Writer John Gatins rose from relative obscurity as a bit player in features to an Oscar nominee for penning "Flight" (2012), a harrowing drama about courage starring Denzel Washington. The nomination was the culmination of a decade-long transition from in front of the camera to a much-in-demand career as a script doctor on major Hollywood features and writer of sports-themed pictures like "Summer Catch" (2001) and "Hard Ball" (2005) for producers Brian Robbins and Mike Tollin. After making his directorial debut with the family drama "Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story" (2005), with Kurt Russell and Dakota Fanning, Gatins brought the long-gestating script for "Flight" to the screen with Washington and director Robert Zemeckis on board. His script, which took an unflinching look at a deeply flawed man who finds himself thrust into the role of hero after rescuing a troubled flight from crashing, earned an Oscar nomination in 2013, among other laurels. The honor was a clear indication of Gatins' ascent to becoming an A-list scribe in the Hollywood community.
Born in Manhattan, John Gatins was the son of a New York City police officer who eventually relocated his family near the town of Poughkeepsie in the Hudson Valley. Gatins would later attend Vassar College, from which he graduated in 1990 as a drama major. He subsequently moved to Los Angeles with the intent of becoming an actor. Minor roles in low-budget horror films like "Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings" (1994) and "Leprechaun 3" (1995) made up the core of his early CV, but Gatins was also struggling with a substance abuse issue that left him unmoored until he gained sobriety at the age of 25. Upon wresting control of his life, Gatins took up writing, penning a dark comedy called "Smells Like Teen Suicide" for college friend Jeremy Kramer, an executive vice president of production at Fox, which led to a rewriting job on "Varsity Blues" (1999). The latter picture's producers, Brian Robbins and Mike Tollin, later tapped Gatins to serve as co-producer for their wrestling comedy, "Ready to Rumble" (2000) while also co-writing their modest baseball-themed hits "Summer Catch" (2001) and the Keanu Reeves vehicle "Hard Ball" (2005).
During this period, Gatins also continued to act, most notably in the comedies "Big Fat Liar" (2002) and "The Shaggy Dog" (2006), but Gatins was soon drawing more attention as a screenwriter and script doctor. While working in Europe on a rewrite of the action-thriller "Behind Enemy Lines" (2001), Gatins became acquainted with several Navy pilots as a means of gaining perspective on the picture's story of a downed flier in Bosnia. Upon hearing some of the pilots' more hair-raising stories of near-crashes and other exploits, as well as the physical and emotional toll that such a life took on these men, Gatins began crafting a script about a self-loathing alcoholic pilot who saved an airliner from crashing through a near-impossible feat of bravery. The script would become Gatins' pet project for the next decade, which he would work on between other assignments, including "Coach Carter" (2005) with Samuel L. Jackson, and "Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story" (2005), which also marked his directorial debut. After penning the science fiction-action film "Real Steel" (2011), Gatins finally completed the script for what would become "Flight," which made its way to Denzel Washington's agent, Ed Limato, shortly before his death in 2010. Washington agreed to star in the film, which was eventually helmed by Robert Zemeckis. A critical success as well as a box office hit, the film garnered Gatins an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. At the time, Gatins was already at work on two new projects, a thriller called "Need for Speed" (2014) co-written with his brother, George, and a sequel to "Real Steel."
By Paul Gaita