Alex Garland of ‘Ex Machina’ follows others who took a writing-to-directing leap

Alex Garland, screenwriter of “28 Days Later,” “Sunshine” and “Never Let Me Go,” makes an impressive directorial debut with cerebral sci-fi thriller “Ex Machina” (in theaters today), but Garland waves off the achievement of leaping to directing as “just next in a continuum.”

“The truth was that there was no epiphany moment about directing, because I just don”t dignify the directing role the way we”re supposed to,” the British filmmaker told The Dissolve. “There are a few people – like Woody Allen, he”s an auteur, and I”m cool with that. But for me, directing is about collaboration.”

Whether directing is a logical next step or a hard-sought achievement for screenwriters, it”s often done by telling studios, “Hey, here”s my next screenplay. You can have it as long as I get to direct.” Preston Sturges – at the time the highest paid screenwriter in Hollywood – is noted for being the first to make that writing-to-directing leap when he sold “The Great McGinty” to Paramount in 1939 for $1 on the condition that he be allowed to direct it.

Here is a list of some other filmmakers who made the transition from writing to directing – some launching successful directing careers, others to less success, some who may still have a notable career as a director just on the horizon.

Charlie Kaufman
Screenwriting start:
Movies like “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “Adaptation” and “Being John Malkovich” set Kaufman apart as a writer with a knack for inventive, thought-provoking and delightfully weird stories.
Directing bet: His first gig as both writer and director, “Synecdoche, New York,” wasn”t met with overwhelming critical support like those three standouts in his screenwriting career. It was a polarizing film, but it received perhaps the only praise it would ever need when Roger Ebert called it “the best film of the decade.”
What”s next: Kickstarter-funded stop-motion film “Anomalisa.” Kaufman wrote and co-directed the project with Duke Johnson, who helmed the stop-motion “Community” episode “Abed”s Uncontrollable Christmas.”

Nora Ephron
Screenwriting start:
Before Ephron gave directing a try, her first hit as a screenwriter, “When Harry Met Sally…” was brought to the screen by Rob Reiner. The late beloved filmmaker had also done writing outside of the movie industry, as a journalist, novelist and essayist. 
Directing bet: Her directorial debut, “This Is My Life,” doesn”t stand up as a common favorite of her work, but she went on to have many directing successes with memorable romantic comedies like “Sleepless in Seattle,” “You”ve Got Mail” and “Julie & Julia.”

Nancy Meyers
Screenwriting start:
Like Ephron, Meyers had a few screenplays to her name before churning out several movies she both directed and wrote. Her first screenwriting credit was 1980 Goldie Hawn comedy “Private Benjamin.” She then went on to write “Father of the Bride” and its sequel.
Directing bet: Disney gave Meyers her first directing gig with the Lindsay Lohan remake of “The Parent Trap.” She then continued to do writer-director double duty with rom-coms like “Something”s Gotta Give,” “The Holiday” and “It”s Complicated.”
What”s next: Anne Hathaway-Robert De Niro workplace comedy “The Intern,” in theaters this September

Dan Gilroy
Screenwriting start:
Some hit-and-miss work as a screenwriter, ranging from Al Pacino dud “Two for the Money” to franchise rejuvenator “The Bourne Legacy” to the gorgeous and moving “The Fall” (which you can read about in next Monday”s edition of HitFix”s “See It Or Die” column).
Directing bet: Last year he wowed audiences and critics with his directorial debut, “Nightcrawler,” a Jake Gyllenhaal-starring neo-noir which Gilroy also wrote.
What”s next: He”s writing the script for “Annihilator,” Stan Lee”s latest comic book creation, about a Chinese man who must chose between staying in prison and joining a U.S. super soldier program.

Christopher McQuarrie
Screenwriting start:
“The Usual Suspects” earned McQuarrie an Oscar statuette for his script for the 1995 crime thriller that”s achieved new classic status with its memorable plot twists an non-chronological storytelling.
Directing bet: His 2000 directorial debut, Benicio del Toro action flick “The Way of the Gun,” didn”t immediately launch a directing career for McQuarrie. But after writing “Valkyrie” and “The Tourist” he returned to the directing chair for 2012″s “Jack Reacher.”
What”s next: Another Tom Cruise action movie. Paramount is placing one of their most profitable franchises in McQuarrie”s hands as he helms “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation,” which opens in theaters this July.

David Hayter
Screenwriting start:
Superhero movies including “X-Men,” “X2” and “Watchmen.”
Directing bet: Hayter”s first feature directing project, a supernatural action flick called “Wolves,” bombed when it had a limited release last fall.
What”s next: Hayter has mentioned a film called “Winter” that he would direct, but little is known about the project.

Stephen Gaghan
Screenwriting start:
Gaghan also earned an Oscar for his early screenwriting work, for “Traffic.”
Directing bet: It was a rough start to directing for Gaghan with 2002″s “Abandon,” a Katie Holmes thriller that was panned by critics. But he found himself earning Oscar attention again with his second directing effort, the 2005 George Clooney political thriller “Syriana.”
What”s next: It was looking like Gaghan”s next project would be for the small screen, but just this week, AMC passed on “White City,” a geopolitical drama pilot that Gaghan directed and executive produced. Still on the docket, though, is “Gold” a Matthew McConaughey film about the true story of a 1993 gold mining scandal. Gaghan co-wrote the “Gold” screenplay and will start directing the production in Thailand this June.