Variety Creative Impact in Screenwriting Award: Andrea Berloff Brings Grit and Gripping Drama to Big Screen

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In the late 1990s, after teaching herself screenplay structure by way of reading Viki King’s seminal go-to manual “How to Write a Movie in 21 Days,” Andrea Berloff emerged with her first feature script titled “Liberty,” a comedy set in a small-town Ohio dart tournament.

“I had no idea at that point that there were three acts in a movie — I’d never had a class in it,” says Berloff, who cut her teeth as a theater major at Cornell U., poring over Greek tragedies and Shakespeare’s dramas.

And while “very few people read that script,” the friends who gave “Liberty” a look served as “encouragement to keep writing,” says Berloff, who would go on to option her second, the biopic “Harry and Caresse” to Fine Line (the then-specialty division of New Line) in 2003, pen the Oliver Stone drama “World Trade Center” and net an Academy Award nomination for co-writ- ing, with Jonathan Herman, the 2015 N.W.A origin story “Straight Outta Compton.”

In 2019, Berloff made her directorial debut with “The Kitchen,” a gritty adaptation of the DC Comics’ graphic novel about gangsters’ wives in 1970s Hell’s Kitchen.

But while Berloff, Variety’s 2022 Creative Impact in Screenwriting honoree, has worked consistently — and on an impressive slate of high-profile feature films — since that inaugural script sale in 2003, navigating the entertainment biz as a woman has not been with- out its learning curves. Berloff, who made a name for herself as a master of the female-driven period piece when starting out, knew that if she wanted to achieve enduring, long-term success as a Hollywood screenwriter, she needed “to write like a boy.”

“I kind of looked around and was like, ‘there aren’t a lot of female-driven period piece jobs here in 2003, and if I want to have a career, I better figure out how to write differently,’ ” says Berloff, who will be feted at this year’s Mill Valley Film Festival and take part in a conversation there Oct. 16.

“I took a few months and studied cop movies, watched every Scorsese movie and was really adamant that my next job was going to be that, because I wanted a career,” Berloff continues. “In that era, that meant I had to learn how to write like a boy. I spent at least 10 to 12 years writing like a boy. I knew that if I was going to go into the room [to pitch] then I needed to have harder action than everybody else. I was going to write tougher guys, more violence. And I built a reputation for that for many, many years.”

With “Straight Outta Compton,” Berloff netted well-deserved critical accolades, not only for penning riveting and nuanced backstory of one of America’s seminal hip-hop groups, but also for the humanity with which she fleshed out the film’s real-life characters, from Ice Cube to Eazy-E.

“I was super into hip-hop music in high school and college and my view has always been that it’s pro- test music about the civil rights movement and the First Amendment,” says Berloff. “Civil rights was something that we talked about a lot as a family, and something that’s important to me. So, when the movie job came along I thought, the music is cool, but I’m not interested in doing a biopic. I’m more interested in doing a civil-rights movie. And when I pitched that version to Ice Cube, he wanted that version. I’ve definitely caught a lot of flak over the years, like, why did I get hired for that? And I know why. It’s because I was the only per- son at that point who pitched it as a civil-rights movie.”

Berloff, whose next film, Niki Caro’s Jennifer Lopez starrer “The Mother,” is due out on Netflix in 2023, has become a seasoned pro in penning compelling, fast-paced dramas. But Berloff also posseses a knife-sharp sense of humor, which she will soon put to work directing “a talent-driven comedy at Netflix,” the exact details of which are not yet being made public.

The project is part of Berloff ’s brand new overall filmmaking deal with Netflix, an endeavor she calls “really exciting.”

“It’s got a really unusual structure to it,” says Berloff of the deal, which partners her with fellow screenwriter John Gatins, who nabbed an Oscar nom for penning the 2012 high-octane drama “Flight,” starring Denzel Washington.

“The [deal] is for everything, soup to nuts — writing, directing, consulting, helping out editors and filmmakers, making our own movies. It’s a little bit of a return to the old studio system. It’s a bit of an experiment, for both Netflix and me.”

At the core of all cinematic efforts remains Berloff ’s love for big-screen stories. “I’m a movie girl. That’s where my heart is.”

Source: Variety

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