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Screenwriters tell all

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A struggling screenwriter sits alone in a room, surrounded by food wrappers and empty coffee cups, staring at a blank page, knowing his calls won’t be returned. A successful screenwriter, on the other hand, sits alone in a hotel suite, surrounded by room-service trays and empty cappuccino cups, staring at a blank computer, knowing his calls won’t be returned. Of course, in the latter case, he can afford to sweat it out, what with the millions already stashed away.

Brian Helgeland, 36, Leslie Bohem, 45, and Andrew Kevin Walker, 33, broke in with such low-paying (and low-rent) fare as A Nightmare on Elm Street IV (Helgeland), A Nightmare on Elm Street V (Bohem), and Brainscan (Walker). Since then, they’ve graduated to dreaming up the blockbusters that keep studio heads in Armani. Helgeland wrote the Mel Gibson/Julia Roberts thriller Conspiracy Theory, and cowrote this fall’s adaptation of James Ellroy’s L.A. Confidential and Kevin Costner’s futuristic The Postman, due in December; he’ll then make his directorial debut with Parker, a thriller starring Gibson. Walker made his mark with Seven and polished this fall’s The Game, with Michael Douglas and Sean Penn; Walter Hill recently agreed to direct his cop drama Red White Black and Blue. Bohem is responsible for, among others, Daylight and Dante’s Peak. But to hear them tell it, even the acme of their profession is the nadir of filmmaking’s food chain.

EW: What was your first screenplay?

Helgeland: 976-EVIL. You had to dial in to get your horoscope. The original title was Horrorscope.

Bohem: My parents were in the business — my mom was a reader, my dad was a writer and a producer [but they] had no connections whatsoever. I was in this band called Sparks, and a friend of mine called and said that this company wanted to do a movie [about a rock band]. I told them their idea was really stupid, so they hired me. They were even more stoned than I was.

Walker: What was it called? Abusement Park?

Bohem: 976-ROCK. When I came back to L.A., the guy they had replaced me with in the band was 10 years younger, way skinnier, had a better haircut, and played better than I did.

Walker: I love how you tried to steer away from the sleazy movie business by going into rock & roll. When I was young, I just wanted to be the Six Million Dollar Man.

Bohem: And you are now.

Walker: Not yet. I studied film at Penn State, and I think the idea at the time was to use writing to try to direct. Brian wants to direct, I want to sleep in. After graduating, I had to move to L.A. or New York, and I couldn’t afford a car, so I moved to New York. I worked at Tower Records and wrote Seven, which is definitely my love letter to New York.

EW: Are you surprised you became successful so quickly?

Walker: Given that we don’t deserve it? Absolutely.

Helgeland: You’re always looking over your shoulder to see if anyone’s laughing.

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