In an industry that makes it notoriously difficult, if not perilous, to feel like you've made it, screenwriter Ian Fried appears at least to have hit a turning point.
Fried, born and raised in Omaha, has sold four scripts that are in various stages of the development pipeline. That's moviespeak for no filming yet, but serious activity that could lead to a movie being made.
Escape Artists, the company behind the Spider-Man films, is producing “The Ever After Murders.” In a city populated by fairy tale characters, detectives Thom Thumb and Red Riding investigate a conspiracy involving the city's most dangerous inhabitants. A tentative release is planned for 2016.
Exclusive Media and Hammer Films, which made “The Woman in Black” and “End of Watch,” are producing Fried's “Gaslight.” In 1899 London, Scotland Yard turns to the imprisoned Jack the Ripper to help solve a series of grisly murders. 2016 is the tentative release for this one as well.
Most recently, Paramount bought “Prism,” a combination sci-fi and murder-mystery picture whose premise is being kept a tight secret. It's possible it could be released in 2015.
Legendary Pictures, the company behind “The Dark Knight” and “Man of Steel,” snapped up “Spectral,” a supernatural disaster thriller in which a team of special-forces soldiers is sent into Manhattan after the island is overwhelmed by paranormal phenomena. Nic Matthieu is attached to direct.
“Spectral,” Fried said, is closest to getting made, though he said it's the hardest to make and the most expensive.
Fried, 27, isn't quite what you'd call an overnight success.
“People have romanticized the idea of what it is to make a movie,” Fried said by phone from his home in Burbank, Calif. “Things move at a glacial pace.”
But it's not so much the pace of things that do or don't get done that's tricky, he said. It's the politics of studios and money, perception and ego, smoke and mirrors. As tough as the actual work is, Fried said, it's a small part of what it takes to get a movie made. The trick, he said, is to make perception a reality for yourself.
“I don't know that I was initially prepared for that, but I like to learn from other people's mistakes. What works is building consensus.”
Born in May 1986, Fried is a 2004 graduate of Westside High School. His dad, Jim, is a computer consultant. His mom, Lindy, has a jewelry design business and does interior design. His brother, Zane, is a videographer in Chicago. His sister, Ariel, is an art photographer in Omaha.
Ian remembers the day he discovered he wanted to be a filmmaker. His dad and grandfather, Holocaust survivor Sam Fried, took him to see “Jurassic Park” in 1993. The realism of the movie's dinosaurs confused 7-year-old Ian. How can something that doesn't exist be in a movie? He realized imagination, and digital effects, made all things possible.
“I was entranced, intoxicated by the limitless potential of film,” he said.
At Westside, he took a television production class that sharpened his storytelling skills. He went on to earn a bachelor's degree in critical film studies at the University of Southern California's film school.
“You can teach yourself the physical skills of making a movie,” Fried said. “If I was going to a great film school, I wanted to focus on film academically, to be able to critique it on a deeper level. That's hugely valuable to me as a screenwriter.”
While in film school, he was obsessed with Superman. He wangled a job in postproduction on “Superman Returns,” working eight months as an unpaid intern. It was his first movie credit.
After graduation, he got an internship with Leonardo DiCaprio's film production company, Appian Way, and worked as DiCaprio's office assistant. The job helped him decide to focus on directing, rather than the development end of the business. A lightning bolt went off in his head.
“The quickest path to directing is writing,” Fried said. “I enjoy writing, coming up with an idea. I'll try to build up credibility till I can shoot my own little movie.”
Fried said he doesn't have the life experience to make a “Schindler's List.” He goes to the movies, he said, to escape one reality and be poured into another one, one that exists only in the imagination of the audience.
“The idea is to find a niche,” he said. “Figuring out how to sell yourself is hugely important. If you can't communicate with people in a room, you're DOA.”
Becoming a member of the Writers Guild of America, Fried said, is tougher than becoming a first-round draft pick in the NFL. But he's done it.
“I didn't study screenwriting, but the structure is simple. Just read lots of scripts and then start doing it. Eventually you create something strong enough to be in a position to keep doing it. I'm incredibly grateful to be in the position I'm in now. But I've worked really hard for it.”