Aaron Eckhart. Picture: Supplied

Sydney-born screenwriter Stuart Beattie is the kind of rare bird in Hollywood who gets paid for his words no matter what. His script isn't made into a movie? Too bad - pay him. His television series is cut from pilot season? Sorry - he'll bill you. His spec script gets stuck in development hell? Uh, oh - he'll send some guys to collect.

"I think I've had something like 10 or 12 films made from things I've written, so I'm one of the lucky ones, really, and I never complain about it," an upbeat Beattie says from LA where he has lived since breaking through with his scripts for the first Pirates of the Caribbean film and for Collateral (still one of the great action-thrillers of the 2000s).

"I know a lot of writers who don't ever sell anything or get paid. I know a lot of writers who get paid and make a nice living but never get anything made. I've been there and it's incredibly frustrating but it's par for the course. I never put all my eggs in one basket - it's career suicide if you do that."

Navigating Hollywood's script-to-screen minefield with a healthy sense of pragmatism, determination and sheer hard work has made Beattie, 42, our most successful and prolific scribe in La La Land.

And his CV reflects that, with as many hits as misses as could-have-beens. He has penned flops such as Derailed, 30 Days of Night and G.I. Joe: Retaliation. And his scripts for on-again, off-again projects such as the Halo movie and a new Tarzan reboot still haven't seen the screen.

Having made a comfortable living in the Hollywood Hills with his wife and two sons, Beattie has returned to work in Australia twice - writing and directing the invasion thriller Tomorrow, When the War Began (2010) and now taking on the same duties for I, Frankenstein, an effects-driven 3-D spectacle adapted from the comic series by Underworld scribe Kevin Grevioux and inspired by Mary Shelley's gothic classic.

With a gloomy-looking Melbourne standing in for modern-day London, the dark, CG-heavy actioner stars Aaron Eckhart as Frankenstein's monster alongside Aussies Jai Courtney, Yvonne Strahovski, Miranda Otto and Beattie's Tomorrow star Caitlin Stasey.

The $36 million spectacle has made $75 million worldwide so far, making it a solid success despite dire reviews. As throughout much of his career, Beattie admits he had to make compromises to get things done.

"The Underworld films have made something like a billion dollars so yeah, the producers were always trying to make it more Underworld and I was trying to make it more Batman Begins. I wanted more character. They wanted more action. That was the creative battle we fought for three years. But that's how you make a movie. That's the cost of doing business. I got to make the film and I got to include other classical stuff, so I'm not complaining."

But in a sign of his growing clout in Tinseltown, Beattie was approached to write the script and only agreed to put pen to paper if he could direct it too. Directing his own scripts, the clearly crafty Aussie says, is a way to step up in Hollywood.

"It makes me much more valuable because I'm not just a writer anymore. I can direct the film too. It's a very useful card to be able to play when those opportunities come around. Plus, finding a director is one less thing for them to worry about. It makes it easy for them."

Not bad for an Aussie who learnt everything he knows about screenwriting on the job in Hollywood. But while he lacks the track record of Woody Allen and the dramatic finesse of Aaron Sorkin and David Mamet, the humble, knockabout Beattie has plenty on his plate.

In addition to the coming Tarzan movie, where Aussie sensation Margot Robbie is slated to play Jane, Beattie has penned scripts for a potential Bra Boys feature (with Russell Crowe attached) and two war films starring Sam Worthington (one about the battle of Long Tan in Vietnam, the other a Gallipoli mini-series). He's also "dying to do the sequels" to Tomorrow, When the War Began, however unlikely, and is "hoping to write and direct" the sixth Pirates movie.

"I'm working with people I've always wanted to work with since I was a kid. So I'm in heaven right now - but working around the clock."


The West Australian

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