I’ve read that perhaps one in a hundred thousand aspiring screenwriters manage to break into Hollywood. Texas screenwriting partners Brian McGreevy and Lee Shipman have beat those daunting odds.
Shipman, a tall, lanky Corpus Christi native, wears signature weathered cowboy boots and emanates an effortless cool. Partying with friends, he often has a cheap beer and a bottle of good whiskey on the table before him.
McGreevy, an adopted Texan originally from Pittsburg, acts as a talkative foil to Shipman. Athletic and an omnivorous reader, he can easily riff on a wide range of topics of interest, from Jungian analysis to Batman.
The two synergistic partners met while students at UT’s Michener Center for Writers. The ultra competitive MFA program, funded by the late James Michener’s generous donation, provides ten writers a year who are accepted with three years of funding to write. Both McGreevy and Shipman graduated from the program in 2007.
While at the Michener Center, Shipman and McGreevy took fiction and screenwriting workshops together and hit it off immediately. The first script that they co-wrote together—Of Every Wickedness—was based on the story of the serial killings of African-American servant girls in the central Austin former slave colony of Clarksville. The murders, which took place from 1884-1885, terrified Clarksville’s residents and prompted the short story writer O’Henry to dub the murderer the “Servant Girl Annihilator.”
McGreevy and Shipman’s script captured the changing nature of Austin in those years–though Austin was still a frontier town, Clarksville residents could see the new capitol building going up downtown—as well as the deep divisions and injustices caused by race, class, and gender. The script became a finalist in the Nichol Screenwriting Competition—which brought the two attention from Hollywood agents and managers as writers who can create compelling characters and a thrilling story within a thematically complex and richly textured world. With the combined power of their fertile imaginations in addition to a rock solid professionalism cultivated in graduate school, Hollywood took note: these guys had the goods.
From there, McGreevy and Shipman hit the ground running, flying out to Los Angeles for week-long stints of back-to-back meetings with producers, agents and managers. The two found they had a natural talent for charming Hollywood moviemakers. Currently the projects they have in the works include a remake of Brian De Palma’s 70s thriller The Fury, a big-budget reinvention of the story of King Arthur, a contemporary gangland adaptation The Count of Monte Cristo. They are also making brave new inroads into the television world, developing a dramatic series for producer Laurence Fishburne.
The two young men seem almost invincible in their success. Young, handsome, and fun, with a friendship and creative partnership that is enviable.
But each has his secret weakness. Shipman’s is—surprisingly—Karaoke. If there is a mike in the room, it’s in Shipman’s hand. He croons Sinatra and Johnny Cash with an enthusiasm that makes you wonder at the complexities below his normally contained exterior. And McGreevy has a private and demanding mistress: fiction. He has spent the last four years compulsively editing the same manuscript, and with no end in sight it is looking less and less like a novel and more like a manifesto.
The rise of the talented duo who has bucked the odds and made the Hollywood break should be a boon to moviegoers. And I for one am looking forward to seeing the fruits of their writing labors on the big screen.