Alumnus Christopher Markus, right, and Stephen McFeely, left.


Alumnus Christopher Markus, right, and Stephen McFeely, left, first got Hollywood’s attention with their television screenplay The Life and Death of Peter Sellers. Next came the three films in The Chronicles of Narnia series and then the three pictures in the Captain America series.

Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney

The ink was still fresh on his  master’s degree in creative  writing from the University of California, Davis, when Christopher Markus and his writing partner, Stephen McFeely, set out for Los Angeles in 1996 to try their hand at screenwriting. They were 26, single, and driven, and they had nothing to lose. They figured they’d give this new venture four years, at which point they’d be 30. “If nothing had happened by then,” recalls Markus RC’91, “we’d go our separate ways.”

A decade later, something really, really big did indeed happen. Markus first gained wide praise when he and McFeely wrote the screenplay for The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, a made-for-TV movie for which they received a Primetime Emmy Award in 2005. But they’ve made their biggest impact in the movie-writing world as coauthors of the three films in The Chronicles of Narnia series (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; Prince Caspian; and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader) and three more in the Captain America series. The latter is part of an 11-year sequence of roughly two dozen interlocking superhero movies, known collectively as the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which ranks as the highest-grossing franchise in film history. Meanwhile, Markus and McFeely have become two of the hottest screenwriters in Hollywood. “Life’s pretty good for Chris now,” says McFeely.

Markus grew up in Buffalo, New York, and, like most young American males at the time, “I had my brain reshaped by The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Although a fan of Marvel comics, he wasn’t “a comic book guy all the way through to getting to write these movies,” he says. “I drifted away to books without pictures.”

He came to Rutgers with vague aspirations to be a writer and ended up pursuing a degree in creative writing. “I took every creative writing course that Rutgers had,” he says. “There were a lot of encouraging people there who did not tell me to stop.”

Markus and McFeely started out writing their scripts side by side, arguing over commas as words appeared on the screen. Now they team up on a detailed, scene-by-scene outline, and then go their separate ways to write individual scenes. Each week they reconvene to edit and, McFeely says, “rewrite like crazy.”

“We do that week after week,” Markus says, “until we’ve done this giant, repetitive Frankenstein first draft. Then we will attack that together, as if some worse writer has written it and it’s now our job to revise it.”

These days Markus and McFeely are busier than ever. Their latest superhero film, Captain America: Civil War, premiered in May. It stars Chris Evans  as Captain America and Sebastian  Stan MGSA’05 as his sidekick, James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes (See  “Marvel-Us,” Winter 2016 issue of  Rutgers Magazine). The supporting ensemble includes Robert Downey Jr. and Scarlett Johansson.

They are also writing the two-part climax to phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Avengers: Infinity War—Part 1 hits theaters in May 2018; the sequel follows a year later. A headline in Business Insider in May 2015 captured the enormity of the writers’ task in superhero-size hyperbole: “The future of Marvel movies is riding on these two guys.”