Next Generation 2011: Writers & Directors

40 FEA NEXT GEN Dee Rees P
Henry Garfunkel/Sessions/Retna

Inevitably, many who see Rees' Brooklyn-set debut feature "Pariah" will assume the film's heavy subject matter was drawn from the her life. But the similarities end quickly. "Yes, I'm also gay, but I'm from Nashville, I'm a nerd, I grew up in the suburbs, and I came out when I was 27 -- not 17," says Rees. 

Dee Rees | 34
Writer-Director, Pariah

Inevitably, many who see Rees' Brooklyn-set debut feature Pariah will assume the film's heavy subject matter was drawn from the her life. But the similarities end quickly. "Yes, I'm also gay, but I'm from Nashville, I'm a nerd, I grew up in the suburbs, and I came out when I was 27 -- not 17," says Rees. "That's not to say I haven't transposed my experience into the character." In 2000, she left Florida A&M with a masters in business-administration and soon found herself living in the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn and at a crossroads. "I got laid off at Procter & Gamble selling panty-liners in 2001 and then got a job at Dr. Scholl's selling bunion pads and wart removers," she recalls, laughing. "I went on a commercial shoot and asked one of the execs, 'How do you get a job like this, directing?' and he said, 'Film school.' So I quit and went to NYU." Today, Rees says she hopes the Sundance darling Pariah can tap into the legacy created by her idol, John Cassavetes. "You don't hear a script when you're watching his films," she says. "You're just watching life unfold. That is my goal as a director."

Drake Doremus | 28
Director, Like Crazy

Though Doremus attended AFI and learned a "more structured style of filmmaking," it's his improv roots -- he taught at the Orange County Crazies after studying at the Groundlings, where his mother was a founding member -- that are leading him to fame. When making his third film, the Sundance-winning Like Crazy, Doremus eschewed a script, opting instead for a 50-page outline that supplied direction for his actors (Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones), who, in turn, supplied the film's dialogue. It's a method he employed in 2010's Douchebag, which also made it to Sundance. "Once Anton and Felicity were in the moment, they would just lose themselves and the words would come to them," Doremus says. "You just go in the editing room and steal these little moments of romance." Doremus, who is single, hopes to make a movie a year; he's now working on a bigger improv drama with Jones, Guy Pearce, Amy Ryan and Kyle MacLachlan. "We had 600 extras on set, improvising every second," he says of the project, now in the editing phase. "It was kind of crazy."

Elizabeth Meriwether | 30
Writer-showrunner, New Girl

With New Girl re-upped for a second season, Meriwether's TV outing is one of the fall's few slam dunks. But the Michigan native admits she jumped into the comedy-series pool with lead feet. "I got here from New York with two bags and no driver's license," says Meriwether. "People were asking me which production designer I wanted to hire. And I was like, 'I don't even know what that means." Meriwether didn't arrive at her passion for writing until college. "I wanted to be an actress, but I like to eat -- and I hate face-to-face rejection," she says. After she graduated from Yale in 2004, she moved to New York and tried to parlay a knack for storytelling into a livelihood. A "last minute" gig as producer and screenwriter on last spring's No Strings Attached led to her crafting a pilot for Fox. Today, she's riding a diverse wave of fandom -- "My mom likes the show, and I got an e-mail saying Jennifer Grey likes it, too!" -- while maintaining a little skepticism about Hollywood. "I've been really lucky, but I'm always a negative Nelly, waiting-for-the-next-shoe-to-drop kind of person," Meriwether says. "It's weird because I'm not Jewish, but I should be."

Adam F. Goldberg | 35
Writer-Showrunner, Breaking In

He's that rare talent adept at writing for film (Fanboys), TV (Still Standing) and animation (the forthcoming short-film sequel to How to Train Your Dragon on DVD), but it's Goldberg's first show-business foray that fills him with a more esteemed pride. "I invited Stephen King and Steven Spielberg to my bar mitzvah," says the Philadelphia native. "Naturally, being a kid, I assumed these letters would go straight to their front door. But King wrote me back. He said, 'Keep writing,' and Steven sent me a photo that I think was from the set of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade." Goldberg's fearlessness has served him well: After his Fox series Breaking In debuted in April but was canceled a month later, it was announced in August that the series was being uncanceled and the network was ordering 13 more episodes. For Goldberg, who grew up idolizing the show's star, Christian Slater, and cut his teeth writing spec scripts for Everybody Loves Raymond, the turnaround has been exhilarating. "It's the most fun I've ever had," he says.