BEFORE SUNSET
Warner Independent Pictures
Screenplay by Richard Linklater & Julie Delpy & Ethan Hawke, story by Richard Linklater & Kim Krizan, based on characters created by Richard Linklater & Kim Krizan

Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke considered scripting a romantic sequel to “Before Sunrise” the year after the 1995 film, then five years later, but they just couldn’t commit. It was too soon.

“It’s just a huge challenge to revisit characters,” Linklater says. “It was sort of magical, but it was pretty daunting too. We didn’t want it to be anticlimactic — we didn’t want it to be that bummer, like, ‘What did I ever see in that person?’ which would translate to us, ‘What did I ever see in that first movie?’ “

During a three-day writing fest in Julie’s apartment in Paris, the scribes spun a sloppy rough draft into a real film. Via their real-life reunion, they say they found the movie’s tone.

“I think that’s where we discovered the humor,” Linklater explains. “The jokey sexual humor came out of us knowing each other for 10 years … and how you get older with someone and you can just be more honest.”

“It was basically figuring out that it was going to be about questioning romantic love vs. everyday life,” Delpy says. “They enter another level in their relationship, which is basically that now she can make tea and be quiet for five minutes.

“I know it sounds really weird and unromantic, but love is about the everyday minute with the person,” she says. “Doing nothing special, going to get paper at Office Depot or something.”

MEAN GIRLS
Paramount Pictures
Screenplay by Tina Fey, based on the book “Queen Bees and Wannabes” by Rosalind Wiseman

Tina Fey wanted to adapt Rosalind Wiseman’s book because each high-school clique type rang so true to her teen memories.

“Partly it was just ignorance and foolishness on my part that I hadn’t thought it through,” she says. “I was taking a nonfiction book with no narrative.”

In early stages, Fey imagined that the script would center round a helpful teacher character somewhat like Wiseman. Fey herself plays a wisecracking math instructor in the film, but the main story belongs to Katie, a home-schooled girl thrown into public-school politics.

“The girls themselves just became so much more interesting to write and focus on,” Fey says.

A breakthrough in the writing came when Fey got a pesky-seeming note from higher-ups. They wanted backstory to state that Katie had been living in Africa until recently.

“It became this justification that she was only home-schooled because she’d been living abroad and the thing that was nice about that was it opened up the animal kingdom metaphors, which was something Rosalind and I had talked about. She had said to me, ‘If you have time, hang out in front of a mall, and watch, it’s like a watering hole with animals, the preening and mating that goes on.'”

What does the “Mean Girls” script mean to Fey personally?

“It also ends up taking a lot of things and character types that I remembered from that age,” Fey says, “so it had that weird satisfaction of (putting) stuff in and two years later I would see it on the screen and be, like, ‘Oh, right, I can’t believe somebody really said that to me when I was 14, and they’re gonna see this and they’re gonna remember.’ “

MILLION DOLLAR BABY
Warner Bros.
Screenplay by Paul Haggis, based on stories from “Rope Burns” by F.X. Toole

Paul Haggis doesn’t consider himself a big boxing fan, but he loves a good boxing story.

“F.X. Toole was a wonderful writer,” Haggis says of the trainer turned author whose short fiction he adapted. “I mean you really smelled those dirty socks and as you walked down those halls you felt the grime…”

The turning point in Haggis’ writing process came about 100 pages in. He had tried to combine four stories from “Rope Burns,” and the script felt unwieldy.

“It was completely complex and flashy and showy and everything that movie shouldn’t have been,” Haggis says.

Finally Haggis lost two stories and bulked up two others, that of “Million Dollar Baby,” in which Frankie trains Maggie to fight, and a piece called “Frozen Water.”

“There was this character Scrap in (‘Frozen Water’) and I thought, ‘Ooh, I love that name.’ I’ll take that character and I’ll meld the two together. Realizing I had to tell the story simply, and then creating Scrap as his best friend and their history, that really was the first time I went, ‘OK, I know how to tell this.’ “

What does the script mean to Haggis personally?

“I love that it was about three people no one in the world cared about,” he says. “I love really flawed characters, losers who don’t know they’re losers so they keep fighting on.”

THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES
Focus Features
Screenplay by Jose Rivera, Based on the books “Notas de Viaje” by Ernesto Guevara and “Con el Che por America Latina” by Alberto Granado

Growing up on Long Island in the turbulent ’60s, Jose Rivera identified with Marxist freedom fighter Che Guevara.

“That’s what Che meant,” Rivera says, “a feeling of Latin pride sort of like a Cesar Chavez. At that time, there was so little; in fact, all the cliches in the culture were Desi Arnez, Jose Jimenez and Speedy Gonzalez. They were really crappy role models.”

Rivera, who’s also a playwright, was drawn to the memoirs of Guevara and Alberto Granado because, he says, “both the human and outward geography of their trip was beautiful.”

Before Rivera wrote the script, the film’s director Walter Salles suggested that the movie’s climax scene should depict Guevara’s swim across the Amazon.

“That was a pivotal decision because it helped me organize the script and gave the movie its structure,” Rivera says. “You’re faced with a choice: ‘On what side of the river are you going to be? Are you going to be on the safe, healthy side, or are you going to cross over to those who are in danger and marginalized?’ “

What does the finished product mean to him personally?

“First of all it’s my first movie,” he says, “not my first script but my first movie. That’s a big leap to go from someone who’s written a lot of scripts that were never seen. That’s a big amazing thing!”

SIDEWAYS
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Screenplay by Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor, based on the novel by Rex Pickett

When co-writers Jim Taylor and Alexander Payne sat down to script “Sideways,” the process felt like business as usual, Taylor says.

“But once I saw the finished movie I was just so happy with the film,” he explains. “Alexander’s work, the casting, the actors, the music, everything worked so well. You know it’s nice to be praised for the script, but I feel like everyone made this script look better; they really elevated the story in a nice way.”

In adapting Rex Pickett’s tragicomic novel about two middle-aged buddies on a weeklong wine-fueled road trip, Payne and Taylor opted to change almost nothing. According to Taylor, the toughest part of the writing process came at the very end.

“Even Rex was tinkering with the ending of his book because it hadn’t been published yet, so it was kind of an open discussion,” Taylor says.

Finally, the screenwriters decided to give divorced, disappointed protagonist Miles (Paul Giamatti) a long shot at love.

“It felt like the honest truth about where the relationship might go. So it was challenging, but it wasn’t something that drove us to tear our hair out,” Taylor says.

Is good writing ever difficult for Payne and Taylor?

“The hardest thing about sitting down is sitting down, which is why I like working with a partner. You are sort of committed to each other,” Taylor says.

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