Steven Zaillian graduated from San Francisco State University in 1975 with a degree in Cinema, and began his career as an editor on Breaker! Breaker! (aka Cindy Jo and the Texas Turnaround ), Kingdom of the Spiders (1977), Starhops (aka Curb Service ), Below the Belt (1980), and other films.
His emergence as a screenwriter was with the creation of The Falcon and the Snowman in 1986, based on Robert Lindsey's book on political intrigue, and starring Sean Penn. The success of this project led to his next script for Awakenings (1990) which was based on the renown Oliver Sacks book. This activity was nominated in 1991 both for an Oscar (Best Screenplay Adaptation) and for a WGA Award, and won a U.S.C. Scripter Award.