101 Greatest Screenplays of the 21st Century (*so far)

In the same way the aliens at the center of Arrival travel unimaginable distances to reach Earth, Eric Heisserer took a long journey bringing Ted Chiang’s “Story of Your Life” to the screen. First came the industry’s chilly reception to a heady narrative about linguistics and Fermat’s principle of least time (try unpacking that one during a pitch meeting). Next came years during which Heisserer built his professional standing. Thereafter commenced a lengthy development process with director Denis Villeneuve. By the time the project was realized, Heisserer had written close to 100 drafts. Yet perhaps that number is unsurprising, because Arrival surmounts myriad hurdles—complex scientific theories, a tricky nonlinear structure, scenes in which the protagonist methodically decodes aliens’ nonverbal communication. Guiding Heisserer’s work, he told Written By in 2017, was passion to replicate the way Chiang’s story “uplifted me and broke my heart at the same time.” Heisserer won the 2017 Writers Guild Award for Adapted Screenplay for Arrival.

READ: How Eric Heisserer changed course to Arrival.