Meaghan Oppenheimer finds her footing in Hollywood
Meaghan Oppenheimer knows how people talk.
A relative newcomer to Hollywood with deep roots in theatre and acting, the screenwriter takes special care with the rhythms of dialogue.
“I hate anything that would feel clunky in an actor’s mouth,” she says. “And so that’s my biggest concern when writing: ‘Does this feel and sound real?’ ‘If I’m an actor, when I say this line, would I believe it?’”
The Tulsa native graduated from Holland Hall in 2005 and moved to New York to pursue a career in theatre, but she soon realized there were more opportunities for young people on the west coast.
After relocating to LA, Oppenheimer started work on “The Remains,” a feature script about three estranged childhood friends who return to their hometown to spread the ashes of a friend who recently committed suicide. It’s a comedy.
Oppenheimer’s writing captures a certain music in the way young people speak—not a simple melody, but rough, staccato, discordant, occasionally ugly, often beautiful.
“The Remains” takes place in the small suburb of Rye, New York, and begins with four kids in a Catholic prep school. Substitute Tulsa for Rye and Holland Hall for the prep school, and the autobiographical links begin to emerge.
“The characters weren’t autobiographical, but the feelings were,” she says. “They’re in this town that very much has an identity of its own, that these kids growing up feel at odds with.”
In 2013, Oppenheimer’s script made The Black List, an annual ranking of the best unproduced screenplays as determined by more than 250 Hollywood agents and executives. The list boasts such prestigious alumni as “There Will Be Blood,” “The Wrestler” and “The Wolf of Wall Street,” to name a few.
“I wasn’t that familiar with The Black List,” she admits. “I had no idea that my script was even in the running for it, or that it was going to be announced that day.”
Twitter delivered the good news:
“I got a tweet notification, and I didn’t know if it was real or not, and I was like, ‘What is this?’”
Though inclusion on the list is an honor, it doesn’t necessarily give the script a better chance of being produced.
“The thing is, if your screenplay is on The Black List, it’s already been read quite a lot,” Oppenheimer says.
It does, however, mean more exposure for a young screenwriter trying to get her foot in the door. With The Black List as a feather in her cap, Oppenheimer found Hollywood to be a more welcoming place. Recently, she was offered the chance to co-write a film about the EDM (Electronic Dance Music) scene: last month’s Zac Efron flop, “We Are Your Friends.”
“I never would have been like, ‘Oh, I’m gonna write a movie about this electronic world,’” she says. “But Working Title (the British production company) had approached me and said they had a pre-existing idea for an electronic music movie. They’d brought on this director and writer, but he needed a co-writer.”
Oppenheimer describes the writing process of “We Are Your Friends” as almost clinical.
“It was definitely an assignment,” she says. “It was the first time I’d been hired to write something that was not necessarily in my own background, at all.”
After completing that project, Oppenheimer became a staff writer for the new series “Fear the Walking Dead,” a prequel to AMC’s wildly popular “The Walking Dead.”
“It’s so different,” Oppenheimer says of working in a writers’ room. “It’s great in a lot of ways. You have so many heads to bust open ideas. … It’s teamwork and also adapting your voice to the tone of the show. … It’s a really great tool to have.”
Still, Oppenheimer opted out of a second season with “Fear the Walking Dead” to write for film and for herself and return to her own voice and interests.
“I’m just kind of playing it as it goes, rolling with the punches,” she says, laughing. “It’s really hard to make any plans in this business.”