THE AVIATOR
Miramax Films
Written by John Logan

John Logan found inspiration for his screenplay about wunderkind-turned-billionaire-turned-insane-recluse Howard Hughes in a flash.

“(One of the producers) Michael Mann says, ‘How about Howard Hughes for Leo DiCaprio?’ and a light snapped on inside me,” Logan says, “and without missing a beat I understood I could spend years telling that story.”

Five years and 15 drafts later, the veteran playwright credits the stellar “Aviator” script to a charmed collaboration.

“I can say in all honesty and all modesty, Michael Mann, Martin Scorsese, Leo DiCaprio, their DNA is on every page of the script, and I think it’s the best thing I’ve written as a screenwriter.”

As months of research flipped by, Logan says Hughes seemed to get younger and younger in his mind.

“He went from sepia tone to Technicolor.”

A couple of drafts in, Hughes also got succinct, and eventually laconic.

“When I first started writing Howard, I think I overwrote him,” Logan says. “He was explaining himself too much; I thought it was more intriguing for him to simply go through his life enacting, and dramatizing, and manifesting his response to the world.”

One of Logan’s favorite economical Howard lines comes amid the long screening room sequence, in which Hughes views footage from “The Outlaw,” and observes: “I like the desert hot but clean.”

Does Logan have a secret for screenplay success?

“When I’m writing a first draft I usually get up about 5 in the morning and just start working nonstop,” he says. “If I get stuck, I just write three capital Xs, meaning I know I have to come back, work on this scene or find the right line or adjective but I’m not going to get hung up right now.”

ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND
Focus Features
Screenplay by Charlie Kaufman, story by Charlie Kaufman & Michel Gondry & Pierre Bismuth

Charlie Kaufman sold “Eternal Sunshine,” based on a single slick pitch meeting, but faced a slow and circuitous writing process — and that’s the way he likes it.

“I think because of my personality and maybe because of my lack of discipline or something — and also by choice — I throw myself into a very confusing place when I’m writing,” Kaufman says. “I want to have something brewing that I’m not entirely clear about.”

What’s so great about chaos?

“The idea is to try to make something alive for yourself and the people who are watching it,” he says. “I like feeling as an audience member there’s a struggle going on and I’m in the middle of it — and I don’t know where it’s gonna go. You don’t feel safe.”

The screenwriter, who’s also nominated for an Oscar, encountered a whole slew of logic problems as he drafted the memory-erasing love match between Joel (Jim Carrey) and Clementine (Kate Winslet). One crucial breakthrough came when he decided to let Joel speak in both present and past tense, as a way of interacting with his memories.

How did Kaufman get inspired?

“A lot of the stuff in the script is from my life,” he says. “I’d actually seen somebody who I modeled Clementine after, who I’d seen perform. I didn’t know this woman; I was just sort of attracted to her and wanted to see why I would be attracted to her, and to try to imagine who she is from her vantage point.”

Why was he drawn to this love-gone-wrong story?

“I’d always felt that there weren’t a lot of real relationship movies out there,” Kaufman says. “There are a lot of fantasy notions, and I’d always felt they were kind of damaging, because when you’re young you think you’re going to have that life, and that life doesn’t exist.”

GARDEN STATE
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Written by Zach Braff

As Zach Braff dreamed up his first screenplay “Garden State,” he made notes on matchbooks, menus and napkins; when the time came to structure it, he pretended he was telling a loose story out loud to friends. Movie execs told him how to tighten and rewrite, but he resisted hackneyed rules.

“Anyone who’s taken a screenwriting class, you go, ‘Oh my God, you’re 30 minutes in, they’re going to enter the new world now.’ You’ve got the whole thing memorized,” Braff says.

In his semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story, struggling L.A. actor Large (played by Braff) returns to New Jersey for his mother’s funeral, goes off his mood meds and confronts real life. Braff’s favorite scene is also the one that was easiest to write: Large’s first visit to the home of his eccentric new friend Sam (Natalie Portman).

“Some days you’re writing and it’s all working, and some days it’s not at all,” Braff says. “When I wrote that scene it was just one of those days when I felt like things were going well in my head and I wrote it in one sitting.”

Why did Braff want to tell this story?

“I was just drawn to it because it was what I was going through in my life, and I wanted to write what I knew and what I knew was this sort of malaise that I was feeling in my 20s; I was feeling depressed and not exactly sure why and feeling incredibly lonesome and feeling, like I say in the film, ‘homesick for a place that didn’t even exist.’ “

HOTEL RWANDA
United Artists
Written by Keir Pearson & Terry George

Former documentary editor Keir Pearson began compiling material for “Hotel Rwanda” seven years ago. At each step of his passionate fact-collecting way, Pearson says something serendipitous emerged to help him along. The good fortune included a powerful partnership with co-writer and director Terry George.

“My first call was to the Rwandan embassy,” Pearson remembers. “I called and said, ‘Look, I’m trying to contact Paul Rusesabagina. I want to interview him or any survivors from the hotel, and the woman on the line said, ‘I’m a survivor from the hotel.’ “

A turning point in the writing process came when Pearson and George defined Rusesabagina’s complex spirit.

“It was the sense that here’s someone who cared about his family most and as he saw the genocide unfold his sense of family grew,” Pearson says. “His wife who’s always saying, ‘Worry about your neighbors’ — they crisscross. That was the big breakthrough to me; you need those dramatic arcs.”

Did his doc experience inform his screenwriting?

“It gives you a good appreciation: real things in life have dramatic meaning and it’s just finding them.”

KINSEY
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Written by Bill Condon

Bill Condon read biography after juicy biography on pioneer sex researcher Alfred C. Kinsey. Once he found what he was looking for, he says he had to begin again.

The real breakthrough in the writing process came when Condon discovered how strangely funny Kinsey actually was.

“I think that was when (I saw) I could make it a social comedy in a way, which of course it’s about sex so that comes with it,” Condon says. “But (Kinsey’s) so socially maladroit and such an intellectual bully, while underneath it all he’s so sensitive; those were the scenes that first started to click into place.”

Why write and direct Kinsey’s story?

“You never want to reduce it to one log line or message, but I do think that basic idea of Kinsey’s that we all have unique sexual make-ups, and that we should not try to distort that so much in order to fit into the group, that’s a valuable idea that’s still so relevant,” Condon says.

What’s his favorite scene?

“I have to say the scene where Peter Saarsgard asks Mack (Laura Linney) to sleep with him and Kinsey’s there, and she says, ‘I think I might like that,’ ” Condon says. “It’s the whole connection between the public and private right in that scene for me, and I enjoy watching the way the actors play the comedy so well.”

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