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