Maziar Lahooti and Steven McCall have won a two-step blind feature film script deal with Warner Bros. Pictures, thanks to the Australian Scriptwriting Opportunity organised in partnership by WB, The Black List and Veerhuis Pictures.
The duo were selected for the deal off the strength of their script Die Well, one of 400 submitted as part of the initiative.
To enter the Australian Scriptwriting Opportunity, emerging Aussie writers were invited to put their scripts up on The Black List’s website and have them evaluated via the site’s usual processes. The 10 highest ranking scripts were shortlisted and announced as the ‘The Aussie List’ in October.
Together with producer Chris Veerhuis of WA’s Veerhuis Pictures, WB then went through the scripts to determine the recipient of the script deal. That deal now commits Lahooti and McCall to write a new script (first draft and a rewrite) for the studio at Writers Guild of America rates.
The writers will work with WB’s creative executive team to decide upon the plot, theme and genre of the film, and then the drafts are expected to take around a year to complete. The intention is for the film to go into production sometime shortly thereafter – preferably in Australia.
The key focus of Australian Scriptwriting Initiative has been to put a spotlight on new and emerging Australian writers – to be eligible, a writer could not have credits on more than one feature film or three hours of broadcast television (or both). It was devised when Veerhuis was challenged by WB execs to find and present to them emerging Australian screenwriting talent. The studio then put Veerhuis in touch with Franklin Leonard, CEO and founder of The Black List, with whom it had previously worked to identify talented writers from backgrounds traditionally under-represented in the screen industry.
It was the first country-specific initiative by The Black List, which polls Hollywood development executives each year about their favourite unproduced screenplays. Over 400 Black List screenplays have gone on to be produced, including Slumdog Millionaire, The King’s Speech, Argo and Spotlight. First founded in 2005, the accompanying website which allows screenwriters to make their scripts available for feedback from industry was then launched six years ago.
His short film Heaven, which he made at AFTRS, is on which the script for Die Well is based.
His partnership with Steve McCall, a film and theatre writer (The Actress, The Enemy on the Wall, The Toll, The Strawberry), goes back a number of years. Both from Perth, the two have previously made a short together called Happy Australia, and have worked on Die Well for around two years. This isn’t their first recognition for the script – it was also a semi-finalist for this year’s Academy Nicholl Fellowship.
“It’s just so incredibly encouraging to have your script go through this process, to have had it read and given the nod of approval for the win,” Lahooti tells IF.
He describes a gig writing a script for Warners Bros is a “life goal”, particularly as WB owns DC – he one day dreams of directing a Batman or Superman film. He is keen to observe how the studio develops films and to learn from their team. “I’m just hoping it’s the first step on a long, long, long ladder. It’s very humbling.”
McCall adds: “It’s huge. There’s no other way to describe it. It’s a massive opportunity to develop and learn from professionals, and to continue my working relationship with Maz is something I’m really looking foward to… I couldn’t have asked for anything more, really.”
As WB hasn’t optioned Die Well, the two writers remain free to shop the script around, and have received considerable interest since it was put on the Black List. The screenplay follows an old, dying and retired crooked detective who teams up with a young street level criminal to find his decades since exiled, and estranged son, to find some semblance of contrition before his time is up. Lahooti says they’re keen to find a producer with whom the story strongly resonates, and continue to develop and refine the script.
As for Below, Lahooti says it is shaping up well. He is thrilled with the crew and cast, and the chance to show off parts of WA – like Fremantle Prison – that haven’t been seen much on screen. He also has had another script Nomad (another Nicholl semi-finalist) optioned by Causeway Films.
On Lahooti and McCall’s win, The Black List’s Leonard said: “It’s always an exciting thing to see great writing rewarded with well-compensated opportunities. We’re enormously proud to have partnered with Warner Bros and Veerhuis Pictures to create this opportunity that discovered Maziar and Steven, and look forward to repeating the feat in Australia and elsewhere with other partners looking to find great screenwriters.”
Veerhuis said: “It has been extraordinary to witness this seed of an idea turn into a two-step blind deal for an Australian writing team who will now work with our friends at Warner Bros. I want to thank all the writers who wrote to us, opted in to the Opportunity and, in particular, acknowledge the shortlisted writers and the team at The Black List, who have been such wonderful partners through their exceptional industry-leading website. This year’s list is a Top 10 worth reading, with many on the shortlist having already been contacted by studios, agents and actors to read their scripts. Congratulations to Maziar and Steven, I can’t wait to read their new script!”