03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Oren Moverman delivers with The Messenger

It's referred to as "development hell" - that period between when a script is optioned and when it gets a green light - an endless series of notes, meetings and rewrites when the original script falls prey to the whims of all the chefs involved with creating this particular soufflé.

Yet writer-director Oren Moverman says that, without that lengthy development, he wouldn't haven been able to uncover the heart of The Messenger and create the compelling film it became. Nor would he have made his directorial debut with the film.

"Along the way, we stripped it down to its essence," Moverman says.

The Messenger" which opened in limited release Nov. 13 and goes into wider release in the coming weeks, focuses on a young soldier, Will Montgomery (Ben Foster), wounded in the Iraq war and returned to duty stateside. He is assigned duty as a casualty notification officer, given the job of notifying the next-of-kin of those killed in the Iraq war and teamed with a veteran of the detail (played by Woody Harrelson).

The idea for the script originated with Moverman's cowriter, producer Alessandro Camon: "He brought up the idea of casualty notification as an unseen part of the war - one of the parts that they all but made illegal to show, like they wouldn't let the media show the returning bodies," Moverman, an Israeli native, says. "That's really when it started. We were off and running."

Running a marathon, as it turned out: The film went through three other directors before it got made. Sydney Pollack worked with the writers, trying to use the milieu as the backdrop for a love story: "We did a complete draft and eventually came to a mutual agreement that it was not that kind of movie," Moverman says.

The next director, Roger Michel, wanted to focus on the relationship between the two men. For a while, Ben Affleck was interested in directing. As they worked on the script with different directors, Moverman and Camon found it revealing itself as something they - not the directors - wanted to make.

"We took away the plot-driven thing and stayed with the emotional core," Moverman says.

Eventually, it became clear that Moverman was the logical choice to direct. But the writer (I'm Not There, Jesus' Son) had another film he was working on that he hoped to direct as his first film.

"I never lobbied to direct it," Moverman says. "I had another picture I was going to direct. My initial reaction was no. I was trying to be a responsible screenwriter. It felt wrong to say I'll take over and my writing partner's role would be diminished. But he gave his blessing. Now I'm unable to go back to that other script I was going to direct."

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