A Southwater playwright, who had his first work performed at Horsham’s Capitol theatre, has caught the eye of Steven Spielberg.
Matt Charman, a former pupil of The Forest School, was first noticed by the National Theatre which produced some of his plays in London.
That was only five years ago. Next Wednesday (September 3) he will make his television debut with the BBC and a few weeks later filming will start in Hollywood after the world renowned director Spielberg chose him to write a Cold War thriller.
Matt, 35, said: “I am still pinching myself. It’s a dream. As a child I watched ET and Jurassic Park.
“Spielberg phoned and said ‘do you want to have lunch with me’ and you fly over for lunch.
“He’s a genuinely warm human being. He made me feel like I belonged there. When you are nervous and excited, it’s great.
“That was in March. Then he gave me notes on the draft and we talked about it.
“He was brilliant and passionate. I thought ‘this guy might actually want to make this a film’.”
The currently unnamed film will star Tom Hanks and is due for release in October 2015.
Meanwhile BBC One will start broadcasting Matt’s six part drama Our Zoo next week.
His creation is based on the real story of the Mottershead family who established Chester Zoo in the 1930s.
George Mottershead transformed a deserted mansion and surrounding land into his ‘zoo without bars’. The drama follows George’s inspiring and challenging journey to realise his dream against all the odds.
Matt said: “It’s incredible. With the BBC you have the opportunity to go into five, six, seven million people’s homes.
“It’s a really strange relationship you have with your audience.
“Having grown up with those family shows that stay with you for the rest of your life and having the chance to tell a big family story - a true story - is a really big deal.”
The BBC has scheduled his drama for 9pm, straight after The Great British Bake Off. Matt added: “At the moment 7.1million people watch Bake Off.
“They are trying to hold on to that audience. We thought as we were shooting maybe this was a Sunday afternoon show.
“What the BBC are trying to do is allow families to enjoy it on i-Player while reaching out to an audience who might not be watching on a Sunday afternoon.”
On top of these successes, Matt has co-written the screenplay for the BBC’s film adaptation of the 2004 novel by Irène Némirovsky Suite Francaise.
Filming with Kristin Scott Thomas took place last year and it is scheduled to be released later this year.
Matt has also been busy writing a three part thriller called Black Work for ITV and a ten part series called Opposite Number for Channel 4, which will both hit the UK television screens in the spring.
He may be brushing with Hollywood stars this year, but he comes from a normal background.
Born in Crawley, he grew up in and around Southwater and went to what was then Forest Boys School, before going to the College of Richard Collyer.
His first play, A Night at the Dogs, was based on a part time job he had washing cars at a repair garage in Ashington.
It was chosen from more than 700 submissions to win the Verity Bargate Award 2004 and was performed at the Soho Theatre, London, in 2005.
Shortly afterwards he was made Pearson Writer in Residence at the National Theatre where his plays The Observer and The Five Wives of Maurice Pinder premiered.
Matt now lives in London with his wife and 18 month old son, but frequently comes back home to Southwater to visit family.
He said: “My dad’s retired now, but my mum’s a hairdresser. It’s not like I’ve ever had any experience of this stuff. It’s like a dream. It’s crazy. Having grown up in Horsham and gone to school there, my first show was at what was the Arts Centre. It’s a really lovely place to come back to.”