Tuesday, March 20, 2012

James Erwin: the lucky man who was ASKED to become a screenwriter

Most of us aren't as lucky as James Erwin, a 37 year-old software manual writer from Iowa who posted a story on Reddit and ended up writing a screenplay for Warner Brothers. From Wired:
As Erwin scanned Reddit, a question caught his eye. It was posed by someone calling themselves The_Quiet_Earth: “Could I destroy the entire Roman Empire during the reign of Augustus if I traveled back in time with a modern U.S. Marine infantry battalion or MEU [Marine Expeditionary Unit]?” Erwin clicked on the question and a lively comment thread unfurled. Hundreds of people were whipping hypotheticals back and forth, gaming out the implications of a marines-versus-Romans smackdown. What’s the range of a Roman spear? How would the Romans react to a helicopter? What would happen when the Americans ran out of bullets?
In response to The_Quiet_Earth’s question about time-traveling marines, Erwin started typing. He posted his answer in a series of comments in the thread. Within an hour, he was an online celebrity. Within three hours, a film producer had reached out to him. Within two weeks, he was offered a deal to write a movie based on his Reddit comments. Within two months, he had taken a leave from his job to become a full-time Hollywood screenwriter.
While James Erwin was doing his best to keep the mob happy, a man in Beverly Hills named Adam Kolbrenner happened to be scanning Reddit. Kolbrenner, who at 37 is the same age as Erwin, runs a literary management and production company called Madhouse Entertainment. He represents writers and writer-directors, along with developing projects for film and TV. The Denzel Washington/Ryan Reynolds movie Safe House is a Madhouse project, and one of its clients scripted Contraband, starring Mark Wahlberg. What excited Kolbrenner about the Reddit thread wasn’t so much the idea as the writer. All it took to convince him of Erwin’s ability was the very first post—that first 350 words. “He can handle character and storytelling,” Kolbrenner says, “very, very difficult things to just be able to do.” Plus, he adds, “it got such an incredible response. I knew it was something special, because it wasn’t like he took three months to do this. This was quick quick quick, and it was all good.”
Two weeks after that fateful lunch hour, Erwin learned that Warner Bros. had made an offer for him to write a treatment—a condensed version of a screenplay—and a first draft of a full screenplay.
You can read the whole story at Wired. If only we could all be discovered and ASKED to write a screenplay, right? While I usually claim that managers and agents are too busy to be scouring the earth for new material, they're always on the lookout for fresh voices and good ideas. Congrats to James! You can follow him on Twitter at @jlerwin.

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