The gonzo art of writing for 'Borat Subsequent Moviefilm'

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Courtesy of Amazon Studios

This image released by Amazon Studios shows Sacha Baron Cohen in a scene from "Borat Subsequent Moviefilm." (Amazon Studios via AP)

NEW YORK – Screenplay writing, usually a fairly solitary, uneventful process, is more of a full-contact sport for a movie like “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.”

Work for the nine Oscar-nominated writers of the “Borat” sequel began conventionally enough. Brainstorming, a draft, a table read. But as soon as shooting starts, there’s no telling what can happen, how people will react to Sacha Baron Cohen’s Kazakh alter-ego, or what strange circumstances might befall their protagonist.

As Borat hurtles through the world, a team of writers trails along, endlessly writing and rewriting for every evolving scenario. Take, for example, when Baron Cohen ended up in a five-day lockdown with two QAnon believers. Anthony Hines, a writer and producer on the film, would reach Baron Cohen by stealthily taking a ladder to Baron Cohen’s second-floor bedroom, like a Cyrano de Bergerac of comedy.

“It was quite sort of dark and dangerous,” says Hines, a longtime collaborator of Baron Cohen's. “It was literally a matter of climbing up that ladder and poking your head into Borat’s bedroom window at 2 a.m. and giving him feedback and giving him some ideas.”

Like most things about “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” the film’s Academy Awards nomination for adapted screenplay is unusual. Seldom are the scripts to broad comedies nominated, but both “Borat” films have been. Its nine writers are the most ever nominated in the category. (When it won at the Writer Guild Awards, Baron Cohen theorized it was because 60% of the guild worked on the movie.) And the film’s full title — “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” — is the longest ever for an Oscar nominee.

“When they read out the nomination and the title of the film, I think it will essentially feel like a filibuster,” Dan Mazer said on a recent Zoom with Hines and four other of the film’s writers, Peter Baynham, Dan Swimer, Jena Friedman and Nina Pedrad.

“If we win, it’s a massive boost the trophy manufacturing industry,” added Hines.

You can read a transcribed script of “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” and it does make for a unique reading experience. Descriptions include “EXT. MEL GIBSON SQUARE - DAY.” But the movie’s final form gives you only a small window into the gonzo art of writing for Borat.