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|Subject: Screenwriter Jason Keller Lands Success Sun Oct 09, 2011 8:53 pm|| |
Hoosier lands starring role writing movie scripts in Hollywood
Oct. 8, 2011
Jason Keller, a North Central High School grad, is the screenwriter of the new movie "Machine Gun Preacher". It seems the only person who didn't know Jason Keller would hit it big was Jason himself.
Keller, a North Central High School grad and screenwriter whose new movie, "Machine Gun Preacher," stars Gerard Butler and is directed by Golden Globe nominee Marc Forster ("Monster's Ball," "Finding Neverland"), said he wasn't particularly interested in writing during his early years.
He even missed out on that moment of clarity most writers have.
It was his junior year, and his English teacher gave a rudimentary assignment: Write a short story. Keller went home and wrote his, unaware that the next few days would alter the course of his life.
The teacher, impressed with his yarn "Chickens for Sale" -- about a kid who bought a chicken with his allowance, took it home and taught it how to talk -- singled out Keller's story to read to the class.
"Looking back, it was a big moment, though I didn't really know it at the time," he said. "It was the first time I really felt good about anything I'd done academically to that point. It was the first time anybody really told me I could write."
Keller grew up on the Far Northside of Indianapolis. His father, Ron, a former major league baseball player, worked as a stockbroker, while his mother, Susie, was a popular spokeswoman for Levitz furniture store, appearing in local TV commercials.
He attended classes at Ball State, but jumped at an opportunity to study in London at Regent's College. Keller said he fell in love with writing and the theater while at Regent's, where he penned one-act plays.
"I looked around, and I wanted to see a bit of the world, and I wanted to try and be a writer," he said.
Eric Pfeffinger, also a North Central grad, recognized Keller's talent at the New Harmony Project in Southern Indiana, where Pfeffinger was a writer's assistant.
He said he and Keller were at a grim-looking laundry late one night, and on a whim, Keller spun a story out of the place, offering characterization to its inhabitants.
"By the time he was done throwing out this tale from the top of his head, it was a fully realized outline," Pfeffinger said. "It was pretty much ready to go straight into production as a Mickey Rourke picture, or at least a Tom Waits song. It was spontaneous and uproariously funny and quite a thing to witness."
Keller moved to Los Angeles in the late 1980s, looking to spend a summer there exploring the entertainment business.
"That summer lasted (nearly) 25 years," Keller said. "I never went back."
While in L.A., he started writing and selling plays and doing a variety of jobs in the entertainment business. He landed a gig as writer-in-residence at a local playhouse, writing for about 60 actors. He also took jobs as a "script doctor," polishing scripts for other writers.
Then he received a call from his friend, producer Robbie Brenner, and all of that would change.
"Robbie called me and said, 'I just heard the most amazing true story,' and pitched me the story in five minutes," Keller said. "I didn't believe it. I thought it was too incredible to be true."
That story was about Sam Childers, a former drug dealer turned evangelist who fought off a militia forcing children into military service in East Africa. Keller met with Childers and was so affected by the story that he decided he had to write the movie -- "Machine Gun Preacher."
Keller spent six months with Childers and his family -- even living with them for a time -- as he wrote the script.
"It was very important to me to not just write some sensational story and stick an 'inspired by true events' tag on the end of it," Keller said. "It's really a testament to (director) Marc Forster. He's one of the most talented guys in town. I wanted to be a part of it, and he invited me into every step of the process."
There's more of Keller's work on the horizon. He's writing one of two competing "Snow White" films; his version stars Julia Roberts as the evil queen. He's also writing "The Passage," an adaptation of a vampire story, to be directed by Matt Reeves.