Where he writes: A closet-sized office space in an Austin, Texas, real estate office owned by his friend. "It's perfect," says Nichols. "It has this window that looks out at a hospital's big commercial air conditioning units. There is some sky." Inside: a large corkboard, a stereo and a "pretty terrible" drawing desk he's had since high school.
Instrument of success: Writing ideas, scenes and bits of thought on index cards, tossing them on the floor and eventually posting them up on the big corkboard. "I'll have scenes that scoot around on the floor and brush up against each other in ways you might not have thought of before. It helps confuse the process while keeping it somewhat ordered." Serious writing takes place on his MacBook.
Germ of a notion: For "Take Shelter," about a man's impending sense of doom, Nichols recalls having a vision of a storm shelter in a backyard with the doors flung open and a man standing over it. "I had no clue what the context was, and I thought it was interesting. It was a visual anchor for the writing of the film," he says.
Working it up: The script gestated for about six months, and then took three more to write during summer 2008. "I don't do a lot of rewrites," Nichols says, and because he's also the director they may not be necessary.
Final draft: After writing, Nichols passes the script around to friends and family, including his musician older brother ("he has immaculate taste") and father ("it's hard for him not to like something I write").
End notes: Nichols often breaks through any blocked periods by taking friends out for enchiladas and telling them the story of the movie. "I'm like a vampire," he says. "I need fresh ears like blood so people will listen. It doesn't matter what their response is, really it's something about the accountability of new ears hearing the story."