Screenwriters in their own words: The stories behind the stories of ‘Black Panther,’ ‘Tully’ and more

Screenwriters in their own words: The stories behind the stories of ‘Black Panther,’ ‘Tully’ and more
Writers Joe Robert Cole ("Black Panther"), Diablo Cody ("Tully") and Josh Singer ("First Man") on how their stories came together. (Allen J. Schaben | Kirk McKoy | Maria Alejandra Cardona / Los Angeles Times)

In Hollywood, many times the stories behind the scenes are just as interesting as those on the screen. So with awards season heating up once again, The Envelope asked the writers of this year’s most-talked-about contenders to reveal the creative processes behind their screenplays. Check out the links for the full first-person essays and continue to check this page throughout awards season for the latest additions.

Diablo Cody, “Tully”

Charlize Theron stars as Marlo in Jason Reitman's "Tully." Kimberly French / Focus Features

“Writing this script saved me. ‘Tully’ became my Tully, my helper, a glowing, soothing presence I could return to whenever I felt overwhelmed. My laptop was speckled with dried breast milk because I’d pump and type at the same time. The manual for the breast pump referred to the action as “expression,” which seemed appropriate. I was expressing all over the place, left and right, literally and figuratively. The relief was tremendous.”

Joe Robert Cole, “Black Panther”

black panther
From left to right, Florence Kasumba and Danai Gurira in a scene from Marvel Studios' "Black Panther." Film Frame / Marvel Studios

“It was also deeply important to everyone involved with the film that we be respectful of Africa, its cultures and people. All too often the continent of over 50 nations has been painted with a broad brush and woefully misrepresented. We spoke to historians and consultants, and Ryan visited the continent. Hannah Beachler, our production designer, put together a Wakandan bible rooted in tireless research.”

Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan, “Wildlife”

Carey Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal in "Wildlife." IFC Films

“Most of my process as a first-time writer was asking ‘why?’ Why am I making this? Why would this character behave this way? Much like I do as an actor, I tried to turn the material over inside myself and filter that through the characters. Slowly, the script began to shed skins and become itself.” — Paul Dano

Josh Singer, “First Man”

first man
Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong in "First Man." Daniel McFadden / Universal Pictures / DreamWorks

“So I did what I had done on ‘Spotlight’ — I sent early drafts of the script to Neil [Armstrong]’s family and colleagues. And, not unlike Neil’s journey to the moon, my journey on the script was marked by early failure. Astronauts Dave Scott and Mike Collins were pretty tough. I’d gotten all sorts of technical details wrong. And some of my characterizations of Neil were off. An early scene had Neil repeatedly slamming a phone down on the receiver after finding out about the Apollo 1 fire. Jim Hansen and everyone else who knew Neil were up in arms. Neil would never do that.”

Felix van Groeningen and Luke Davies, “Beautiful Boy”

Timothee Chalamet and Steve Carell in "Beautiful Boy." Francois Duhamel / Amazon Studios

“At some point, I felt that we were pushing too much ‘structure’ onto the authentic story. The repetitive nature of a recovery narrative is also the challenging part of it. How do you keep invested in it, when you sort of know what is coming? Yet we needed to embrace this repetitive nature, and try to find a way to experience it like the characters experienced it — rebuilding hope every time.” — Felix Van Groeningen

Peter Hedges, “Ben Is Back”

ben is back
Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges in "Ben Is Back." Mark Schafer / LD Entertainment / Roadside Attractions

“My new film is a love story about a mother and her recovering-addict son. I started writing with this central question: ‘What if the mother, Holly, was like Orpheus and was willing to descend into the Underworld to bring her great love (in this case, her son Ben) back to Earth?’ So instead of having one seminal moment of heroism, she could make an endless string of determined, but often misguided, heroic attempts.”

Gillian Flynn, “Widows”

Michelle Rodriguez, Viola Davis, and Elizabeth Debicki in "Widows." 20th Century Fox / Associated Press

“Always at issue was the balance: the characters, the themes, the heist. One entire wall of my basement office is covered in whiteboard. I devoted half to the widows — to make sure we were giving them space to be true, breathing people. Because this was a heist film starring women, we wanted some of them to be moms and to see what child care in the middle of an incredibly dangerous crime looked like (uh, hard).”

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