In 1961, the financially strapped author Pamela "P. L." Travers reluctantly travels from her home in London to Los Angeles to work with Walt Disney at the urging of her agent, Diarmuid Russell. Disney has pursued the film rights to her Mary Poppins stories for twenty years, having promised his daughters that he would produce a film based on them. Travers has steadfastly resisted Disney's efforts because she fears what he would do to her character. However, she has not written anything in a while and her book royalties have dwindled to nothing, so she risks losing her house. Still, Russell has to remind her that Disney has agreed to two major stipulations - no animation and unprecedented script approval - before she agrees to go.
Ben Sanderson (Cage) is a Hollywood screenwriter whose alcoholism costs him his job, family, and friends. With nothing left to live for, he moves to Las Vegas to drink himself to death. As he drives drunkenly down the Las Vegas Strip, he nearly hits a woman, Sera (Shue), on the crosswalk. Sera chastises him and walks away. Sera is a prostitute working for an abusive pimp, Yuri Butso (Julian Sands), a Latvian immigrant. Polish mobsters are after Yuri, so he breaks his relationship with Sera in fear that the Poles may hurt her. Yuri is murdered (off-screen) shortly afterwards.
The self-loathing Charlie Kaufman is hired to write the screenplay for The Orchid Thief. Kaufman is going through depression and is not happy that his twin brother Donald has moved into his house and is mooching from him. Donald decides to become a screenwriter like Charlie and attends one of Robert McKee's famous seminars.
After winning a lifetime achievement award, esteemed screenwriter Steven Phillips (Brooks) has a rude awakening. Steven believes the award has no real meaning, but it does—it means his career is over. His studio has reneged on his contract and told him he's gone cold, saying he's "lost his edge." A junior exec (Mark Feuerstein) tells Steven his new script is dull and to be off the lot by 5 p.m.
Havoc is wrought on the inhabitants of a small New England town by a troubled film production. After the leading man's penchant for underage girls gets them banished from their New Hampshire location, the crew relocates to the small town of Waterford, Vermont, to finish shooting "The Old Mill".
In 1941, Barton Fink's first Broadway play, Bare Ruined Choirs, has achieved critical and popular success. His agent informs him that Capitol Pictures in Hollywood has offered him a thousand dollars per week to write film scripts. Barton hesitates, worried that moving to California would separate him from "the common man", his focus as a writer. He accepts the offer, however, and checks into the Hotel Earle, a large and unusually deserted building. His room is sparse and draped in subdued colors; its only decoration is a small painting of a woman on the beach, arm raised to block the sun.
Guido Anselmi (Marcello Mastroianni), a famous Italian film director, is suffering from "director's block". Stalled on his new science fiction film that includes veiled autobiographical references, he has lost interest amid artistic and marital difficulties. As Guido struggles half-heartedly to work on the film, a series of flashbacks and dreams delve into his memories and fantasies; they are frequently interwoven with reality.
Approaching the end of a drug rehabilitation program, Jerry Stahl (Stiller) quits his job at a fast food restaurant on an impulse when an attractive woman named Kitty (Bello) pulls up at the drive-through window. The two check into a motel, where Jerry tells her about his life in between bouts of sex. A series of flashbacks, intercut with their conversations, details his working life to this point.
American film producer Jeremy Prokosch (Jack Palance) hires respected Austrian director Fritz Lang (playing himself) to direct a film adaptation of Homer's Odyssey. Dissatisfied with Lang's treatment of the material as an art film, Prokosch hires Paul Javal (Michel Piccoli), a novelist and playwright, to rework the script. The conflict between artistic expression and commercial opportunity parallels Paul's sudden estrangement from his wife Camille Javal (Brigitte Bardot), who becomes aloof with Paul after he leaves her alone with Prokosch, a millionaire playboy.
In 1995 Hollywood, novice screenwriter Robert Sandrich has written an autobiographical script inspired by his lover's death by AIDS-related cerebral tuberculosis. It impresses both studio executive Jeffrey Tishop and his wife Elaine, but for commercial reasons Jeffrey is willing to greenlight the project only if Robert changes his protagonist from Maurice to Maggie and shifts the focus of his plot from gay to straight people. Robert initially refuses to compromise his principles, but when Jeffrey threatens to make the film without his participation, he decides to accept the $1 million paycheck he's been offered and make the requested edits.
Frère de Joseph L. Mankiewicz, le scénariste Herman J. Mankiewicz écrit le scénario du film Citizen Kane. Sa relation avec le réalisateur Orson Welles va alors être tumultueuse durant la production du film.
Felix Bonhoeffer, un scénariste, vit entre deux mondes : le monde réel et celui qu'il a développé dans son esprit au fil du temps. Il n'a pas conscience qu'il vit au bord d'une ligne depuis des années et qu'il est sur le point de la franchir. Il se trouve donc perplexe lorsque, engagé pour remanier l'histoire d'un meurtre situé dans un café désert, des personnages du film qu'il est en train d'écrire apparaissent dans la vie réelle et vice-versa. Et alors qu'il essaye tant bien que mal de vivre sereinement entre ces deux mondes, des références à des chansons et à des films de science fiction des années 1950 se mêlent soudain à son quotidien, sélectionnées de manière aléatoire par sa mémoire...
Dixon "Dix" Steele (Humphrey Bogart) is a down-on-his-luck Hollywood screenwriter who has not had a hit "since before the war." While driving to meet his agent, Mel Lippman (Art Smith), at a nightclub, Dix's explosive temper is revealed at a stoplight along the way in a confrontation with another motorist that almost becomes violent.