30 Years or Less

By Christine Grillo

Michael Diliberti

Michael Diliberti

In November 2010, Variety listed Michael Diliberti ’04 as one of “Ten Screenwriters to Watch.” He was only 28 years old, but he had already worked as an assistant, executive assistant, associate producer, and executive before hanging out his own shingle as a screenwriter. In August, 30 Minutes or Less, which he co-wrote with close friend Matt Sullivan, arrived on movie screens across the country.

Diliberti wrote his first full-length story when he was in the sixth grade, and he has not stopped since. After graduating from Poly Prep in Brooklyn, N.Y., he began his undergraduate work in the Hopkins Writing Seminars, and soon became interested in the Film and Media Studies Program.

At Hopkins, Diliberti finished a novel (as yet unpublished) with Stephen Dixon, professor in the Writing Seminars. In the film program, he was always being pushed—and encouraged—by his professor John Mann, who laid out the rules of good screenwriting time and again. “We would sit and talk about his rough cuts and all he wanted to know was what was wrong, what was lacking, and how could he fix it,” recalls Mann.

Diliberti “always questioned everything,” says Linda DeLibero, associate director of Film and Media Studies. She adds, “It would be irritating if it weren’t clear that he cared so much and had so much talent.”

It was during Diliberti’s summer and winter breaks at Hopkins that he got his first hands-on experience in the film industry. Returning home to Brooklyn, he took advantage of producer Scott Rudin’s internship program, which is known for its aggressive recruitment of young, hard workers. “Going to the set was a big treat,” says Diliberti. “I went every day.” He carried coffee and answered phones, and he enjoyed the camaraderie on the set. “this was our shot,” he says. “We were all really happy to have this chance.”

Rudin was so impressed with Diliberti that he hired him as an assistant, after college, and then promoted him to executive assistant. While with Rudin, Diliberti worked on the crew of several films, including Notes on a Scandal, Failure to Launch, Freedomland, and Margaret. He stayed with Rudin for one and a half years, and continued to work as an assistant in Hollywood for a total of four years—“carrying coffee and answering phones is a lot of what you do”—until, at age 25, he was promoted to an executive position at Paramount Vantage.

Within six months of being promoted—“It was the first time I wasn’t an assistant”—Diliberti was writing on spec with Sullivan. Warner Brothers hired them to write a remake of Brewster’s Millions,, and Diliberti left Paramount. In 2009, he and Sullivan wrote 30 Minutes or Less, a caper in which wanna-be criminals kidnap a pizza delivery guy to help them rob a bank. The screenplay was picked up by Ben Stiller’s production company, and it stars Danny McBride and Jesse Eisenberg; Variety calls it an “irreverent comedy.”

Despite his success as a screenwriter, Diliberti straddles both the fiction and film worlds. He is always writing, and is currently at work on a novel, as well as other projects.

“I just want to find people who are willing to read what I’ve written,” he adds. “All day, I’m begging people to read my stuff.”

And what’s up next? “The next logical step is directing,” he says.