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Taking a Meeting With Screenwriter Simon Kinberg

Simon Kinberg

This isn't how it usually happens with Hollywood types. His people (manager, agent, publicist) didn't call my people (there aren't any). There were no hovering waiters serving minuscule portions for outrageous prices at a swank eatery. No paparazzi clicking away from the periphery. It was just me and the fabulously popular screenwriter Simon Kinberg chatting at a small table on the third floor of Dodge Hall.

He's polite, thoughtful, talkative, accessible, and he's intent on slurping up every drop of the strawberry smoothie he's sipping, a far cry from the self-absorbed pop-culture images of many of Tinseltown's finest.

This guy is famous? The busiest screenwriter in Hollywood? What gives?

After talking with Kinberg for an hour, I realize that "Who gives?" is a more apt question. And the "who" includes several of the professors he encountered during his studies at SOA in the Film Division.

Kinberg graduated from the Columbia's School of the Arts (SOA) in 2003 and has penned, or helped pen, some of the biggest blockbusters of the past few years. Elektra, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle and XXX: State of the Union, which recently opened, all benefited from his attention.

Kinberg, who was born in London but grew up in California, attended Brown University, where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude after studying film and literature. But he credits the exceptional education he received at SOA -- and guidance from its professors -- as instrumental in the crafting of his skill and in shaping his career.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith opens June 10.

That now-famous career began with a post-college stint as an intern at Redeemable Features, the New York-based film production company co-founded by Ira Deutchman, longtime Hollywood producer and adjunct professor of film at SOA. Deutchman, producer of such films as Swimming to Cambodia and Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle, took Kinberg under his wing, nudging Kinberg's career into action.

"The first stage is the hardest to penetrate," says Kinberg. Deutchman helped Kinberg make that step by coaching him on how to pitch film ideas and by convincing him to attend SOA. "[Deutchman] was both the reason I went to Columbia and the reason I got into the film business. The first dollar I made in film, I made with Ira," says Kinberg. Deutchman sent his protégé's first-year screenplay to contacts in Hollywood, which opened a lot of doors, Kinberg explains.

"The most influential professor for me as a writer was Jamal Joseph," says Kinberg. Joseph, an assistant professor of professional practice and co-founder of the International Black Panther Film Festival, was also his academic advisor. "He encouraged my bent and pushed me to learn good [writing] habits." Kinberg returned the mentoring favor he received from SOA professors by teaching a master class in film this semester.

The adjustment from schoolwork to real work was tough, Kinberg explains, with a chuckle. "Studio executives are strange animals," he says, "difficult to figure out." But his professors armed him with the proper Hollywood jargon. The curriculum at SOA also prepared him for working in the industry. "Classes I didn't like, I feel, were some of the most important. I really did not like the [required] acting class. I hated it," he says. "But the truth is, the lessons I learned in those classes were profoundly valuable."

Another big influence on Kinberg's craft was Michael Hausman, adjunct professor at SOA. Hausman is a Hollywood veteran who either produced or co-produced a long list of award-winning films: Valmont, Silkwood, The People vs. Larry Flynt, Amadeus, No Mercy, Places in the Heart, Ragtime, The Firm, Nobody's Fool and Man on the Moon. From Hausman, Kinberg says he learned the details of the physical process of making movies.

Kinberg absorbed crucial advice from each of his SOA mentors, with his writing garnering attention even before he graduated. His senior thesis project became the movie Mr. and Mrs. Smith, due in theaters June 10, which boasts an all-star cast, including Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt.

His affinity for comic books and action movies has made Kinberg Hollywood's go-to-guy for explosive scripts. The film adaptation of The Fantastic Four, long awaited by Marvel Comics fans, hits the big screen July 8. And X-Men 3 is slated to begin filming in the fall. Fans of the mutant superheroes are really in for a treat with the screenplay for the third installment of this franchise, Kinberg teases.

But his biggest summer project will arrive in June. Kinberg and his wife, Mali, are expecting their first child. "I'm finally going to take some time off to spend with him," says Kinberg, who hasn't taken a vacation in nearly five years. Given how passionate he is about his craft, after a few months there's no doubt Kinberg will be itching to swap changing diapers for changing dialogue.

The first 10 times Kinberg had meetings on studio lots, he got lost. "I felt so small," he says. You'd think he was kidding if he didn't look so sincere; fame seems to have changed him precious little. But now that he's a regular, at least one thing is different: "I still feel small, but now I don't get lost."

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Published: May 16, 2005
Last modified: May 18, 2005

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