In his directorial debut, screenwriter Alex Kurtzman — known for blockbusters including “The Island,” “Transformers,” “Star Trek” and “Cowboys & Aliens” — has taken a 180-degree turn from popcorn movies.
Opening Friday, “People Like Us” tells the story of a man who, after the death of his father, learns he has a half-sister.
In real life, Kurtzman made a similar discovery, though it was as simple as a woman coming up to him at a party and saying, “I’m your sister.” The movie is a good deal more emotionally complex.
Kurtzman, recently on a promotional tour in The City with the film’s star Chris Pine, says he always wanted to step up and direct, but he could not make the choice until he knew he had “something to live and die by.”
Part, but not all, of his education came from studying other filmmakers whose sets he visited as a screenwriter. “It’s great to sit behind the directors and watch them do it, but I needed to be in the director’s chair,” he says.
Pine, who played Capt. Kirk in “Star Trek,” says the script resonated for him. He also was able to give something of himself to the movie, which could have been tricky, since the material was so personal for Kurtzman.
“I’d had an experience before that I didn’t feel like I was really an equal collaborator,” Pine says. “But what makes Alex great, above his talent, is that he allows you to own it as much as he owns it.”
Kurtzman’s trust resulted in superb, career-topping performances for all involved, including Elizabeth Banks as the half-sister and Michelle Pfeiffer as the mother.
“I wish I could take credit for that, but the actors brought everything to it,” Kurtzman says. “A lot of the time, my job was to do nothing.”
Though Kurtzman says making the movie was a life-changing experience, he always has considered himself lucky.
“I get so much happiness from my career, but I’m married to the woman I’ve known since I was 14 and we have a kid, and that’s where I get my real happiness,” he says. “The only constant in your life is your family, and that’s what the movie is about, really.”
IF YOU GO
People Like Us
Starring Chris Pine, Elizabeth Banks, Michelle Pfeiffer, Olivia Wilde
Written by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Jody Lambert
Directed by Alex Kurtzman
Running time 1 hour 55 minutes