screenwriter to watch
Kevin Arbouet is a writer, director, producer and film executive whose career has been about expanding the idea of what diversity in filmmaking really means. With surprising influences that range from Nora Ephron and Mike Nichols to Bong Joon Ho, he is not only a rising African-American writer/director with a penchant for classic storytelling, but one who is defying stereotyped expectations – “It’s important to me that the movie industry offers audiences a wide range of diverse voices telling stories.”
2016 promises to show Arbouet’s versatility in action. It began with the airing of his Superbowl ad for Icelandic Glacial Water, featuring Instagram darling, Brock O’Hurn in Arbouet’s own twist on the famous “Diet Coke Break” commercial.
“Fair Market Value,” written and directed by Arbouet, premieres this month at Geena Davis’s growing Bentonville Film Festival. Starring Latin American sensation Luisana Lopilato in her English-language debut – along with Craig Berko (Cinderella Man), Julia Duffy (Shameless) and Tina Benko (Flesh & Bone), this fresh view on a modern screwball world finds two rival New York real estate agents joining forces to try to sell one of the poshest luxury mansions on Long Island.
Next up, Arbouet is in pre-production as the writer and director of “Big Bad Billie Gunn” a sexy revenge thriller about the only female member of New York’s famed Irish mob, the Westies.
Arbouet’s career has never followed a typical trajectory – perhaps because there were never many role models for the multitude of directions he yearned to go. Instead, his career has been a constant evolution. Born in Brooklyn, he grew up in love with movies. “I loved big, funny, beautifully structured Hollywood comedies and thrillers. But I didn’t think it was realistic that I could make the kind of films I loved as a director,” he says. “Only later, did I discover that if you wanted to carve out a different path, you had to do it on your own.”
Arbouet always had an eye for talent, so he followed that deep into the industry. He got his start as a modeling agent, then moved into developing the careers of promising new actors, which then led to producing indies. His skill for nurturing exciting artists led to his role Vice President of Lee Daniels Entertainment, where he developed projects for the company behind such award-winning hits as the Oscar®-winning “Monster’s Ball” and the hard-hitting “The Woodsman,” “Precious” and “The Butler.”
His own filmmaking breakthrough came in a quintessentially 21st Century way: with a viral video that exploded overnight to 100 million views around the world. In 2007, Arbouet and his friend Larry Strong answered a Craigslist ad and … later that day, began a 6-hour shoot in and around New York City landmarks for “I Got a Crush … On Obama,” featuring the now famed “Obama Girl,” A comedy phenomenon, the video tapped into a cultural moment, with Newsweek naming it a “Top 10 Meme of Decade” and the Webby Awards honoring it with “Top Web Video of the Decade.”
On the heels of a smash viral video, Arbouet next explored the brave new world of web-based entertainment, producing the sci-fi internet series Stream starring Whoopi Goldberg. Stepping into the borderless art world, he also produced David Michalek’s innovative Portraits in Dramatic Time, a series of 40 short films – each shot in just 10 seconds but played back in intensely reveal slow-mo — exhibited as part of the 2011 Lincoln Center Festival. The films brought Arbouet together with an all-star cast including Alan Rickman, Holly Hunter, Liev Schreiber and William H. Macy.
Arbouet loved helping other artists get their projects made as a producer, but he still envisioned himself a writer-director working in the core of the mainstream. He continued honing his craft on commercials, music videos, even directing Triumph the Insult dog on a
How did you break in?
When I was the Vice President of Lee Daniels Entertainment, Lee decided that he was going to start writing but I thought that if you’re a Producer you couldn’t do both. Lee taught me that the only rules in this business are the ones that you put on yourself. So while we were at Sundance I wrote a script in 7 days. It was horrible. Probably the worst script ever written. But I loved being creative and I just continued to write and write and write until I found my voice and stories that made sense to me and for me.
The Night From Hell, Big Bad Billie Gunn, Benji the Dove (all as Writer/Director)
What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned?
The biggest lesson I learned was to figure out what process worked best for me. You hear a lot about how important outlining is but that doesn’t work for me. I just need to sit down and write and not become beholden to where I thought the story was going before I started writing the actual screenplay. It’s also very hard for me to write in quiet places. I like a lot of noise in the background.
What has been your hardest scene to write?
The hardest script I had to write was Big Bad Billie Gunn. It’s part thriller, part courtroom drama with a lot of flashbacks filled with real life characters so it took a while to figure out the best way to tell that story. I really do like the “note process” but it’s important to understand that notes come in three ways: Notes that will make your script better, Notes that will make your script worse and Notes that just want to change your script. The latter are the most dangerous kinds because it has nothing to do with the quality of your work, it’s just that the reader wants to read a different movie than the one you wrote.
What do you feel was your turning point?
I wrote and directed a feature film entitled Fair Market Value. It was a comedy that debuted at the Bentonville Film Festival and ended up winning one of the five major prizes. My manager, Marc Manus of Zero Gravity Management sent the movie to a lot of different studios and producers and it got me a lot of attention.
What are you working on right now?
I’m currently in post for a movie I wrote (adapted from the best selling book Benjamin Dove) and directed called Benji the Dove. I just signed a deal with Quentin Tarantino’s producer, Shannon McIntosh for the script I mentioned earlier, Big Bad Billie Gunn. I’ve also just completed a horror script that’s getting some attention entitled, The Night From Hell. In addition to the feature film writing, I’ve also partnered up with the actor, Craig Bierko (UnReal) specifically for television and we have several shows in development.
What are your favorite movies?
I love Broadcast News, Mother (directed by Bong Joon Ho), There Will Be Blood and just about any Quentin Tarantino movie. I find myself watching Malcolm X at least twice a year.
Who are your favorite screenwriters?
Quentin Tarantino, John Logan, Mike Nichols, Nora Ephron, Park Chan Wook, Bong Joon Ho.
What is your most Memorable AFF Moment?
There are so many screenwriters that I talk to over social media and have never got to meet in person. Because of the AFF I finally got to meet with Craig Mazin, Malcolm Spellman, John Turman, Phil Hay and John Lee Hancock.