When crafting the script for Milk—a project many had attempted over the years—Dustin Lance Black had a simple but unmistakable edge: passion. It helped him write the ambitious screenplay during downtime from his job as a writer for HBO's Big Love. "I'd drive up to San Francisco on weekends and meet up with the real-life people," he says. Big Love and Milk both have personal resonance for Black, who grew up gay in a Mormon family in San Antonio. "I was very, very closeted," he explains. When he was 13, his family moved to the Bay Area, and he became obsessed with San Francisco's legendary gay activist Harvey Milk. Black's script, which focuses on Milk's rise as an organizer and campaigner, not only garnered him the Best Original Screenplay Oscar, it's helped reenergize the gay-rights movement in the wake of Prop 8's passage in California. Next, the in-demand Black is tackling another "unmakeable" script, an adaptation of Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test for Milk director Gus Van Sant. He'll have to squeeze that in between directing his first feature, What's Wrong With Virginia?, and developing a new HBO show. Not surprisingly, then, his biggest challenge is staying off BlackBerry Messenger. "I totally use smiley faces," Black says. "That's not very mavericky of me at all."

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