Michael Laughlin

HOLLYWOOD Michael Laughlin could be the poster boy for over-50 screenwriters everywhere. After turns in the ’60s and early ’70s as a producer on films such as “Joanna” and cult classic “Two-Lane Blacktop,” Laughlin switched gears in the early ’80s and wrote oddball indie genre pics “Strange Invaders” and “Dead Kids,” then jumped into the ’90s by writing Hong Kong actioner “Once Upon a Time in Shanghai.”

Cut to 1998 and a quantum career leap forward. Peter Chelsom is directing Laughlin’s original script, “Town and Country,” a $40 million New Line film starring Warren Beatty, Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton, Andie MacDowell and Garry Shandling. Laughlin describes the pic as “a sophisticated study of sex among slightly older people.”

Despite his lack of big-studio, big-budget writing credentials, Laughlin recalls that when his producer Fred Roos showed the spec script to Andrew Karsch and Sidney Kimmel, “I wanted an absurd amount of money, as all screenwriters do.” The deal’s terms were pegged to the production budget, which went from $14 million to $40 million, ensuring Laughlin a healthy payday, and one that must be several zeros removed from his previous outings.

Laughlin says his many years in the business have given him at least one advantage over his more youthful competitors in the screenwriting sweepstakes: “I learned about writing from spending time with Hitchcock, Renoir and Truffaut. Like Truffaut, I know all the cuts in my head before I write a word of dialogue.”

Longtime friend Roos, a casting and producing veteran (“The Godfather,” “The Secret Garden,” etc.), isn’t at all surprised by Laughlin’s late-in-the-game breakthrough. “Michael has a truly unique and comedic way of looking at life and people,” Roos says admiringly. “He approaches every subject — sex, violence, family life, food — from some angle you’ve never considered before. I don’t think he could write a cliche if he tried.”

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