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The Writers: Dan Fogelman couldn't have scripted his career any better

When he started, he was writing blurbs for TV Guide Network. Now he's writing movie scripts that attract Steve Carell and other stars.

May 01, 2011|By Nicole Sperling, Los Angeles Times
  • Actor Steve Carrell, left, and writer Dan Fogelman.
Actor Steve Carrell, left, and writer Dan Fogelman. (Ricardo DeAratanha, Los…)

Screenwriter Dan Fogelman has the kind of Hollywood story that could make a struggling scribe jump off a very tall building.

Working his first Hollywood job some 12 years ago writing TV show blurbs for TV Guide Network, the New Jersey native wrote his first script in his spare time — a coming-of-age story centered around a bar mitzvah. "I thought there might be some agents who were Jewish who would like it," Fogelman says, laughing. "It worked."

Though it was never produced, the screenplay earned Fogelman a manager and an agent, both of whom still oversee his career. It also got him a job interview with John Lasseter at Pixar, one that turned into a year-and-a-half writing gig on "Cars." Soon, scripts for "Fred Claus" and "Tangled" followed.

Then in 2009 he rented a cabin for a week to work the first 10 pages of a story idea into a complete screenplay that explored different facets of love among a group of people. The draft immediately attracted Fogelman's ideal leading man — Steve Carell. Warner Bros. purchased the project for a staggering $2.5 million. And within a month "Crazy, Stupid, Love" starring Carell, Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore and Emma Stone was in production.

"It was the most bizarre experience of my career," said Fogelman, chatting amiably over a high-protein breakfast in the Valley. "After all that, you expect the hammer to drop. But we got the cast, who are the nicest group of movie stars you'll ever meet. The directors [Glenn Ficarra and John Requa] turned out to be amazing collaborators. The studio was happy and wonderful to work with. It was just this blessed project."

The blessings keep coming. He's prepping "My Mother's Curse," based on a road trip he took with his mother, that will star Barbra Streisand and Seth Rogen. He and Carell meshed so well that they are working together again, with the comic actor set to star in and produce the writer's directorial debut, "Imagine," the comedic story of a 60-year-old musician who decides to live his life differently after receiving a letter from John Lennon that arrived 40 years late. (Carell will play the musician's estranged son.) And in his highest-profile move yet, Fogelman just sold a $2 million pitch to Warner Bros. [with an additional $3 million to come upon its completion] that would feature Tom Cruise playing a rising political star who has a massive fall from grace and returns home to repair relationships with his family. Says Fogelman, "Tom's gonna kill in it."

"Dan reminds you of your friend from college who was always the smart, funny guy that everybody liked but was very unassuming," says Carell, who in "Crazy, Stupid, Love," which opens July 29, plays a newly divorced father struggling with returning to the dating world.

"He's rare," continues Carell. "He's very collaborative. He's extremely funny, but at the same time, the things he tends to write are grounded emotionally, things that seem like they are actual human feelings and emotions. Ultimately, in terms of a comedy, it's always funnier to me when those narratives are a result of something true. He's very clean that way as a writer."

Fogelman's rush to set up as many projects as he can is intentional. He believes his type of writing, which could easily be compared to Cameron Crowe and Jim Brooks has an expiration date. A date, Fogelman believes, comes right at the moment when you've made so much money that you no longer connect to the everyman.

He's drawn, he says, to stories about something — relationships, mostly — the kind that walk that delicate line between comedy and drama. Carell says Fogelman reminds him of the "Little Miss Sunshine" writer-directors Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton. Those stories tend to come from characters who feel like real people in real situations.

"You want to do a lot of these movies before you get too rich and unable to listen to what other people are telling you," Fogelman says. "I want to see how many I can get done before I lose my mind."

He recognizes that the money, which embarrasses him allows him a lot of freedom creatively.

"I can take out a pitch and it might not be the most universal idea, but now it will sell in a heartbeat because I have a track record of doing it and I can get Steve Carell to do it. The money gives you freedom if you use it right. It can also make you incredibly detached."

As such, on this recent Wednesday morning, Fogelman will leave breakfast to attend another, before he meets somebody for lunch and yet another for dinner. The only thing likely to suffer is his waistline.

"I'm going to be around 400 pounds by the time this run is over."

nicole.sperling@latimes.com

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