Family & Companions
Though not as widely recognized or worshiped as his one-time collaborator Quentin Tarantino, writer-director Roger Avary was nonetheless at the forefront of the new wave of neo-noir filmmakers to emerge in the mid-1990s and revitalize a stodgy industry. In fact, Avary had his hand in many of Tarantino's early projects, most notably as a co-writer on the pair's ode to 1950s pulp novels, "Pulp Fiction" (1994). After sharing the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, however, Avary and Tarantino went their separate ways. Avary delved into his own directing projects, helming "Killing Zoe" (1994) and "The Rules of Attraction" (2002). Avary also became one of the biggest and most highly paid script doctors in the business, which eventually led to getting writing assignments on some of the biggest movies in Hollywood.
Born on Aug. 23, 1965 in Flin Flon, Manitoba, Canada, Avary was reared by a Brazilian-raised mining engineer father and German physical therapist mother. The family later moved to Oracle, AZ, then Torrance, CA before settling in nearby Manhattan Beach. While attending Mira Costa High School, Avary began made several 8mm and Super-8 animation shorts, paving the way for his future directing career. In 1979, he began working at a local video store - one of the first in Southern California - owned by the father of childhood friend, Scott Magill. Two years later, Avary went to work for Lance Lawson at Video Archives where the future director met fellow employee and film geek Tarantino. The two became fast friends and collaborators, working on several scripts together while jawboning with customers about an eclectic variety of films. Avary left Manhattan Beach in 1985, however, to attend Menlo College in Atherton, CA.
After a year at Menlo, he returned to Southern California to attend Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, before taking off to Europe where he rode around the rails until he ran out of money. Upon return to the States, he learned from Tarantino that Magill had committed suicide. Meanwhile, Avary began working in various industry jobs on his path to becoming a director, including for the once-popular reality crime series "Cops" (Fox, 1988- ). The collaboration between Avary and Tarantino intensified as well - he worked as a crew member on the latter's first, but ultimately unfinished film "My Best Friend's Birthday" (1987). The two then began reworking a script Avary wrote called "The Open Road;" a taut road thriller about a businessman and a crazed hitchhiker that was ultimately transformed into "True Romance" (1993). Tarantino's rewrite changed the script to the point where he failed to receiving co-writing credit. But Avary did receive a Special Thanks credit.
With Tarantino's career taking off, Avary also began to rise up the ranks. He contributed dialogue to his friend's first completed feature, "Reservoir Dogs" (1992), then the two collaborated on "Pulp Fiction" (1994), a darkly comic neo-noir that weaved together three loosely connected stories about a washed-up prizefighter (Bruce Willis) with one more trick up his sleeve, two hitmen (John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson) about to diverge on separate paths, and the girlfriend (Uma Thurman) of a feared crime lord (Ving Rhames) who endures a close call. Mixing together a nonlinear plotline, ironic violence and a slew of pop culture references, Tarantino and Avary created what immediately turned into a cultural phenomenon and ultimately became one of the most influential movies of the 1990s. Tarantino received the lion's share of the credit, while Avary was limited to just story credit. Avary did, however, share an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. In a rare upstaging of Tarantino, Avary ended their acceptance speech by saying "I'm gonna go now 'cause I really got to take a pee."
Completely overshadowed by the immense success of "Pulp Fiction" was Avary's directorial debut, "Killing Zoe" (1994), a gritty crime thriller about an American safecracker (Eric Stoltz) who plans a bank robbery in Paris on Bastille Day with a childhood friend (Jean-Hugues Anglade). The heist, of course, goes badly, thanks in part to the safecracker's dalliance with a prostitute (Julie Delpy) who also moonlights as a bank teller at the very place the gang decides to rob. Not even close to being as revered or successful as "Pulp Fiction," Avary's first feature certainly established him as a worthy participant in the newly founded cinema of cool. But just as Avary and Tarantino had hit the big time, the two had a loud, public falling out, perhaps fueled by their overwhelming success. While many speculated their spat was Tarantino hogging screenplay credit, Avary later confirmed that he was upset that his former partner lifted a speech mocking the homoerotic undertones of "Top Gun" that he wrote and gave it to Eric Stoltz to deliver in "Sleep with Me" (1994). Avary eventually let his anger go, though the two remained on the outs, at least professionally.
Avary retreated from the limelight and went to work as an A-list script doctor, landing highly lucrative - and often uncredited - writing assignments. His quote was so high that even a simple polish left him flush for over a year. Meanwhile, he tried in vain to get several projects off the ground, including an adaptation of Neil Gaiman's comic series "The Sandman" and a biography about surrealist painter Salvador Dali. Avary finally managed to land his directing gig, an adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis' novel about the excesses of über-wealthy college students, "The Rules of Attraction" (2002). A fan of Ellis since his late teens, Avary had always envisioned adapting the novel after reading it during his Menlo College days. Avary took the plotless novel and crafted a story around the sexual triangle that emerges between an all-American college kid (James Van Der Beek) who deals drugs on the side, his bisexual friend (Ian Somerhalder), and his friend's ex-girlfriend (Shannyn Sossamon). Typical of Avary's style, the film opened with a graphic depiction of a college girl's deflowering at a party, a scene that sparked an ongoing argument with the MPAA, which originally wanted to slap an NC-17 rating on the film. Avary eventually cut the film down and received an R-rating instead.
After "The Rules of Attraction" came and went with little critical appreciation and even less box office draw, Avary again reverted to uncredited script rewrites, most notably on "Lords of Dogtown" (2005). He wrote the script for "Silent Hill" (2006), an adaptation of the popular videogame about a young mother (Radha Mitchell) who goes to an eerie ghost town to find a cure for her child's psychological problems, only to be drawn by ultimate evil into a supernatural game. Critics were not kind to Avary's muddled and often lacking screenplay. Meanwhile, he and Gaiman teamed up to refresh the ancient fable "Beowulf" (2007), adapting the 8th century Old English poem into a big budget Hollywood bonanza that included eye-popping CGI effects and a full-on naked Angelina Jolie. Though critics were generally favorable about Avary's take on the Anglo-Saxon hero's slaying of the monster Grendel, the audience's lack of interest turned the film into a box office disappointment.
Meanwhile, Avary ran afoul with the law on Jan. 13, 2008 when he was arrested on suspicion of manslaughter and driving under the influence following a single-car accident in Ojai, CA. Inside Avary's car were his wife, Gretchen, who was seriously injured after being ejected from the backseat, and Italian actor Andreas Zedini, who succumbed to chest and stomach injuries hours later. Avary was released from jail on $50,000 bond. Almost two years later, in September 2009, Avary was sentenced to a year in jail and five years' probation for vehicular manslaughter.
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Began making Super-8 short films
Won Los Angeles Student Film Expo at 16 with "The Worm Turns"
Began work at D'arcy Masius Benton & Bowles advertising agency
Wrote background dialogue and designed logo for "Reservoir Dogs"
Film directing debut "Killing Zoe" (also scripted)
Co-wrote with Quentin Tarantino, "Pulp Fiction" receiving a 'Story by' credit
Executive produced the direct-to-video release "Boogie Boy"
With Aaron Spelling, produced the busted series pilot "Odd Jobs"; also wrote and directed
Served as an executive producer of the festival-screened "The Last Man" (film shot in 1996)
Directed the feature adaptation of "The Rules of Attraction"; also wrote screenplay adaptation based on Bret Easton Ellis' novel
Played the part of a peyote-taking gonzo film director Franklin Brauner (AKA Donald Cammell) in the film "Standing Still"
Wrote and produced an adaptation of "Beowulf," directed by Robert Zemeckis