NAKED TRUTH Is it a movie, or is it Introduction to Life Drawing? Given the current cinematic trend toward nude-sketch scenes, it could be both. In Titanic, socialite Kate Winslet poses in the buff for vagabond artist Leonardo DiCaprio. In As Good as It Gets, Helen Hunt‘s lonely waitress vogues in the altogether for gay painter Greg Kinnear. And the art show continues later this month with Great Expectations, which features aspiring artist Ethan Hawke sketching longtime love Gwyneth Paltrow au naturel. While Titanic director James Cameron says his scene was about getting ”behind the doors of Edwardian society to show there was a sexual reality to these people” (the sketch that appears in the movie was drawn by Cameron, a former art director, from photos of a clad Winslet), Good‘s James L. Brooks sought a more subtle approach to nudity. He and artist Billy Sullivan ”looked at Degas a lot. We didn’t want to titillate,” Brooks says of the scene, which was designed to convey Hunt’s realization of her beauty. Though all three filmmakers say they were surprised by the unusual coincidence, Expectations director Alfonso Cauron (who hired artist Francesco Clemente to draw Paltrow) went a step further. He jokingly asked execs at Twentieth Century Fox, which produced both Titanic and Expectations, ”if we could also have a sinking boat.” Needless to say, he settled for a sketch pad. Gregg Kilday

LIFE SIGN Another indication that Hollywood is desperate for stories: Mandalay Entertainment has optioned one of best-selling author Jacquelyn Mitchard‘s letters. You read that right. Turns out that when Mitchard’s critically acclaimed first novel, The Deep End of the Ocean, was about to be published in 1996, the author wrote a long personal note to her editor at Viking Books, Pam Dorman, about how much her life had changed since Ocean was bought. Before its success, ”I had no money, my husband was very sick, and I was worried about the future of my children,” recalls Mitchard, whose husband, Dan Allegretti, died of colon cancer before the novel’s popularity skyrocketed via Oprah Winfrey‘s book club. ”But it’s not just a sad story—it’s also very uplifting.” Dorman showed the letter to a senior VP of production at Mandalay, which had already optioned Ocean (it began shooting in October with Michelle Pfeiffer and Whoopi Goldberg). Tom Patricia, Mandalay’s president of television pictures, was so moved by Mitchard’s missive that he optioned the rights for a TV movie. Mitchard’s already on board to write the autobiographical screenplay. Asked if she has any casting ideas, the writer laughs. ”Well,” she says, ”what mom doesn’t want Susan Sarandon to play her in a movie?” Cindy Pearlman and Alexandra Jacobs