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Screenwriter James Vanderbilt’s home office leaves room for play

Although screenwriter-producer James Vanderbilt’s Malibu home office is meant more for work than play, it’s not sacrosanct — he’ll forgive intrusion of his own childhood artifacts, or his three kids dropping in for a video game session.

The two-story, 900-square-foot guesthouse-turned-office supports a balance between home life and work — as Vanderbilt puts it, “a little separation of church and state.”

“I feel super-lucky to have a separate space where I’m not in the swirl of family stuff when I need to work, but able to dip right back and have the kids sneak over and hang out when they come home from school,” said Vanderbilt, 43, who penned 2012’s “The Amazing Spider-Man” and Netflix’s current “Murder Mystery,” with Jennifer Aniston and Adam Sandler.

The bottom floor features a black spiral staircase and a writing area, with a height-adjustable desk and shelves featuring art and memorabilia from his life and films.

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One is an original from San Francisco Chronicle political cartoonist Robert Graysmith, the real-life protagonist of the film “Zodiac,” written by Vanderbilt and directed by David Fincher.

“He did that piece for me to explain how the editorial staff of the San Francisco Chronicle worked. It was easier for him to draw the answer; a true cartoonist,” Vanderbilt said.

A sunken entertainment area with cream-colored couches and striped, sunset-hued pillows surrounds a large TV. It’s the place to “screen stuff for work and look at dailies,” he said, and “maybe play video games with your kids. Or maybe even play video games without your kids.”

My Favorite Room: James Vanderbilt

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Why is this your favorite room?

I can come and work and be out of the hustle and bustle. It’s such a great place to dream, play, think and hang out. Because I’m in the film industry, my commute is either 100 feet or 1,000 miles, so the idea of being able to work at home in a separate space is really important to me.

What’s your creative process like in here?

This is a place for me to attempt to trick myself into being productive and writing without knowing I’m writing. I’ll come in here in the morning with some coffee, check some emails and then maybe I’ll sit on the couch away from the computer, not writing but thinking and taking notes about this specific idea. Then hopefully I will accidentally write the next scene.

What inspires you about living in Malibu?

I love that there’s so much nature around. For many years I had this little painting of the water that’s still on my desk because I thought it would be really cool to be able to see the water while I worked. Now I actually can. I keep the little painting as a reminder of how lucky I am to be here. (Apart from some ash-singed outdoor furniture, the family and home were safe from the Woolsey fire in November.)

This spiral staircase is really cool.

It’s funny because when I was growing up my parents’ friends had a spiral staircase that I hated; I was worried I was going to fall off it. When I saw this one I was like, “Oh, no.” I tried to see if there was any way of trying to take it out. Eventually I decided to try it out, we repainted it another color and now I just love it. I worked through the childhood trauma.

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Tell me about some of the memorabilia in here from your movies and childhood.

There is a golden idol called “O Gato do Diabo,” which is from a movie I wrote called “The Rundown,” a little Spider-Man figure from the “The Amazing Spider-Man” premiere in Tokyo and the clapper from the movie “Truth,” which I directed. My parents entered a stage where they just started sending me all this stuff from my childhood, whether I wanted it or not. There was some really bad clay art I did, but I can’t just throw out my own childhood, so it sort of lives here.


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