Local screenwriter is Hollywood’s new Cinderella man
Park City High School graduate Ian Shorr has made an art of the fast pitch. The at-risk teenager turned Hollywood screenwriter can sell a story in a sentence or two.
The story might be about eating in one of Summit County’s dives in the eighth grade with writing mentor Teri Orr. He might reminisce about the incident in 2000 when, as a senior at PCHS, he was suspended for writing smutty jokes in the computer lab.
His audience is often Hollywood producers, managers and directors or just friends.
He might tell them about the three years he spent after high school building houses in Bolivia, hitchhiking the coast of Australia or teaching scuba diving in Thailand.
Or he could tell the stories he has penned as a screenwriter: a corrupt boxing promoter is embroiled in a fight-fixing scheme; a deadly virus threats the life of two strangers, a substitute teacher entangles a student in a murder plot.
He lists his strengths as dialogue and action, and the high-wired description of his most recent project, which was recently purchased by a major studio, reflects both: The camera pulls out of someone’s eyeball as a group of kids tears through Miami at a hundred miles an hour in a stolen car. Cop sirens are blaring in the background.
One would think these kids would get arrested for speeding, stealing and recklessly endangering the lives of others, but they don’t get arrested. They don’t even get in trouble because they have diplomatic immunity from the law.
"If you’re the son or daughter of a diplomat you have immunity," he explains. "It’s sort of ‘Ferris Buhler’s Day Off’ meets Grand Theft Auto." Shorr, 28, wrote a script about a slick teenager who is expelled from high school and joins a band of "diplobrats," foreign teenagers who have diplomatic immunity from the law, as his senior thesis project at the University of South California, where he studied screen writing.
Shorr pitched the first scene of the film, now called "Exempt," to managers, agents and talent scouts in 2007. One of the managers liked the pitch, Shorr said, and signed on as his manager.
A year and a half later, Overture Productions purchased the film. No production date has been set.
Shorr’s other writing credits include "Rigged," a movie about a female boxer, and "Splinter," a Stephen King-like horror flick in which a convict and a woman find themselves in an isolated gas station and must fight off being turned into zombies.
"I’ve seen chunks of [the movie]," Shorr said. "The monster looks pretty sweet."
"Splinter" is in postproduction and "Rigged," which was produced during Shorr’s freshman year at USC, has already screened at a handful of independent film festivals.
Now living in Los Angeles, Shorr has done work on the science fiction and action series "Trenches," produced for the Web by a subsidiary of the Disney Corporation.
The biggest success in Shorr’s young career came earlier this summer when Alcon Entertainment bought Shorr’s most recent script, called "Substitution." The project will be distributed by Warner Bros. and could see a theatrical release within the next year, he said.
"Substitution" is about a high school student from a small mountain town whose substitute teacher masterminds a murder plot. The film is a modern day re-imaging of the Alfred Hitchcock classic, "Strangers on a Train."
"Fortunately, the screenplay is fiction," he says. "I never had teacher like that. All my teachers were great."
A humble beginning in Park City
Ian Shorr was pegged at an early age as an at-risk kid. He says that’s what got him into writing in the first place. "I was running around in a trench coat and nail polish and giants pants," he said in a telephone interview Wednesday. "I was just a pain in the ass."
In the eighth grade, Shorr was asked to be a part of a creative-writing program that had some perks. He would get to leave school for lunch and write about what he saw, heard and tasted. That’s how he met one of his first writing mentors, Teri Orr, now the director of the Park City Performing Arts Foundation.
Twice a month, as if she were the driver of a magic school bus, Orr would pick the kids up from school and take them for lunchtime adventures, as she describes them.
Orr provided journals for the students to pen poems, articles and short stories. "We went to every divey place in Summit County," Orr remembers. "The premise was to get them writing. These were bright kids who were bored in school. They had the possibility of falling through the cracks. They weren’t jocks and they weren’t traditional academics."
Whatever he was, Shorr eagerly accepted the writing assignment. He wrote a five-page screenplay about an urban terrorist who wanted to build a bomb. A page or so later, the terrorist is killed and possesses the body of a mild-mannered office worker.
The screenplay was transcribed onto a stone-age Macintosh at Shorr’s house and submitted to a Sundance Institute competition for young screenwriters.
Shorr’s script won.
"None of us had any idea what we were doing," he said, "which is shockingly similar to my career in Hollywood."
Shorr’s early success at 13 sparked a 10-year hobby. "My goal was to write at least one screenplay a year," he said.
Shorr wrote about gay hitmen, punk rockers, anything that captured the fancy of his kid heart.
He also took an interest in reading screenplays. One of his favorites was "Trainspotting," an inventive and dark film about heroin addicts that few parents would choose to let their 13-year-old sons see on the screen. "That’s why I had to read the screenplay," he explained. "I couldn’t get into the movie."
It wasn’t until high school that Shorr started to take an interest in stand-up comedy. He was ready to print some of the jokes he had been vetting in the computer lab at Park City High School when the printer got jammed. Shorr left to get a drink of water and came back to the sight of the health teacher reading his material. The teacher was aghast. (A joke in one of Shorr’s stand-up routines involved a barnyard animal and the former principal.)
Shorr’s wit fell on deaf ears. He had to answer to the administration. The incident raised such an uproar that the education reporter for The Park Record wrote a story about it titled, "A young Lenny Bruce in high school." The article compared Shorr to the stand-up comedian and satirist who was convicted in an obscenity trial in 1964 and was later given the first posthumous pardon in New York history.
Shorr and some friends decided to spin the mishap into a comedy routine at the Prospector Hotel. The event attracted about 200 people. Shorr’s mom was one of them.
"She left after the first act," Shorr laughed. "She didn’t even stay to see me."
After graduating, Shorr traveled the world. He volunteered for Habitat for Humanity and did odd jobs in Australia, South America and Asia. In 2003, he was accepted to USC’s screenwriting program. the time he was a junior, Shorr had already written two scripts that would be produced as features, "Rigged" and "Splinter."
Today, Shorr writes six days a week, eight hours a day.
He said he is grateful to his mentors in Park City and recently sent some of them thank-notes. Teri Orr was one of the recipients. "Nothing really surprised me about him once I knew to expect surprises," she said.
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Hideout residents have begun the process to challenge the town’s annexation of Richardson Flat. The referendum application is in its early stages, but a group of residents will be tasked with collecting about 100 signatures in coming months to put the question to voters.