This year, the emphasis is on original in the original screenplay race, and no screenwriter gets as much accolades for making the unusual work than Charlie Kaufman, who kicked off the Oscar buzz with his script for “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.”
“It’s easy to tell the initial story in a five-minute sound bite,” says Kaufman, who had two previous nominations. “But the practical problems of memory erasing, having this person in their memory as it’s being erased, and having the story told from the end of the relationship to the beginning … all that became very complicated.”
The challenge for John Logan in writing “The Aviator” was to find a way to simplify the complicated life of Howard Hughes. “For me, and I did a solid year of research, what emerged was Howard Hughes the aviator,” he says. “Aviation was the one passion that truly remained for his entire life.”
A similar problem confronted Bill Condon in writing “Kinsey,” which generated screenplay buzz but did not make the final round. “After I’d finished an entire draft, I still had not come up with the device for telling the entire life of Kinsey,” says Condon. “I remember that he used his own sex history to teach his team. … It solved so many problems and I felt deeply stupid that it had taken me so long to figure it out, because once it was there, it seemed so right.”
Though not strictly a biopic, Terry George and Keir Pearson found the true story of Paul Resusabagina an ideal story to tell about the genocide in Rwanda. The script for “Hotel Rwanda” crystallized when Pearson brought the story of the hotel manager to George, who had long been interested in doing something involving the Rwandan massacres. “With Paul you have the Everyman,” says George.
“Vera Drake” writer and director Mike Leigh is famous for his development process. “I generally work for about six months with actors, and we build the world of the characters through a massive amount of discussion, research and improvisation. Out of that, my job is to distill and construct the actual dramatic piece of cinema. In any strict, conventional sense, there’s never a script. The script is the film; the film is the script.”
Brad Bird’s action-packed and humorous take on a past-his-prime superhero dealing with family and career in “The Incredibles” on his own experiences to find a fresh take that mixes the mundane and the fantastic. “For example, Mom using all those powers to sneak into the bad guy’s secret base, but when she catches a look at herself in the mirror she can’t help looking at her butt and thinking it’s gotten a little larger,” he says.