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Scripter Preview


by Sasha Stone and Ryan Adams

The USC Scripter will be held tomorrow night. You can watch the Scripter on the live feed.  

It’s rare that I come across writing that turns my head, especially in the Oscar race because the screenplay is inextricably tied to the Best Picture contender. When we envision the screenplay we envision the movie. We don’t look at them as separate works.  And generally speaking what wins Best Picture also wins Screenplay.   The Scripter has a hit and miss record with Oscar.  Lately, the WGA has been more reliable in terms of predicting how the screenplay award goes but the Scripter is an interesting award in and of itself.  One of our goals as Oscar watchers should really be to learn to appreciate the awards as separate and not ONLY in terms of how they relate to the Oscars.  After all, fucking your way to the middle isn’t always the best course of action, as the preacher said.

When the awards season began and the critics were praising Tony Kushner’s moving, complex Lincoln, a script that took six years to write from one of the most famous books ever about a president, I mostly forgot it was awards season and that buzz can determine how things rise and how things fall. It seemed for a time that Lincoln would be a no-brainer for the Scripter, which honors both the original work and the adaptation.   Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book trounces all of the competition for source material with the possible exception of Life of Pi.  Now that Argo has captured the buzz, one has to wonder whether Chris Terrio will win the Scripter and the WGA and the Oscar.  It is probably between Lincoln and Argo but I think the Scripter judges will pick Lincoln.

Usually screenplays these days function well and do what movies do in 2012:  three-act structure with just the right amount of pathos and humor, setup, conflict, climax, resolution. Cigarette?  But great writing pops up now and again in the Oscar race.  I remember William Monahan’s script for The Departed, the Coens’ for No Country for Old Men, Larry McMurtry’s for Brokeback Mountain, Aaron Sorkin’s for the Social Network and now, Tony Kushner’s for Lincoln.  It is one of those screenplays that work as standalone prose, both a reminder of who we are and a mirrored reflection of who are still in danger of becoming again.  A divided country, a society that resists change — hell, the other day the Boy Scouts of America decided not to officially accept gay members.  Whenever I get tired of championing black writers, actors and stories, or films about and by women I remember how far we have to go with equality.  This resonates beautifully throughout Lincoln, in addition to the subtle ways Kushner reveals the president.  One of the things I love most from the writing, besides the stories Lincoln tells, the clever exchanges between the characters and even the powerful, non-melodramatic monologues, is panorama of tiny details, things you might not know if you hadn’t read of Team of Rivals.  The script works if you haven’t read the book but if you have, it opens a door that reveals new dimensions.  It really is a master work that helped create the masterpiece that is Lincoln.

But you can’t sit around with your buddies at the bar and pat each other’s back and quote Lincoln. It’s not that kind of movie. It’s the kid-who-sits-in-front-of-the-class kind of movie.  But Argo is the kind of screenplay that appeals to almost everyone.  It’s one of the first things you notice about it is how funny it is.  The only catch with Argo is that it’s a lot better when it’s on the Hollywood stuff. Once you get to the hostages and Iran it’s kind of a buy-the-numbers escape thriller.  Argo is really about the wonder of the movies — the message being, Iran might hate us but they sure as hell don’t hate our movies. It’s also about the 1970s, what life was like back then — the influence of Star Wars and the hostages and Jimmy Carter all at once.  But it is also a movie that pokes fun at Hollywood while also celebrating Hollywood.   That seems to be part of the reason, so they say, as to why it is unstoppable. Argo is Lincoln’s chief competition here, I would think.  But the sketchy part of it is the source material. Argo really is an original screenplay based loosely on what really happened back then. But for their source material they’re using Tony Mendez’ book.

The less traditional but no less wondrous script for Beasts of the Southern Wild is near poetry.  Lucy Alibar’s original play that led to her collaboration with Benh Zeitlin takes you into the mind of little Hushpuppy, who is a symbolic representation of new growth sprouting in an abandoned field. A strong weed beautiful to the right eyes that’s hard to pull up. It thrives because nothing else can grow there.   What I love most about the Alibar/Zeitlin collaboration here is that it’s free writing, constrained by nothing except what it sounds like. It reminds me of the movies and scripts from the late 1960s and early 1970s where the way the words sounded coming out mattered. Actually, this is true of all of the scripts in the race and of those that aren’t in the race and should be.  But it is especially so with Beasts of the Southern. Rich and satisfying to weary ears it is.  I think it could upset both of the frontrunners in this category. It would be my no guts, no glory.

Life of Pi‘s adaptation is another great one. It took Ang Lee’s first foray into 3-D to bring Pi to full spectral life.  It somehow manages to capture the whole point of the book while also bringing life to the film on its own.  Pi is all symbolism and metaphor, like Beasts of the Southern Wild, but it has a specific journey in mind for you, the viewer. It takes you through suffering, sorrow, meditation, and leads you right to the place you need to be: contemplating the meaning of it all. It takes a good writer like David Magee to bring Yan Martel’s own contemplations to life. The beauty here is that they don’t hide from the brutality. If they did that they would avoid the truth.  Maybe truth is up for interpretation but the truth of brutality in our world is unavoidable.  Life of Pi is a film I will return to again and again when I feel futility strangling me.  Somehow I find I do this with many of Ang Lee’s films, which is why they have such a profound effect on me — Sense and Sensibility, Brokeback Mountain, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon — they always take me somewhere meaningful and by the end, I feel transformed.  He and Magee made a movie out of something no one thought possible.  That adaptation itself could prove awards worthy.

David O. Russell’s adaptation of Silver Linings Playbook is a lively redux of what was a much more serious novel.  Russell added many things that were not in the book and has made it his own. Like Argo, what drives Silver Linings is the snappy dialogue throughout. No one really does this kind of thing better than David O. Russell, whose Flirting with Disaster is one of the best scripts ever.  Silver Linings is more conventional than Flirting with Disaster but it is a vibrant and lively in its zingers.  Paired with Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper it works especially well.  Silver Linings isn’t about mental illness or mood disorders or whatever the publicity team is trying to sell it as – it is a romantic comedy at its heart, a love story between two unlikely people.  And for that, many people really love it and can identify strongly with the characters. It has as good a chance as Argo, I think, to upset Lincoln.

Finally, out of Oscar competition but no less worthy is Perks of Being a Wallflower. [Ryan says]: It’s the other movie this year involving a family in distress dealing with an emotionally troubled son suffering from damaged social skills who finds his way back into the fold with the help of misfit friends and the sensitive embrace of the hottest girl in town. The key difference between Perks and Playbook might be found right there in their titles. One involves a delusional playbook of schemes, tricks and faulty rationales to help level out life’s emotional ups and downs. The other shows us those same emotional peaks and valleys are what life is all about and discovers the hidden perks and dividends of not fitting in. Another significant difference: Stephen Chbosky tells a story we’ve all experienced first-hand as teens on the cusp of adulthood figuring out how to grow up. That’s a little easier for me to appreciate than the supposedly grownup movie that had us watching grownups of all ages struggling in vain to act like adults. But I’m afraid the same thing that makes The Perks of Being a Wallflower feel so real, so natural and vibrant with youthful grace is the same thing that probably caused it to miss out on an Oscar nomination. The AMPAS voters may have thought a movie about teenagers would have nothing to teach them about life and therefore fled to the more foul-mouthed film with nary a kid in sight.  (Interesting, isn’t it, that the R-rated movie for grownups is so sterile and sexless while the movie made for kids is spiked with sensuality and erotic delight.)  The Academy got it wrong by neglecting Perks and it was one of the most gratifying surprises of this year’s awards cycle when the selection committee at the University of Southern California saw fit to set things right.  One last thing. USC began handing out the Scripter Award in 1988. Four years after the Scripter’s inception in 1992, writer-director Stephen Chbosky graduated at the age of 22 from a distinguished screenwriting program — at USC.


(Sasha Stone, Ryan Adams):

Doris Kearns Goodwin, author
Tony Kushner, screenwriter

won WGA | won Oscar


WGA Scripter Oscar
Argo Argo Argo
Life of Pi Life of Pi Life of Pi
Lincoln Lincoln Lincoln
Silver Linings Silver Linings Silver Linings
Beasts of the Southern Wild Beasts of the Southern Wild
Perks of Being a Wallflower Perks of Being a Wallflower
Adapted Scripter
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Jane Eyre The Ides of March
Moneyball Moneyball* Moneyball*
The Help* Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
The Descendants The Descendants* The Descendants*
Hugo A Dangerous Method Hugo*
2010 2010
Adapted WGA Scripter
The Social Network The Social Network* The Social Network*
127 Hours 127 Hours* 127 Hours*
True Grit True Grit* True Grit*
I Love You Philip Morris Winter’s Bone* Winter’s Bone*
The Town The Ghost Writer Toy Story 3*
2009 2009
Adapted WGA Scripter
Up in the Air Up in the Air* Up in the Air*
Crazy Heart Crazy Heart In the Loop
Star Trek District 9* District 9*
Precious Precious* Precious*
Julie & Julia An Education* An Education*
Adapted WGA Scripter Oscars
Slumdog Millionaire Slumdog Millionaire+ Slumdog Millionaire+
Doubt Revolutionary Road Doubt
Frost/Nixon Iron Man Frost/Nixon*
Benjamin Button Benjamin Button* Benjamin Button*
The Dark Knight The Reader* The Reader*
Adapted WGA Scripter
Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood* Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood*
Joel, Ethan Coen, No Country for Old Men Joel, Ethan Coen, No Country for Old Men+ Joel, Ethan Coen, No Country for Old Men+
Ronald Harwood, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly Ronald Harwood, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Sean Penn, Into the Wild Sean Penn, Into the Wild Sarah Polley, Away from Her
Christopher Hampton Atonement* Christopher Hampton Atonement*
James Vanderbilt, Zodiac James Vanderbilt, Zodiac
Adapted WGA Scripter
The Departed The Illusionist The Departed+
Thank You for Smoking Notes on a Scandal Notes on a Scandal
Little Children Devil Wears Prada Little Children
Borat Last King of Scotland Borat
Devil Wears Prada Children of Men Children of Men


Adapted WGA Scripter Oscars
Brokeback Mountain Brokeback Mountain Brokeback Mountain*
Capote Capote Capote*
Constant Gardener Constant Gardener Constant Gardener
History of Violence History of Violence History of Violence
Syriana Syriana Munich*
Adapted WGA Scripter Oscars
Before Sunset Bourne Supremecy Before Sunset
Mean Girls Friday Night Lights Finding Neverland*
Million Dollar Baby Million Dollar Baby Million Dollar Baby+
Sideways Sideways Sideways*
Motorcycle Diaries Door in the Floor Motorcycle Diaries
Adapted WGA Scripter Oscars
American Splendor Master and Commander American Splendor
Cold Mountain Cold Mountain City of God
Mystic River Mystic River Mystic River *
Seabiscuit Seabiscuit Seabiscuit*
Chicago About Schmidt Chicago+
The Hours The Hours The Hours*
About Schmidt The Pianist The Pianist*
Adaptation Adaptation Adaptation
About a Boy Two Towers About a Boy
Adapted WGA Scripter Oscars
A Beautiful Mind A Beautiful Mind A Beautiful Mind+
Black Hawk Down Shipping News Shrek
In the Bedroom In the Bedroom*
Ghost World Ghost World
Bridget Jones’s Diary Bridget Jones’s Diary
The Fellowship of the Ring Fellowship of the Ring* Fellowship of the Ring*
Adapted WGA Scripter Oscar
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon High Fiedlity Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon*
Chocolat Chocolat Chocolat*
High Fidelity All the Pretty Horses O Brother Where Art Thou?
Traffic House of Mirth Traffic*
Wonder Boys Wonder Boys Wonder Boys
Adapted WGA Scripter Oscars
The Cider House Rules The Cider House Rules The Cider House Rules*
Election The Hurricane Election
The Insider The End of the Affair The Insider*
October Sky The Green Mile The Green Mile*
The Talented Mr. Ripley The Talented Mr. Ripley The Talented Mr. Ripley
Adapted WGA Scripter Oscar
Gods and Monsters Gods and Monsters Gods and Monsters
The Thin Red Line The Thin Red Line
A Civil Action A Civil Action
Primary Colors Primary Colors Primary Colors
A Simple Plan A Simple Plan A Simple Plan
Out Of Sight* Out of Sight

Naomi Foner, Co-Chair
Howard Rodman, Co-Chair

Albert Berger
Robert Bloomingdale
Leo Braudy
Ted Braun
Michael Chabon
Dean Elizabeth Daley
Jack Epps, Jr.
Mark Fergus
Geoffrey Fletcher
Daryle Ann Giardino
Kaui Hart Hemmings
Nick Hornby
Gale Anne Hurd
Lawrence Kasdan
Nicholas Kazan
Chris Keyser
Jonathan Lethem
Claudia Lewis
Leonard Maltin
Mike Medavoy
Gail Mutrux
Michael Ondaatje
Hawk Ostby
Dean Madeline Puzo
Dean Catherine Quinlan
Eric Roth
Michelle Satter
Tom Schulman
Brad Simpson
Mona Simpson
Glenn Sonnenberg
Wesley Strick
Robin Swicord
Anne Thompson
Jennifer Todd
Suzanne Todd
Kenneth Turan
Josh Welsh
Erin Cressida Wilson