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Daniel Barnz

Daniel Barnz

Born Daniel Bernstein in 1970, Barnz grew up outside Philadelphia in the suburb of Gladwyne, Pennsylvania. Barnz's first love was theater, and he spent much of his time at Yale University directing plays and participating in the Williamstown Theatre Festival. During his senior year, Barnz panicked about what life after graduation looked like and decided to apply to a couple of film schools. Shortly after graduation and moving to Los Angeles to direct Tim Robbins' theatre company, Barnz was accepted into University of Southern California's film school and discovered that all of the things he loved in theater directing he could do on a much larger scale in film. During his time at school, he concentrated on producing and directing but quickly realized he would need more than a few student films under his belt to attract studio attention. After graduating in 1995, he figured the best way to get hired as a director was to create his own material, and got to work penning screenplays. By 2006, Barnz had a string of scripts with big names attached including "Sugarland," which Jodie Foster was attached to direct, and "Under and Alone," which Barnz co-wrote with Ned Zeman for Mel Gibson; none of them actually got produced. Barnz promised himself that if he didn't have a film in production by 2007, he was going to leave the Los Angeles. Luckily fate intervened, and he obtained financing to shoot "Phoebe in Wonderland," which he wrote and directed, starring Elle Fanning as a little girl who lives in a world of magical realism that entangles both her mother (Felicity Huffman) and drama teacher (Patricia Clarkson). The film-co-produced by Daniel's husband Ben Barnz-debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in 2008 and was nominated for the Sundance Grand Jury Prize for Drama. It also led to the longtime friendship between Barnz and Felicity Huffman, whom he would later collaborate with again on "Cake." Continuing his fairytale streak, Barnz was tapped to adapt the popular young adult novel "Beastly" (2011) by Alex Finn, a modern twist on the Beauty and the Beast fable. With a popular teen cast including Vanessa Hudgens, Mary-Kate Olsen and Alex Pettyfer, the film was panned by critics by loved by teens, securing Barnz's popularity among the YA set but not the overall film industry. For his third film, Barnz abandoned the world of make-believe and took on a more controversial subject, the state of America's education system, in the 2012 film, "Won't Back Down." Framed as a David and Goliath tale, the film starred Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis as heroic parents and teachers who battle bureaucracy and corruption in a lousy public school. After its release, it stoked the fires of many a teacher's union and Barnz found himself embroiled in a heated debate and backlash surround the film. Coming from a family of educators-he's the son of college professors, the son-in-law of a alternative Manhattan public school principal, and the grandson of a Brooklyn teacher who was protected by her union in the 1930s-Barnz defended his intentions behind the film, but that didn't stop Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), who described the film as having "the most blatant stereotypes and caricatures I have ever seen, even worse than in "Waiting for Superman" (2010)." Barnz took a break after the dust-up over his film and stumbled across the script for his follow-up completely by accident. Having won the CineStory Foundation Screenwriting Competition with "Phoebe in Wonderland" all those years ago, Barnz volunteered to judge the competition and was so entranced by the winning entry from Patrick Tobin, he decided to make the film filmself. While his first film took 13 years to get off the ground, "Cake" only took 13 months, thanks to a passionate letter he wrote to its star Jennifer Aniston to get her to come on board. The indie drama premiered in the Special Presentations section of TIFF and was a festival hit thanks in large part to Aniston's impressive (and decidedly unglamorous) lead performance as a woman addicted to painkillers.
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