If you’re like us, you’ve probably wondered what famous people add to their carts. Not the JAR brooch and Louis XV chair, but the hand sanitizer and the electric toothbrush. We asked director, producer, and Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, and author of the memoir Mama’s Boy: A Story From Our Americas, about the pens, blue paint, and baby-formula dispenser he can’t live without.
Dorothy Parker’s a massive inspiration to me. I’ve always been a very big fan of hers because she’s really funny about some of the darkest things there are. My growing-up experience had a lot of dark days, and it’s nice to have someone like Dorothy there to hold your hand and help you laugh your way through it. A friend gifted this to me, just a collection of her poems and short stories, and it’s fabulous, and if you’re having a dark day, crack it open and laugh at pain. It’s kind of lovely.
I hate getting dressed. I think they were on sale at a discount shoe shop on Sunset Boulevard, years ago when I first moved to L.A., and I was broke, and I was like, “Those are cool, and they’re on clearance for 15 bucks,” and I never stopped wearing them. I remember when the Academy Awards were approaching, I didn’t realize that they had become such a part of me. I was doing press at the Writers Guild of America Awards. I’m wearing a tuxedo with black Chucks and didn’t think a second about it, and someone asked, “Will you be wearing those to the Oscars?” And in my brain, I’m like, “Of course not.” It’s not a fashion statement. They’re just easy, and it’s one less thing for me to think about, and those little cells that would’ve stressed out about what I’m putting on my feet can now think a little bit about story. And they’re cool. They go with everything. It might be lame, but it’s true. I think they’re better than, you know, what’s his face, the Facebook dude, Zuckerberg who wears the gray hoodies all the time. It’s a step up from that, but I think it’s the same philosophy, which is, I got things I’d rather put my mind to today.
You just plug it in, then it connects with your Wi-Fi, and you can see and hear — with crystal-clear quality, even in the pitch-black dark — what’s going on, which is cool. But the unexpected upside is because Tom [Daley, Black’s husband and Olympic diver] and I travel so much. I literally just got off of it. It gives you an alert that it sees someone in the room — in this case, the nursery — and then I signed on, and I’m in L.A., and there’s my little family. My son’s on the floor playing. And it has this walkie-talkie, so I can talk, and he turned to the camera and said, “Da-da!” I’m only away for a few days, but it feels like an eternity, so it’s a nice thing to have … I think when our kids are older, it’ll be really, really helpful. Because we can just say, “Go to sleep. Get back in bed.”
I didn’t study screenwriting. I studied as a director in film school. So I sort of came up with my own system, which started as a research system. I would scribble on cards, little facts, story elements, maybe character details. And I would always keep them on separate cards, and I would end up with tons of cards, and people thought I was nuts.
But I quickly found that when you’re laying the story out, after all the research is done, it’s so helpful not to have ideas tied to one another, to keep them independent. So I can really be deft when I need to be, to move the moment when something is revealed, and to separate it from other details. I’ve not found a computer program that lets you see everything at once, the way you can if you’ve laid out cards on a table or the floor, to reveal the big picture of what you’ve built, and then to so easily pick something up from act one and move it into the middle of act two, right? You do it in a second if it’s laid out on a table. On a computer program, you’re searching, you’re struggling, and it’s a mess. And I think that a system like this means you stay nimble longer, and that makes for a more creative experience.
I usually take the really bold, dark, primary colors that are quite distinct from one another, and I make them my lead character. Anything that is about them, whether it’s a story or character detail, it’s in that color. It really helps me as I stand back to be able to see if a character has vanished for a while, disappeared, isn’t being serviced. For my brain, anything where I can step back and look at the TV show or a movie in one glance and understand who is where and what stories live where, it’s really helpful. So I think there’s an eight-pack? That’s not enough. Twenty is plenty. More than 20 is just starting to look like a Jackson Pollock, and it’s not helpful. So I found that 20-pack is really good, and they’re nice fine points, so you can actually fit a lot of information on one three-by-five card, which is also really helpful.
I should curse this friend, because he introduced me to Farrow and Ball, eight, nine years ago, when I bought a home in L.A. It’s incredibly expensive, and completely worth it. There’s no other paint that has the depth and the character, and it changes throughout the day. All the colors have a little personality. I mean, there’s a reason it costs a bit more, and Hague Blue, in particular, just puts me in a very meditative state. I put it in bedrooms, in offices ,and entryways, and I think it’s because it feels so bright and lively in daytime, when it’s being hit by a warm light like the sun, and then at night, when the sun’s gone down, it takes on this really deep blue character, and so it’s preparing you for sleep. It just feels a bit magical to me. I do believe that color can help us and being surrounded by colors that are helpful or inspirational might actually influence our work, so that’s my favorite.
Someone posted it — I can’t remember who it was, if it was one of the Kardashians? I don’t know, honestly. But someone who had a baby recently posted it, and I was like, “Huh, that’s interesting.” That got my attention, and then the company reached out to Tom and I, and we were like, “Yes, please. Please, please, please.” Because we have lots of little ones in both of our families, and waking up at 3 a.m., and doing all the measuring and mixing and shaking and heating is just a lot, and so replacing that with one button? Come on. Amazing. It’s like a baby Keurig, it’s ready to go. Always ready.