You Can Count On Me (2000): Every studio hack is a secret poet. Or so they’d like to think. Even the dreaded Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer—of Date Movie, Extreme Movie and other calamities—claim they have serious scripts; their shitty films are just the ones that sell. Kenneth Lonergan is no hack; indeed, he’s no less than the premiere playwright of his generation. But in his mid-20s, he hatched a brilliant plan: write a silly Hollywood script—i.e., Analyze This—then use the cash to fund himself while he wrote This Is Our Youth , his first theatrical success. Lonergan returned to movies, writing and directing this subtle drama, then the catastrophic but, luckily, brilliant Margaret. He also holds sole writing credit on The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle.
Levity (2003): Ed Solomon co-created the Bill and Ted series, then rode that into credits on the Super Mario Bros. movie, Men in Black and Charlie’s Angels. He cashed in with the overly studied redemption drama he always wanted to make, starring Billy Bob Thornton in long gray wig—not the only unintentionally funny aspect of a film that’s an unserious man’s idea of “serious.”
Shattered Glass (2003): Don’t worry if Billy Ray helped conceive Color of Night, Volcano, Hart’s War and Flightplan. His directorial debut was Shattered Glass, a masterful adaptation of Buzz Bissinger’s Stephen Glass smackdown.
Imaginary Heroes (2004): Hot off an X2 credit, young Dan Harris showed his thoughtful side with this rote suburban expose. By contrast, another X2 alum, Zak Penn—also of Last Action Hero, Behind Enemy Lines and, more recently, Marvel products—used his cred to make improv comedies with Werner Herzog (Incident at Loch Ness, The Grand).
First Snow (2007): Mark Fergus, along with partner Hawk Ostby, was the one to “break” the Children of Men script before it was chiseled by others into its current form. He later put time in on Iron Man and Cowboys & Aliens. That said, his “baby”—with Guy Pearce as a doomed salesman—is pretty boring.
People Like Us (2012): A weepy dramedy by a Michael Bay lackey (Alex Kurtzman, also of Mission: Impossible III, Cowboys & Aliens and, to his credit, Star Trek)? Good luck with that.
But there’s something hinky about the old man’s will, which leaves Sam with a shaving kit full of hundred-dollar bills and instructions to deliver them to another family altogether—yes, it’s the long lost half-sister he never knew he had.