Where he writes: Black shifts coffee shops about every two hours around Hollywood. "I'm completely over-caffeinated by the end of the day," he says. "It's less distracting than being alone with my thoughts in an empty office."
Instrument of success: A "very beat up" Macintosh laptop. "It's covered in food and is disgusting. I open it up on a plane and I'm so embarrassed because it's covered with coffee and croissant crumbs," he says.
Germ of a notion: Biographies on J. Edgar Hoover failed to explore the "why" of the man's life. "He was incredibly promising and brilliant, so why did he become such a monster? That's where my research began," he says.
Working it up: Black started in 2008, before his Oscar-winning "Milk" had come out. "When I heard that Brian Grazer at Imagine was interested in Hoover, I made a quick call, then set off doing research."
Final draft: Two years of writing and around five drafts later, Black was ready. He'd heard the script would go to Clint Eastwood, and recalled that Peter Morgan once said that Eastwood would shoot first drafts of a script "horrifying" to Black. "So I wheedled myself onto the set as a historian, and was able to rewrite a few things."
End notes: The Oscar (for "Milk") is an intimidating factor, so Black puts it away or sends it to his mother's house while writing. "She takes him to her hair appointments," he says and chuckles.