Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt were at the fabled Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard the other night, where Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, Wesley Snipes, Antonio Banderas, and Jason Statham rolled up in limos and posed for photos before trotting in to The Expendables 3 premiere.
Rothenberger and Benedikt were right alongside them. The couple, who moved to Los Angeles from Philadelphia seven years ago to make it in the movie business, share screenplay credit - with Stallone - on the second sequel in the elder-statesmen action romp.
"How often do you get the chance to write for Rocky and the Terminator and Indiana Jones and Mad Max and Blade and Zorro and the Transporter - all in the same movie?" asks Rothenberger. "It was pretty awesome."
Rothenberger, originally from Boyertown, was an executive at a Conshohocken financial-services firm. Benedikt, first from Reykjavík, Iceland, and then Reading, worked at Campbell Soup headquarters in Camden. The two met in 2000 at a screenwriting class held by Mike Lemon Casting in Old City.
"We both wanted to be writers," says Rothenberger, on the phone from their Newport Beach digs the morning after The Expendables 3 gala. "Neither of us went to film school. We're both pretty much self-taught. We read everything we could, we took seminars, studied with screenwriting gurus . . . watched hundreds of movies, read tons of scripts."
In 2006, they married. In 2007, they jettisoned their corporate jobs and headed west.
"We just thought if we're going to try to make this happen," Rothenberger says, "we want to be there and really put all our chips in the middle of the table."
The chips, up to that point, included his 2002 Nicholl Fellowship from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences - a prestigious screenwriting award that got him his first agent - and Benedikt's wins in several other industry competitions.
"We just kept writing, script after script, trying to get better at it," she chimes in on the speaker phone.
In 2012, following a few false starts and near-misses, they sold a spec screenplay about a terrorist attack on the White House and the disgraced Secret Service agent who saves the day (not to mention the president). A year later, Olympus Has Fallen, with Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, and Angela Bassett, was in theaters.
Then Stallone called.
He's "the heart and soul of [The Expendables] franchise," Rothenberger says. "He had a vision of where he wanted to go with the third installment, and Katrin and I helped him write the screenplay. . . . We were going to his house up in the Hollywood hills and sitting at his dining room table, all of us next to each other, computer in the middle, and writing for six, seven hours at a shot."
Rothenberger, Benedikt, and Rocky Balboa - just Philly folks hanging out.
"There's that moment when you think, 'Oh my gosh, I'm sitting in Rocky's living room!' " Benedikt says. "Then you snap yourself back to reality."
Rothenberger and Benedikt, who write together, laptops clacking in sync, have a bunch of projects in the works. Lucy producer Luc Besson has nabbed them for a pair of scripts. They are adapting a video game and working on a TV project.
They've turned in a screenplay for London Has Fallen, sequel to Olympus Has Fallen (global box office: $161 million-plus).
"In the first one, the White House gets attacked, the president's in jeopardy, and so we had to up the stakes, make it bigger," Rothenberger explains. "The studio really wanted it to be in London, so we came up with the idea that the British prime minister has mysteriously died, and all the heads of state come to London for his funeral. It's going to be the most protected event in the world, and that becomes the target."
Production has yet to start, but the film has a release date: Oct. 2, 2015.
Reel East Film Fest kicks off. A new John Sayles with Sayles himself presenting, a series of Stephen King shorts, a silent Alfred Hitchcock classic with live musical accompaniment - a good start for the inaugural Reel East Film Festival.
Running Friday and Saturday at the historic Ritz Theatre in Oaklyn, the Camden County summer cinema fest has an ecelctic slate of shorts, features, and docs, many with Garden State ties.
A Friday highlight has to be Hitchcock's The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog, a 1927 British production that introduced themes and motifs prevalent in the Master of Suspense's work. (The Ritz opened that year.) The feature will be presented by local filmmaker Andrew Repasky McElhinney.
Saturday's slate includes the program of Stephen King-adapted shorts; Going Attractions, April Wright's homage to drive-in movies (Camden having birthed the drive-in theater); Diagram for Delinquents, the premiere of a comic-book censorship documentary from South Jersey's Robert A. Emmons Jr.; and the music doc I Lay Where I Fall, a chronicle of former Dr. Dog drummer Juston Stens' cross-country motorcycle trip, stopping to play with Wilco, Spoon, Giant Cloud, and other bands. Stens will be there to field questions.
The biggest event has to be Saturday's evening with John Sayles, the indie auteur and Hoboken native of Lone Star and The Brother From Another Planet fame. He'll screen his latest, Go For Sisters, starring LisaGay Hamilton, Yolonda Ross, and Edward James, and afterward discuss his Mexican border thriller.
For schedule info, go to reeleastfilm.org. For tickets, go to ritztheatreco.org. The Ritz Theatre is at 915 White Horse Pike, Haddon Township.