The Return of the Indie Film
By Scott Huver
From friendship to films: Alex Kurtzman (LEFT) and Roberto Orci
Sure, giant robots transforming into sleek sports cars are awesome, but two self-described indie-film geeks transforming into the in-demand screenwriting team behind huge Hollywood blockbusters may be more remarkable.
Screenwriters Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (the Transformers films, Star Trek’s reboot, Fox’s cult TV fave Fringe) bonded at Santa Monica’s Crossroads School after discovering both carried the production diaries from Steven Soderbergh’s Sex, Lies and Videotape in their backpacks. “No one I’d ever met was geek enough to do that,” says Kurtzman.
Shared passions for indie sensibilities, Spielbergian cinema, comics and pop culture are the stuff of which today’s great Hollywood partnerships— like Kurtzman and Orci’s—are made. After early flawed attempts to become art-house aesthetes, they penned TV scripts for Hercules and Alias, unveiling deft pop-storytelling skills with character-driven credibility. They quickly became go-to movie scribes for mainstream mythmakers J.J. Abrams, Michael Bay and Steven Spielberg. “You can tell when you’re playing and when you’re working,” says Orci. “It becomes clear what’s coming from the kid in you and what’s coming from the adult because you’re entertaining each other—or not.”
“The child in you needs to be free enough to remember what it’s like to be a kid watching Superman fly or an X-Wing fighter battle,” says Kurtzman. “The grown-up in you has to recognize the mechanics that enabled those moments. It’s a weird form of self-imposed schizophrenia.”
The duo has even deconstructed why fabled creative partnerships gelled. Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond worked together but rarely socialized, yet they produced screenplays that were “incredibly human and intimate and funny,” says Kurtzman. “Our relationship is the opposite. Bob was the best man at my wedding. He’s my son’s godfather. We got lucky that we have both.”
“Together we’re greater than the sum of our parts,” says Orci. “It’s so easy to stare at a blank page and have writer’s block. When we’re together, there’s none of that.” Kurtzman, unsurprisingly, agrees, “When your [writing] partner is also one of your closest friends,” he says, “what more could you ask for?”
PHOTOGRAPH BY SARAH KEHOE