Oscar's Tale of Two Offices

Dorothy Hong

NYC vs. LA: Nominee J.C. Chandor wrote Margin Call in the same borrowed office where he slept; fellow nom John Logan penned Hugo at his Malibu house.

J.C. Chandor
Nominee, best original screenplay, Margin Call

First-time Oscar nominee Chandor wrote Margin Call in this spartan office tucked behind the editing facility at Washington Square Films on the Bowery in New York. "It's a home for homeless filmmakers," says Chandor, 37, a married father of two. "My family lived in Providence, R.I., so I slept [rent-free] on the couch here until our budget cash started flowing and I got an apartment nearby." After years of movies falling through, he was superstitious about making himself at home anywhere, fearing it would be presumptuous to assume his first feature was actually going to happen. So he wrote on a yellow legal pad, a tiny notebook and an 8-year-old Mac in temporary spaces: cafes, libraries and, for about six months, in WSF's digs: "I did the last pass on Margin Call here in three or four days. Behind me on the wall are pictures of the actors because in those conference-room scenes you have six or seven people, and trying to keep track of where they're looking is complicated. Sometimes writing alone, you feel like you're going crazy, so I go to a coffee shop. But if there's food or drink, I rarely end up writing much."

John Logan
Nominee, best adapted screenplay, Hugo

Noting the noirish light stripes cast by the blinds in the Malibu home office where he spent five years writing Hugo, Logan, 50, jokes: "This is my Raymond Chandler shot. I should have a fedora slightly tipped and an Underwood." Instead, he wrote Hugo on a computer with a circa-1999 keyboard he likes the feel of (he doesn't recall the brand). Unless he's in a first-draft marathon writing session, he rises by 5 a.m., works until 3 p.m. and takes yoga and hiking breaks. He has two bookcases full of hiking books and several tidy stacks of paper on his desk -- currently his film adaptation of Jersey Boys and seven drafts of the Bond film Skyfall. "I like to keep things in nice, square piles because if you don't keep things organized, it's just a maelstrom of paper. My desk reminds me of Mondrian's Broadway Boogie Woogie because all these geometric patterns pulse and lead to various places. Hopefully. Occasionally, it seizes up like a late Rothko, and you're totally stuck. Oy!" Always on his desk is his 2010 Tony Award for the Mark Rothko play Red. On the wall behind it are four Matisses, a Shakespeare bust and windows looking out on the Santa Monica Mountains. Computers sometimes malfunction, so he prefers paper: "I need to take notes with pens on Post-its. Every color means something different, like my own Esperanto nobody else understands. Red in Jersey Boys means song placement or action sequence. Black is standard notes. Blue is current notes I'm taking on top of previous notes. Yellow means, 'For Christ's sake, don't forget this!' "


THE COMPETITORS: For original screenplay, Chandor is up against Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris), Asghar Farhadi (A Separation), Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist) and Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo (Bridesmaids). For adapted, it's Logan vs. George Clooney, Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon (The Ides of March), Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (The Descendants), Bridget O'Connor and Peter Straughan (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) and Aaron Sorkin, Steven Zaillian and Stan Chervin (Moneyball).