gun, Warrior).

Producers and Production Companies: The Accountant was produced by Lynette Howell for Electric City Entertainment (Captain Fantastic, Big Eyes, Blue Valentine) and Mark Williams for Zero Gravity Management. Williams also directed Dubuque’s other 2016 release, The Headhunter’s Calling. Zero Gravity (Beasts of No Nation, The Cooler) “is actively seeking talented writers with a unique voice and vision.”

Release Date: October 14 (Warner Bros.).

Rated R. 128 minutes. 113 pages. Drama, Crime, Thriller.

Melody JacksonMELODY JACKSON will provide in-depth analysis and lead our discussion. Melody completed her Ph.D. in Mythological Studies in 2003 with her dissertation on “The Mythic Impact of Film.” She has been praised by Creative Screenwriting on multiple occasions for her exceptional knowledge of traditional three-act structure and character development. Known for approaching plot and structure through examination of character motivation and relationships, Melody offers consulting and marketing services to screenwriters through Smart Girls, which she founded in 1992. Visit SmartG.com or follow @smartgirlspr on Twitter.