Los Angeles Times

Success? That's not expendable

Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt's tale about becoming Hollywood screenwriters could be a feature-length script.

He worked as vice president of a financial services firm in suburban Philadelphia, locating missing heirs and lost shareholders for Fortune 500 companies.

She was born in Iceland, moved to the states and worked in international benefits.

Feeling passionless in their work routine and wanting to delve into movie-writing, Rothenberger and Benedikt crossed paths at an eight-week screenwriting class in 2000 in Philadelphia.

The two discovered they shared a mutual interest in writing and music. They married in 2006.

The couple embarked on taking steps toward becoming professional screenwriters, the first being a move to Los Angeles in 2007. It wouldn't be an easy ride.

But the ambitious pair has significant cause to celebrate today.

Sylvester Stallone, Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford and Jason Statham, among a long list of stars, are reciting lines Rothenberger and Creighton co-wrote with Stallone in the action-packed movie "The Expendables 3."

"It's crazy and amazing," Rothenberger, a Newport Beach resident, said of the couple's successful screenplay. "It took a collaborative effort, and it's gratifying."


'Olympus' rises

There's no rhyme or reason how writers make their way to the big screen. Many Hollywood screenwriters attend film school, but many others do not.

Nancy Meyers started a cheesecake business that allowed her to spend her time outside of the kitchen writing movies.

James Cameron worked as a truck driver to support his screenwriter ambition.

Quentin Tarantino worked at a video rental store, where he wrote the screenplays for "True Romance" and "Natural Born Killers."

Rothenberger and Benedikt, who quit their corporate jobs to write thrillers, remained undaunted when entering the industry's risky business.

Though the duo was down to their last $10,000, they made promises to each other.

They wouldn't go without health insurance.

They wouldn't touch retirement.

They wouldn't accumulate credit-card debt.

"We kept the first promise," Rothenberger said. "We were hanging by our fingernails."

"People thought we were crazy," Benedikt said. "They said they would have never taken the risk."

But Rothenberger said their dream was becoming more realistic when he received a 2002 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting, a competition for awarded recipients to complete a feature-length screenplay during their fellowship year. Rothenberger's Korean War epic, "The Chosin," earned him an agent. The agent said he could write for money only if producers chose his script.

Rothenberger and Benedikt would get their first break 10 years after the fellowship with their screenplay, "Olympus Has Fallen" starring Morgan Freeman, Gerard Butler and Aaron Eckhart.

After the movie's premiere, their agent posed a question.

Would they consider pitching a plot for a sequel to "The Expendables 2" to Stallone?

The couple would pitch three times to producers before arranging a meeting with Stallone at his home. They returned to the actor's home a second time and talked further about the idea.

Stallone agreed.


'The world's largest toy chest'

For a few months, Rothenberger and Benedikt would prop their laptops open and sit across from each other, writing and rewriting scenes and dialogue.

"We eliminated a lot of wasted time by writing side by side," Benedikt said. "We traded good nuggets back and forth."

They came up with a sequel full of explosions, trains and blasts, something they describe as "bigger, better and tops what came before."

"We had to be true to the fan and, at the same time, up the stakes," Benedikt said.

The story follows Barney Ross (Stallone) as he leads his team named the Expendables into conflict to take down notorious arms dealer Conrad Stonebanks (Gibson), the Expendables' co-founder who is determined to destroy them.

Upon learning who was signed onto the cast, the screenwriters had to tailor parts to the actors. They would create character traits for all the stars, from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Wesley Snipes to Kelsey Grammer.

"It was like playing with the world's largest toy chest," Rothenberger joked. "It was so funny talking to Antonio Banderas about his character," Benedikt added.

Rothenberger and Benedikt spent eight weeks filming in Bulgaria, where the movie took place, working alongside director Patrick Hughes and Stallone, whom they admire for his professionalism and artistic accomplishments. "He's an extremely talented writer," Rothenberger said. "It was a terrific learning experience working with him."

The two agreed that, despite the enormity of the actors' physical strength and cinematic reputation, it was an ego-free set.

"You could see everyone was having so much fun," said Benedikt. "These guys are in shape. They put guys half their age to shame."

After seeing the movie for the first time at a private premiere on July 31, Rothenberger and Benedikt said they were pleased with the outcome. "We worked very hard, and it was gratifying when it took off," Rothenberger said.

Their focus now is preparing for the pre-production of their screenplay "London Has Fallen," projected to premiere in 2015. They were excited when they learned their screenplay for "Olympus Has Fallen" was adapted to video games. The couple said they are starting to venture into television.

Though they say their screenwriting career was not an easy process, Rothenberger and Benedikt believe it was writing everyday, reading scripts, gaining fans in the industry and trusting in their path that brought them to reaching their goals.

"It took longer than I thought," Rothenberger said, laughing with Benedikt. "But we're very happy. It's a fun roller coaster ride."

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