Despite the image of the wunderkind screenwriter a-la Orson Welles or Diablo Cody, many screenwriters broke in late to the game, with a wealth of wisdom and life experience to fuel their writing. As an encouragement to those who remember a time before the internet, or to those who are wondering when their efforts will pay off, Industrial Scripts looks at famed screenwriters who broke-in after their 40th birthday celebrations.
1. David Seidler
MALICE IN WONDERLAND, 1985, Age 48
TUCKER: THE MAN AND HIS DREAM, 1988, Age 51
Despite a brief foray into television writing in the 1960’s, David Seidler’s time in Hollywood didn’t arrive until the Elizabeth Taylor starring biopic of famed gossip columnist Louella Parsons MALICE IN WONDERLAND – followed up by penning a Francis Ford Coppola flick. Late adulation arrived when Seidler became the oldest Oscar winner for Best Original Screenplay at age 74 for THE KING’S SPEECH.
2. Raymond Chandler
DOUBLE INDEMNITY, 1944, age 56
Another of the screenwriters who broke in late; after losing his job as an oil executive in the Great Depression, Chandler turned to novel writing and penned the Philip Marlowe detective series – before providing the classy subtext and hard-boiled noir for DOUBLE INDEMNITY and THE BIG SLEEP.
3. Cormac McCarthy
THE GARDENER’S SON (TV), 1976, Age 43
THE COUNSELOR, 2013, Age 80
Famed for his novels – many of which have been adapted for the big screen by other writers – such as THE ROAD, ALL THE PRETTY HORSES and NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN – McCarthy had an early stab at TV, before selling his first spec screenplay well into his time as a supposed pensioner, with upcoming Ridley Scott helmed THE COUNSELOR.
4. Courtney Hunt
FROZEN RIVER, 2008, Age 44
First time writer-director Courtney Hunt was Oscar nominated for her debut, a fore-runner to the grit and sparseness of WINTER’S BONE. A clear example of the many screenwriters who broke in late.
5. Guillermo Arriaga
AMORES PERROS, 2000, Age 42
Former boxer, basketball and soccer player Arriaga put his varied life experience into Mexican break-out AMORES PERROS, making a name for himself with fractured timeline, multiple-protagonist thrillers such as 21 GRAMS and BABEL.
6. Julian Fellowes
GOSFORD PARK, 2001, Age 52
A twenty year acting career, including stints on MONARCH OF THE GLEN and OUR FRIENDS IN THE NORTH gave Fellowes first-hand exposure to great British drama – experience he’d put to effective use when writing GOSFORD PARK and DOWNTON ABBEY.
7. Ron Bass
CODE NAME: EMERALD, 1985, Age 43
RAIN MAN, 1988, Age 46
Another one of the screenwriters who broke in late, after a 17 year career as an entertainment lawyer, Ron Bass combined his writing passion with his industry knowledge to become one of Hollywood’s most prolific and lucrative writers, with MY BEST FRIEND’S WEDDING, SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY, STEPMOM and ENTRAPMENT among his credits.
8a. Jim Sheridan
MY LEFT FOOT, 1989, Age 40
8b. Terry George
IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, 1993, Age 41
Irish ex-pats Jim Sheridan and Terry George followed similar career paths, both emigrating to New York in the 1980s before turning their experiences of the Irish Troubles into stage plays and eventually films, collaborating on IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, SOME MOTHER’S SON and THE BOXER.
9. David Webb Peoples
BLADE RUNNER, 1982, Age 42
Working as a film editor whilst developing his own screenplays, Peoples’ big break came when he was hired by Ridley Scott (along with his hiring of Cormac McCarthy, clearly an advocate of the mature writer) on BLADE RUNNER, before acclaim for UNFORGIVEN and TWELVE MONKEYS.
10. Nora Ephron
SILKWOOD, 1983, Age 42
Journalist Ephron was married to Watergate exposer Carl Bernstein, giving her the opportunity to write an unused draft of ALL THE PRESIDENTS MEN which garnered industry attention and her first screenwriting offers, before her biopic of labour-union activist Karen Silkwood earned her an Oscar nom.
You’ve Gotta Use What You’ve Got
Nora Ephron’s background as a journalist fed directly into her early work, whilst Jim Sheridan & Terry George’s time in the Irish Troubles propelled strong dramatic films – life experience invests scripts with genuine insight and a great personal hook of authenticity when pitching and taking meetings. David Webb Peoples and Ron Bass worked elsewhere in the film industry whilst honing their writing – but then came armed with an insider’s perspective. Patience and preparation pay…
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10 thoughts on “10 Screenwriters Who Broke In Late”
Happy to hear I’m not alone. I’m 86. Started writing at 67. Did some acting in my younger years, but raising a family became a bigger priority. Turned to screenwriting in my leisure year, at 67. Completed 4 screenplays. The latest, this year, is “Last Love” about 2 senior citizens discovering last love after their only loves have died. I’ve actually gotten better with age. I have arrived. Hope, blooms eternal!
40s? 50s? What about the 60 year olds? That’s what I call late.
Exactly Wendy! I wondered how old the person who wrote this article was at the time to consider 40 a late start!
Also, NOT ONE WOMAN WRITER HERE! SHAME! Time to break the mould I say! Good Luck.
Actually, I’ve just spotted 2. But still. Time for more!
I’m a female author!
I mean I still feel like giving up, wondering what the point of it all is. I see people much younger than me succeeding. I have only just started. I started too late. I have started too late. What is the point really in the end? The generation i am speaking to has almost gone.
I’m 32 and this is how I feel.
Hi Star and K. Rowe: screenwriting is a marathon, not a sprint, as the careers of the fine people featured in our article prove. The fact that it’s generally acknowledged that it takes 10 years to earn a mortgage-paying amount of money from screenwriting tells you all you need to know about the challenges of this career. But where there’s a will, there’s always a way!
Many of these “late breakers” are in their forties. Babies! I am the Grandma Moses of Screenwriting. I had an option 20 yrs ago–the project tanked–I went on to write a short that won a Telly and showed in NY and LA, and now am back at it. I am breaking all the rules and having fun. Once in a while, I blog my project. https://pawandordermovie.blogspot.com. Come and see. Oh, and please buy my script when it’s done.
Nice to know that at the tender age of 43 I still have a shot. Currently I’m focusing most of my time writing novels, but I do have 2 screenplay adaptations- one of which is optioned by a production company. Will it get made? Who knows–fingers crossed. Until such a day, I keep on writing. I have 10 novels published and that’s where the money is at right now. Maybe someday I’ll get to realize the dream of seeing one of my books on the silver screen.