Will Smith's 'Men In Black' Writer Shrouded in Mystery

10:50 PM PST 03/30/2011 by Kim Masters
Columbia Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection
Tommy Lee Jones, left, and Will Smith

Mike Soccio is working on the threequel, but the new THR reports that co-writers aren’t clear who he is.

Screenwriter Mike Soccio has no significant movie credits. But that doesn't mean he hasn't worked on some major films, including Sony's upcoming Men in Black threequel. This comes as news to other writers on the film, who don't quite seem to know who Soccio is -- even though he has been working on the project for months, according to sources familiar with the production.

As THR previously reported, MIB3 went into production in November for a planned May 2012 release, despite Sony not having a script that met with star Will Smith's approval. The studio's very unusual plan was to begin filming the first act based on a screenplay by Etan Cohen (Tropic Thunder). Then the production was to go into hiatus from December through mid-February to allow time for the rest of the script to be rewritten.

Even as filming began on the $200 million-plus project, Sony brought in screenwriter Jeff Nathanson (Catch Me If You Can). Then David Koepp, who did uncredited work on the first MIB, took a crack at the script. More recently, sources say, Cohen went back to work on
the project.

Still, Sony did not have a script that pleased Smith, so the studio pushed back resumption of production to March 28. Studio spokesman Steve Elzer says production has begun again.

Although Soccio has not been credited, a source familiar with the situation says he has worked on many Smith films. What's unclear is exactly how much work Soccio has done on the upcoming MIB and why his presence seems to be so below the radar that other MIBwriters weren't told about him. While other comic actors -- Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler-- regularly bring in particular writers who have a way of capturing their voices, "I've never heard of it being kept sort of quiet," one agent says.

Soccio, his agency UTA and manager Jared Hoffman at Generate, declined to be interviewed.

Soccio and Smith go all the way back to Smith's days on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. (Soccio wrote several episodes of the series, pictured below, and made an onscreen appearance in 1995.) It's not clear whether Soccio has sought a credit on any of Smith's movies, but if Sony failed to provide his name in connection with MIB3, then it might violate WGA rules requiring studios to notify writers of others who are currently working on or previously have worked on a particular project.

But it's unlikely any of the other writers would care to make an issue of it. (After all, Koepp -- to give an example -- pulled down more than $250,000 a week for his services.)

In an e-mailed statement, Sony says Cohen and "other writers" were aware that Soccio "is a long-time and well-known collaborator on Will's projects." The studio adds that Soccio "was hired for minor on-set punch-up work during our initial production period while Etan was not on location. If any writer was unaware of his involvement, we regret that."

But it seems Soccio was not well-known, and sources say his involvement has extended well beyond the initial production period. Cohen's spokesman tells THR via e-mail, "Etan is aware that Will Smith works with Mike Soccio," which doesn't quite address whether Cohen was aware that Soccio was functioning as a writer paid by the studio, working for months and turning in pages. Sources with knowledge of the situation say other writers on the project were unfamiliar with Soccio.

Soccio did seek a credit for work on Sony's 2010 remake of The Karate Kid, starring Smith's son Jaden Smith, but the Writers Guild recognized only Christopher Murphey.

 

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