Former student writes own ticket to Hollywood

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An SIU alumnus is on the fast on track to the Hollywood star-track with three recent screenwriting projects with major studios.

John Scott III, a 2007 graduate from the cinema and photography department, is developing the zombie film “Maggie,” based on his original screenplay, and has two more writing assignments with major studios lined up.

Scott said he entered “Maggie,” along with two other scripts, into the 2010 PAGE International Screenwriting contest, where it won in the horror category. From there, he said, he signed with Creative Artist Agency, a Hollywood talent agency.

His script was purchased by French producer Pierre-Ange Le Pogam. The film is now being cast and A-list actors are being considered for the lead role, Scott said.

The film treats the zombie genre dramatically, and tells the story of a girl succumbing to a zombie virus and her father’s struggle to cope with it, he said. Despite its horror subject-matter, it could easily be any father and daughter love and loss story, he said.

“I like to joke around and say its like ’28 Days Later’ meets ‘Philadelphia,’” he said.

Since “Maggie” was picked up, Scott said his screenwriting career has been a whirlwind, with two more deals with Warner Bros. and Fox signed late last year to adapt the novels “Otherland” by Tad Williams and “Caves of Steel” by Isaac Assimov, respectively.

He said after he signed to CAA, he flew to Los Angeles and had 21 meetings with interested filmmakers in one week.

“I always wondered how these things went on, and now I’ve got a front-seat view,” he said.

He said he never expected his career to go as fast as it has.

“I still wonder when I’m going to have to wake up and have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, (like) it’s all been a dream,” he said.

Despite the heavy load of screenwriting work he’s taken on, Scott said he still works with aerospace technology firm Northrop Grumman as a mission planner for NASA in Boston. However, he said as soon as he gets his paycheck for “Maggie,” he’s quitting and moving to Los Angeles to go fulltime as a screenwriter.

Scott said he’s always loved film, but didn’t originally want to be a screenwriter. At first, he was interested in directing, and planned to attend film school when he graduated high school, but couldn’t afford it so he went into the military for five years, he said.

When he attended SIU, he only took one screenwriting class with associate professor of cinema Dru Vratil, but he said it was integral in teaching him how to craft a story and make it his own.

Vratil said she clearly remembers Scott from her class, and he made an impression with his focus.

“He seemed very intent on learning screenwriting,” she said.

Scott said he wrote “Maggie” in 2009 during his downtime while he was working with Northrop Grumman. While at first everything he wrote seemed derivative, once he got passionate about it, the story unfolded on its own and he wrote it in five weeks, he said.

Associate professor Susan Felleman, who Scott also credited with his development as a filmmaker, said she thinks his film education will give him the ability to approach genre fare with a higher level of sophistication than the norm.

Scott said he thinks the success of “Maggie” gave him credit in the industry, so his Hollywood experience has so far been very positive. The script opened many opportunities, and, unlike it is often portrayed in the media, everyone has been accommodating to his artistic goals, he said.

For instance, his adaptation of “Otherland” came about from a “blind” deal with Warner Bros., who agreed to work with him on a project of his choice before he’d even picked anything, he said.

He had been a fan of the novel since a coworker on the NASA project introduced it to him, so he pitched the idea to the studio, who bought the rights and will now produce the project, he said.

“Caves of Steel” came about from an offer by director Henry Hobson, who’s helming “Maggie,” he said. Hobson was set to direct the project for Fox and wanted to bring Scott on board to write it as well, he said. He’ll begin work on it as soon as he finishes “Otherland,” he said.

In addition to the three projects he’s already involved with, he’s been approached by other filmmakers interested in working with him, he’s writing another original spec script, is trying to develop a television series and would like to take a shot at directing some day with an original script he’s holding onto should that opportunity present itself, he said.

“I feel like a kid in candyland. I really would love to pick every project,” he said.

 

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