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The best storytellers in the game: 8 screenwriters already crushing 2019

Writing a screenplay is an underrated art form. If you’ve ever glanced at a screenplay, you may have thought writing a script isn’t such a difficult task.

Yet, don’t let the minimalist and simple layout fool you and take away from the fact that making a good screenplay is anything but easy. It’s hard to write dialogue that actually sounds like how people talk in everyday life without it being arbitrary. It’s difficult to, not completely on dialogue, move the plot forward or totally provide exhibition on the background of your characters.

In a conventional narrative arc, the protagonist has to have a clear objective and the antagonist, whether that is another person, an entity or perhaps, the protagonist themselves, must function as the primary obstacle in preventing the main character from achieving their goal.

In short, you have to put your protagonist through the wringer and raise the stakes along the way, so that once we get to the end of the story, the protagonist has earnt that goal — whether it is getting someone out of jail, saving the world from a zombie apocalypse or winning over the heart of a love interest. In a screenplay, the characters’ actions reveal who they are and therefore, why we as viewers, should stick with them along on their journey.

Here is a list of screenwriters that made a name for themselves in 2018 by pushing the boundaries of genre, creating complex characters who we root for despite their problematic actions, and of course created compelling narratives that left an impression on us, days after our viewing.

Sara Colangelo, The Kindergarten Teacher

In Colangelo’s film, audiences watch a kindergarten teacher go to extraordinary and somewhat problematic lengths to shepherd the talent of her student who she deems a child prodigy.

Written and directed by Colangelo, the tense narrative explores the power dynamics that are embedded in being a teacher and mentor.

A graduate of NYU, Colangelo is a New York-based writer and director whose short films have screened at festivals around the world, including Sundance, Tribeca, and SXSW.

Colangelo’s debut feature, Little Accidents, had its world premiere at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival and was subsequently nominated for a 2015 Independent Spirit Award.


Raymond Lawrence Riley, aka Boots Riley, Sorry to Bother You

Before making his feature film debut, Boots Riley spent years working as a community organizer and as the frontman of the leftist hip-hop group, The CoupAt 47, the Bay Area activist and rapper ultimately created a highly original, satirical, blistering critique of capitalism with one of this year’s best films, Sorry To Bother You.

Starring Lakeith Stanfield as a young telemarketer in Oakland, the film follows the protagonist as he climbs the ranks of his corporate company after realizing he can make more sales by speaking with a “white voice” (David Cross dubs these lines). Though the film has an absurdist and surrealist quality, it is grounded through its unapologetic examination of race in America.

The notion of “the white voice” in the film is emblematic of the kind of racial performativity that characterizes everyday life and the kind of the code-switching that are at times necessary for Black folk to employ as a means of social and economic mobility. In other words, sometimes you need to “use your white voice” to get ahead within a political-economic system that is dependent on exploitation in order to be sustained.

On what is next for Riley, he disclosed in an interview with The Guardian that he is currently writing two films. He has also linked up with Michael Ellenberg who brought Game of Thrones to HBO in a TV series deal. He is also writing and directing an episode for Guillermo del Toro’s horror anthology series 10 After Midnight.


Joe Robert Cole, Black Panther

Joe Robert Cole is responsible for co-writing the screenplay to the groundbreaking Marvel hit film Black Panther with the director, Ryan Coogler. Cole first began writing screenplays in college at UC Berkeley and his career as a screenwriter includes the 2006 coming-of-age drama ATL and the 2011 indie thriller Amber Lake, which he also directed.

A year later, Cole was invited to join Marvel Studios’ writer program, where in-house writers help develop possible screenplays for lesser-known Marvel characters.

Cole’s work on American Crime Story: The People v O.J Simpson earned him an Emmy nomination and it was after this critical-acclaim that the writer landed his biggest project yet, the opportunity to write what is now the third highest grossing film — ever. The Black Panther co-writer is now set to write and direct the Netflix drama, All Day and a Night. 

The film follows the POV of a young criminal after his arrival in prison as he looks back on the days preceding his arrest and the circumstances of his childhood to find clues to his way forward in life and his survival, and will take place across three parallel narratives. Cole will also team up with Netflix for Failsafe, a film adaptation of a Vault Comics story by F.J. DeSanto and Todd Farmer.

Cole will write the script while Michael B. Jordan is set to produce the project through his company Outlier Society Productions. It is unclear whether Jordan will star in the project since the actor is in high demand at the moment and is taking his turn at the director’s chair himself. Plus, Cole will also pen the script to the Call of Duty sequel.


Cheo Hodari Coker, Creed II

Annapurna Pictures

Being a former music journalist turned television writer, seems like the perfect equation to write the script for the biopic on the legendary The Notorious B.I.G.

Before landing the epic gig of depicting the life and death of one of the biggest names in music and culture, Coker’s made a name for himself at outlets such as The Los Angeles Times and The SourceCoker biggest deal yet has to be penning a co-writing deal to write the eighth installment of the Rocky franchise, Creed II, with Rocky himself, Sylvester Stallone.

The film has been a monumental success and has brought in $109.6M domestically and is expected to surpass the first film’s box office figure of directorial $109.7M. The sequel has also made been a huge success at the global box office, earning $138M.

Coker’s producing credits include cop drama Southland, and the critically acclaimed Showtime series, Ray Donovan. And though Marvel and Netflix pulled the plug on Luke Cage, the former showrunner of the superhero series has found a new long-term home with Amazon Studios.


Jordana Spiro, Night Comes On

After premiering at the Sundance Film Festival this year and winning a NEXT Innovator Award at the festival,  Spiro’s first feature film for Night Comes On is a visual declaration of her talent as a filmmaker and powerful storyteller.

The film’s premise is as follows: On the eve of her 18th birthday, Angel LaMere a young Black queer woman is released from serving time in a juvenile detention facility. Haunted by her past, she embarks on a journey of retribution for her mother that threatens to destroy her future.

Jordana Spiro is also an actress that has starred in numerous films and television series including Netflix’s, Ozark and TBS comedy television program, My Boys. Spiro co-wrote the script with Angelica Nwandu.


Angelica Nwandu, Night Comes On

TEDx

Night Comes On may officially mark Nwandu’s entry into the film industry, yet Nwandu is widely known as the CEO and founder of the Instagram-based media company, The Shade Room.

Amazingly, The Shade Room was her backup plan after she and Spiro received a grant to fund the film after they submitted the script got accepted in the Sundance Screenwriters Lab.

Nwanda combined her love of celebrity gossip with her love of writing and founded the company in 2014. Within the first year the account garnered over 700k followers and now the media empire has close to 15 million followers on Instagram.

Now with one of the biggest platforms, she is creating a lane for herself in entertainment unlike anyone else.


Courtney Kemp Agboh, Power

Though 50 Cent is the face of the hit Starz drama Power, he is not the one scribing the dialogue to one of Ghost’s intense and powerful monologues. The creator and showrunner of the hit cable series, Courtney Kemp Aghboh, however, admits the rap superstar-actor is a source of constant creative inspiration for the series.

But Kemp Agboh didn’t just come out of nowhere. Like many women of color in the entertainment industry, she has been grinding and climbing her way to the top. Her drive is indicative of the show she has created.

She has had a long stint in the industry. After writing an article for GQ magazine, titled “How to Date a Black Woman,” her authorial voice garnered the attention of two comedy producers and it was here she looked to make moves within the industry.

She landed a spot as a writer on the series The Bernie Mac Show, in 2015. Her other writing credits include CSI, In Justice, Eli Stone, My Own Worst Enemy, Happy Town, Hawaii Five-O,  and finally, her big break, The Good Wife.

Kemp Agboh continues to boss up and has signed a multi-year overall deal with the premium channel’s parent company, Lionsgate. The deal includes several commitments from Starz to develop series through her End of Episode company, including potential spinoffs of Power.


Jordan Peele, Us

Though Get Out was Peele’s directorial debut, many know Peele as the other half of the hilarious comedy duo, Key and Peele. Their skit comedy show, also starring Keegan-Michael Key, garnered a huge fan following and Peele became known for his uncanny impersonation of President Obama.

When Jordan Peele wrote the screenplay for Get Out, it began as a playful writing process with Peele exploring his favorite film genre, horror. As he continued to write, however, he realized the social gravity embedded in the narrative he was crafting.

For Peele, pairing the plot of a Black man going to meet his white girlfriend’s family with the genre of horror, was the most fitting way to tell the story of being a Black man in America. Recently, the director interrupted the Christmas festivities by releasing the creepy and spine-tingling official trailer for his new film, Us.

The new horror film follows the story of Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) and Gabe Wilson (Winston Duke), who take their children to Adelaide’s childhood beach house in Northern California for the summer. Adelaide, however, becomes increasingly paranoid about her family’s well-being as she is haunted by a past trauma.

The ominous pair of gold scissors that are of front and center in the film’s poster has been inscribed in the mind of horror film enthusiasts and admirers’ of the filmmaker who are keenly awaiting the film’s premiere in March next year.

While Peele is continuing to work within the generic conventions of horror, he has also entered into a different dimension. Peele is rebooting the classic sci-fi/horror series, The Twilight Zone, set to be released and streamed on CBS All Access next year

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