Writing Presents... An Evening with John Gatins, Writer of FLIGHT

December 4, 2012, 7:00 P.M.

The Ray Stark Family Theatre, SCA 108, George Lucas Building, USC School of Cinematic Arts, 900 W. 34th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90007

An Evening with John Gatins, Writer of Flight, Hosted by SCA Writing Professor Howard A. Rodman

7:00 P.M. on Tuesday, December 4th, 2012
The Ray Stark Family Theatre, SCA 108
George Lucas Building, USC School of Cinematic Arts
900 W. 34th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90007

About the Event

John Gatins wrote the original screenplay Flight, starring Denzel Washington, directed by Robert Zemeckis. It's an extraordinary film, one of the very few serious dramas that major studios have this year released. John Gatins is also a director. John Gatins is also an actor, whom you may recall as the star of Leprechaun 3. Find out how he moved from direct-to-video actor to feature director to go-to dramatist as he converses with Writing Division Professor Howard Rodman. If you don't know John, you should: this promises to be a strange, hilarious, moving, and deeply useful conversation.


About John Gatins

Screenwriter John Gatins is a native New Yorker, where his father was a New York City police officer. The family relocated to the Hudson Valley, near Poughkeepsie, where Gatins grew up and later attended Vassar College, graduating as a Drama major.

After graduating from Vassar, Gatins drove to Los Angeles to become a movie star. He became a bartender and a parking valet and a nanny.  His friends called him the “Manny.”

He struggled, getting a few acting roles in horror movies like WITCHBOARD 2and LEPRECHAUN 3.  He was also working as a plant guy at the time. At one point he was watering Brad Pitt and Sandra Bullock’s plants.

He went to NY Stage and Film’s summer theater program in 1994 and after a summer of classes and performing he returned to LA and wrote a screenplay called SMELLS LIKE TEEN SUICIDE. He sold that script to Disney and that script served as a calling card and helped him secure the job of doing uncredited rewrite work on VARSITY BLUES for Paramount Pictures. 

It was after his VARSITY BLUES experience that Gatins began writing a spec about an alcoholic commercial airline pilot.  He was able to get through the first 30 pages before shelving it and returning to paying work. Paramount hired Gatins to write the Keanu Reeves inner city baseball movie, HARDBALL which he received screenplay credit on. 

Paramount remained a home base as he wrote the Samuel Jackson basketball movie, COACH CARTER.

Is was at this time that he was contacted by then Warner Brother’s president Lorenzo DiBonaventura to see if he had designs on directing a movie. Gatins promptly pitched him an idea about a broken down racehorse trainer and his fractured relationship with his son. Gatins ultimately wrote and directed DREAMER for Dreamworks with Kurt Russell and Dakota Fanning playing the leads.

Dreamworks was interested in getting Gatins to direct another film for them and Gatins showed the execs the first 30 pages of the alcoholic, airline pilot script now known as FLIGHT. They made a script deal with him to finish a first draft of his long percolating idea. Dreamworks brought Walter Parkes and Laurie Macdonald on to produce. Gatins took another year and a half but finally was able to get through a rough first draft. It was now six years since he’d typed ‘fade in’ on this flawed flying hero script and he again needed to make a living.

Gatins was next asked by Steven Spielberg to rewrite a film based in part on a sci-fi story from Richard Mattheson called STEEL. That script became REAL STEEL which grossed 300 million dollars worldwide. Gatins was also able to secure a fun acting role in the film when he played Kingpin the Mohawk-wearing sociopath that accepts a fight with the hero robot.

After Real Steel wrapped he was back to trying to refine the script for FLIGHT and attempting to get talent attached. His plan had always been to write and direct the film.  It would be another year before FLIGHT made its way in to production. It took Denzel Washington’s passion to play the lead role combined with Robert Zemeckis’s connection to the material to get the film made.

Zemeckis asked Gatins to come on location for the entire shoot and their close collaboration helped FLIGHT find its way to the big screen.   

On November 2nd, 2012 Paramount Pictures released FLIGHT, starring Denzel Washington and directed by Robert Zemeckis. This has been a personal journey for Gatins, as he has been picking up and putting down the script for the last 12 years. Made on a budget of 31 million dollars, FLIGHT up to date has grossed around 81 million domestically. 

Gatins lives in Los Angeles with his wife and three children.

About the Moderator

HOWARD A. RODMAN -- SCA Writing Division Professor

Howard A. Rodman is Vice President of the Writers Guild of America West.  

His screen adaptation of Savage Grace, starring Julianne Moore, premiered in the Directors Fortnight section of the Cannes Film Festival in May, 2007 and was released domestically in 2008. It was nominated for a Spirit Award in the Best Screenplay category. August, from Rodman's original screenplay, starring Josh Hartnett, Rip Torn and David Bowie, was also released in 2008. In 2006, Rodman wrote a one-hour dramatic pilot for HBO entitled 213, for director Rodrigo Garcia and producers George Clooney, Steven Soderbergh, and Grant Heslov. Rodman's adaptation of the Joseph Mitchell book Joe Gould’s Secret was the opening night selection of the Sundance Film Festival in 2000 and was released that year by USA Films. In the course of his career he's worked with Soderbergh (who gave sleazy characters in the films The Underneath and Traffic the name of "Mr. Rodman") as well as with Maurice Sendak, Clive Barker, Chantal Akerman, David Lynch, Michael Lehmann, Peter Bogdanovich, Tom Cruise (whose directorial debut Rodman co-wrote), and the late Michael Jackson. He just completed an American adaptation of the Danish noir Terribly Happy, and is currently at work on a screenplay for Ben Stiller's company Red Hour and Twentieth Century Fox.

He is an artistic director of Sundance Screenwriting Labs and advises the January and June labs in Sundance, Utah. He's also advised and directed labs in Parati, Brazil; Wadi Feynan, Jordan; Rocherfort and Vittel, France; and Kent, England.

In addition to serving as the WGAW's vice president, Rodman was the founder and co-chair of the Guild’s independent screenwriters’ caucus. He was recently named a trustee of the Writers Guild Foundation. He has served as chair of Film Independent's Spirit Awards Dramatic Competition jury, and as chair of the annual USC Scripter Awards. Rodman serves on the Board of Advisors of the Huston School of Film and Digital Media in Galway, Ireland, and on the American delegation to the Franco-American Cultural Fund in Paris. He is a member of the Writers Branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and is a Fellow of the Los Angeles Institute for the Humanities.

His novel, Destiny Express has been published in the U.S., the U.K., France, Germany, Japan and Italy. It was blurbed by Thomas Pynchon, who termed it "Daringly imagined and darkly romantic -- a moral thriller." Rodman's screenplay F. was selected as one of "Hollywood's Ten Best Unproduced Screenplays" by Premiere magazine. He is the former editor-in-chief of The Cornell Daily Sun. His essays appear in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and on The Huffington Post. He has been a guest on the PBS Lehrer News Hour and on Elvis Mitchell's The Treatment.

After serving for five years as Chair of the Writing Division, Rodman stepped down in 2007 to devote more time to teaching and writing.

Check-In & Reservations

This event is free and open to the public. Please bring a valid ID or print out of your reservation confirmation, which will automatically be sent to your e-mail account upon successfully making an RSVP through this website. Doors will open at 6:30 P.M.


The USC School of Cinematic Arts is located at 900 W. 34th St., Los Angeles, CA 90007. Parking passes may be purchased for $10.00 at USC Entrance Gate #5, located at the intersection of W. Jefferson Blvd. & McClintock Avenue. We recommend parking in outdoor Lot M or V, or Parking Structure D, at the far end of 34th Street. Please note that Parking Structure D cannot accommodate tall vehicles such as SUVs. Metered street parking is also available along Jefferson Blvd.

Contact Information

Name: Kris Burkett
Email: kburkett@cinema.usc.edu