By Brendan Swift
When Christopher Weekes woke up last Friday and found 112 emails in his inbox he knew something was up.
“I thought I either just got spammed or something cool had just happened,” he says.
As it turned out, it was something cool.
His script for Jim Henson biopic The Muppet Man had just topped the influential Black List, which ranks more than 300 film executives’ views on the best unproduced movie scripts for the year.
It is another accolade for the filmmaker, who has been based in LA since his debut feature, Bitter & Twisted, was released to widespread acclaim last year.
It was shortly after the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival – where his debut had its world premiere – that Weekes spent just over a fortnight nutting out The Muppet Man story as a personal antidote to his heavily drama-infused debut.
“I was writing it as a giant love letter to Jim,” Weekes says.
“There’s no authorized biography of him, so I was looking at photographs and putting stories to them and using what I could find on the internet.
“I never did a redraft on it or anything like that, it’s just one of those serendipitous things where it has just taken off like wildfire.”
But while scripts for successful films such as Juno and 500 Days of Summer have previously graced the Black List, The Muppet Man faces a more difficult future.
Several reports have highlighted copyright issues (Disney owns the Muppet characters) and creative differences within the Henson Company, which has snapped up Weekes’ script.
Nonetheless, Weekes says The Muppet Man opened doors in the US where he is about to turn in a draft for Warner Bros feature Waterproof after several months of development.
“The idea in development over there is we’re looking for a 120 page script – we want to make sure every page has something on it you’ve never seen before," he says.
“In Los Angeles, the filmmaking community is really focused on making films for audiences and there’s no cultural agendas."
It marks a sharp change since Bitter & Twisted – a complex multi-narrative drama that revolves around the death of a young man and its impact on those around him.
“With Bitter & Twisted, I made it on my laptop in my living room and I never had the benefit of being able to do test screenings,” he says.
“I never had the benefit of asking people what they like and didn’t like – it was something I had to guess.”
Nonetheless, the film became a festival favourite around the world, receiving 14 award nominations, including an IF Independent Spirit Award nomination.
Weekes, in Australia for the Christmas break, returns to the US early next year, where he also has a separate feature project in development with another major studio.
“I try and make a film which works for everyone – that’s the power of the medium – it can reach places you never expect.”
Bitter & Twisted is released on DVD on January 6 by the Australian Film Syndicate through Gryphon Entertainment.