Every screenwriter dreams of holding enough cards to execute their work exactly how they imagined. To not have their scripts from their character and made into something entirely different from what they had in mind.
While not everyone gets the chance, some great award-winning screenwriters have paved their way to become exceptional directors, actors, producers and more. Their movies have touched our hearts, left us in awe, desperately wanting more.
Screenwriting is a tough profession, there are millions of aspiring screenwriters all around the world working on their scripts for months for it to lead nowhere. While it can be very demotivating, there are always things that can help you become better.
If you have the luxury of time and money, there’s a ton of screenwriting academic programs that you can join, but if not, don’t worry there are several courses on Udemy and Coursera that you can take side by side.
And if you already know about the basic format of writing screenplays, you can also check out these screenwriting software tools to see which one works best for you.
Let’s not delay it any further and get right into the reason you clicked on this article, and talk about some brilliant screenwriters turned directors and actors.
1. Christopher McQuarrie
The first on our list is one of the most well-known writer-directors in Hollywood, Christopher McQuarrie. Extremely famous for his work on the Mission Impossible series starring Tom Cruise, he started out merely as a writer.
His first feature film was Public Access a 1993 thriller which received 53% ratings from Rotten Tomatoes. In 1995, McQuarrie wrote The Usual Suspects for which he received a ton of awards including the Best Screenplay Award from both the British and the American Academy Awards, Edgar Awards and the Independent Spirit Awards.
In 2006, The Usual Suspects was also voted 35th in the 101 Greatest Screenplays by the Writers Guild of America.
McQuarrie made his directorial debut in 2000 with a film he wrote himself called ‘The Way of the Gun’ but it didn’t do very well in the box-office and. He is also one of the uncredited writers of X-men and the Wolverine among a few more.
As we already know he was a co-writer on the 5th and the 6th parts of the MI series which were a massive hit. He later finalized the deal to write the 7th and the 8th entry of the same, scheduled to be released in November of 2021 and 2022, respectively.
2. Paul Schrader
Paul Schrader is one of the most celebrated screenplay writers known to hollywood. While his directorial career might not be as celebrated as his writing career, it is still pretty intriguing.
He first started out with a screenplay called The Yakuza (a film about the japanese crime world) that he co-wrote with his brother Leonard in 1974, which further went on to be the subject of a bidding war eventually selling for $325,000.
With a ton of masterpieces like Brian De Palma’s Obsession, John Flynn’s Rolling Thunder’, and Martin Scrosese’s Taxi Driver under his belt, he was able to direct his first feature Blue Collar (1978) that he again co-wrote with his brother Leonard.
In his journey as a writer-director he has won 28 awards for his work right from the very beginning of his career. Schrader often talks about how certain films have impacted his career, for example Robbert Bresson’s Pickpocket.
“[Bresson] taught me I could make films about unlikeable people—I could take an outcast, a lonely man, a guy who lives an interior life, and say, ‘Let’s walk in his shoes.’ ‘Pickpocket’ gave me the courage to write ‘Taxi Driver,’ and from that point on I have never had a problem with characters that appear beyond empathy.”
Also Read : 28 Bestselling Novels Adapted Into Screenplays
3. Quentin Tarantino
Quentin Tarantino is not only the two-time Oscar winning writer-director for Django Unchained (2012) and Pulp Fiction (1994) but also the writer and director of one of my personal favorite 2 part movie-series “Kill Bill” casting Uma Thurman.
As you probably already know, he is best known for films that combine over the top violence, witty pop references and non-linear storylines. His movies leave you on edge with a constant rush of adrenalin and uncertainty.
Additionally, Quentin Tarantino has 27 acting credits to his name as compared to his 9 directing credits; he often enjoys casting himself in his own movies from time to time.
4. Nora Ephron
In the 1960s, she worked for numerous newspapers like the Post and magazines, including Esquire. She was one of the few people who knew the identity Deep Throat in the infamous Watergate Scandal at the White House.
Her rewrite of All the President’s Men in the 70’s was seen by someone in Hollywood and she got her first job as a screenwriter.
Three of her screenplays were nominated for Academy Awards. She also wrote and directed Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail and a couple of more films.
Nora died at the age of 71 in 2012. She was regarded as an extremely inspiring woman to all budding as well as existing women filmmakers and writers. Her memorial service was attended by notable filmmakers, journalists and politicians like Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, Meryl Streep, Diane Sawyer, Michael Bloomberg.
5. Diablo Cody
Brooke Busey-Mario professionally known by her pen name Diablo Cody is an American writer, director and producer. She is best known for her Oscar-winning screenplay debut Juno (2007) starring Elliot Page and Jennifer Garner which went on to win several awards including the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, the BAFTA Award for Best Original Screenplay, the Independent Spirit Award and the Writers Guild of America Award.
Cody first started as a ‘feminist-stripper’- meaning she choose the role of a stripper or burlesque artist by asserting her own control over her performance, soon after she became the first ‘stripper-screenwriter’ in film history with her book Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper based on some of her own experience gained from Minneapolis strip clubs.
Her book provided her with the opportunity to start writing full time and she eventually graced us with movies like Burlesque, Juno and Young Adult. She wrote, produced, and made her directorial debut with the comedy drama film Paradise (2013). She has also dabbled in some short acting roles in TV series like Sunday Morning Shootout’ and 90210.
6. Randall Wallace
Randall Wallace is an American screenwriter, director, producer and songwriter. Honestly, there’s little to nothing this man can not do! For a long time after chasing the Hollywood Dream with no avail he decided to give it one last shot with his brilliant screenplay “Braveheart” (1995), that highlights struggles that he has faced himself, which went on to win several awards including Academy Award for Best Picture, five Academy Award nominations, one Golden Globe Award and four BAFTA Awards.
This brought him a well-deserved spotlight, enabling him to make his directorial debut with his own screenplay, The Man In The Iron MasK (1998) starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Soon after, he wrote another screenplay, Pearl Harbor (2001) starring Ben Affleck.
Some of his other work as a director include We Were Soldiers (2002) a film about the Battle of Ia Drang (1965) during the Vietnam War, based on the memoir by Lieutenant General Hal Moore, Disney’s Secretariat (2010), and Heaven For Real (2014).
He is also the New York Times bestselling author of seven novels, he wrote the end of the title song It’s who you are released in the Secretariat soundtrack and the lyricist of the praised hymn Mansions of the Lord, originally written for We Were Soldiers and performed as the recessional for President Ronald Reagan‘s national funeral.
7. Charlie Kaufman
Charlie Kaufman’s journey has been a glittery rocky road. He first came into notice with his first produced screenplay Being John Malkovich (1999) which got an Academy nomination and won a BAFTA. For another 5 years, i.e. till 2004, he continued to write multiple screenplays like, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind which won him an Oscar for the Best Original Screenplay.
In 2005, he wrote and directed a couple of plays, one of which is called Anomalisa. This play is what pushed him towards directing. In 2008, he finally made his directorial debut with the postmodern comedy-drama Synecdoche, New York which premiered at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival.
While the film was listed on several ‘best films of the 21st century’ lists, it was a financial flop. Kaufman faced a lot of trouble the next few years to get funding for his scripts to which he attached himself from a director point of view.
After a series of uncertainty, a former colleague of Kaufman Dino Stamatopoulos contacted him in hopes of adapting Kaufman’s screenplay Anomalisa into a stop-motion animated film.
The film premiered on 4th September 2015 at Telluride Film Festivals receiving a lot of positive reviews and went on to receive multiple awards including Grand Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.
In 2019 he directed a film based on Lein Reid’s 2016 novel I’m Thinking of Ending Things, which was released in September 2020 to receive a lot of acclaim. Earlier in 2020, he made his literary debut with the release of his first novel Antkind.
Currently, he is developing a limited series for HBO based on one of his unproduced screenplays, he is also writing a script about dreams for Ryan Gosling‘s production company and an adaptation of the novel The Memory Police.
These were some of the best writers turned directors/actors in the film industry. While we could obviously not mention all of them; John Lee Hancock, Curtis Hanson, Shane Black, Elaine May, and Preston Sturges are some honorary mentions.
I hope this helped you get the glimpse of some greats masterminds behind the making of your favorite movies.