WGA Script Awards Disconnect With Oscars

UPDATE: PETE HAMMOND RESPONDS — Some commenters to my post seem to believe it was written with an anti-WGA agenda on my part. I didn’t point out in the story – and perhaps I should have – that I am a longtime and proud WGA member and also represented the interests of writers, rather vehemently at times, as one of two TV Academy writing Governors for four years. I would hope my reporting on this particular story is not taken as any personal position on my part against the Writers Guild as some commenters seem to think. I do however find it sad that some of the best screenplays, year in and year out, are ruled ineligible by the WGA. Awards should honor the absolute best, not an incomplete list, but that’s the Guild’s prerogative to protect their interests as a union and their right to conduct the contest the way they see fit. 

Realistically, however, the media are going to view the WGA awards — just as with SAG, DGA, PGA, and even the Oscars — as being a significant part of the season because, it is peer group voting. That’s a fact, no matter which scripts turn out to be eligible or not.

PREVIOUS 8:30 AM: Here they go again. Every year the disconnect between the Writers Guild of America and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences seem to grow wider in the movie script categories. This year looks no different. Looking at the official list of entries for WGA Original and Adapted Screenplay awards omits some major Oscar contenders due to strict guild rules that insist the films be made under WGA jurisdiction and be formally submitted.

Under these guidelines, the membership of WGA will be able to vote for Furry Vengeance or Grown Ups for Best Original Screenplay but not The King’s Speech, Blue Valentine, Mike Leigh’s Another Year, Biutiful, Made In Dagenham and many other high profile Oscar hopefuls.

In the Best Adapted Screenplay category, WGA’ers can cast their ballot for The Crazies, Prince Of Persia: The Sands of Time, and the Miley Cyrus weepie The Last Song. But not Winter’s Bone, Toy Story 3, The Way Back, The Ghost Writer, and How To Train Your Dragon among others.

Of course many top Oscar contenders are also WGA eligible including The Social Network, The Kids Are All Right, Inception, Black Swan, The Town, 127 Hours, True Grit and The Fighter. But the likelihood, just as it has been in recent years, is that a high number of WGA finalists will differ from the Academy’s which has much less restrictive rules concerning eligibility for scripts.

This year the WGA has listed 43 original screenplays and 33 adaptations in play for their awards. Members are not allowed to deviate from the list of eligible entries provided.  Voting closes Monday and nominees will be announced January 4th. The ceremony will take place February 5th. Television nominees, always far less controversial and inclusive, were previously announced.

As this question regarding screenplay eligibility has come up year after year, WGA officials have never wavered. They repeatedly defend their practice when it comes to awards eligibility by generally taking the position that their awards are for WGA members, at least those who play by the rules. Neither the Screen Actors Guild, or the Producers Guild Of America, or the Directors Guild Of America, put such strict union considerations in their contests. (For instance, though they’re still called the SAG Awards, the upcoming 17th Annual Screen Actors Guild show on January 30th could just as easily be called the AFTRA Awards in terms of television. That’s because, as Nellie Andreeva wrote this week, an increasing number of categories, especially among comedy series, are dominated by AFTRA shows. On December 16th when the SAG Awards nominations were announced, AFTRA even put out a congratulatory note listing all nominees from AFTRA shows.) Still, many of the writers affected are WGA members including King’s Speech writer David Seidler who is a past WGA winner. Last year, 10-year WGA member Nick Hornby’s An Education was bounced because of an additional technicality that said he also had to be a member of his local WGA Britain. He wasn’t. He got “An Education” of his own, at least when it comes to being nominated for Writers Guild awards.

Last year only 4 out of 10 WGA nominees repeated at the Oscars including eventual Original Screenplay winner The Hurt Locker and Adaptation winner Precious. Such eventual Oscar nominees as Up, Inglourious Basterds, An Education, and District 9 were ineligible at WGA. In 2008, Milk was the only Original Screenplay nominee the two orgs had in common, likely due to the tough WGA restrictions. It won both, however.

Among  those hit hardest by the WGA rules this year is The Weinstein Company, which had King’s Speech, Blue Valentine and Nowhere Boy, all nixed for competition. Only TWC’s Sundance pickup The Company Men original screenplay was deemed eligible — and it would have been a major embarrassment if it didn’t qualify as it was penned by WGA President John Wells. Last year, another trio of Weinstein films were not allowed  including Inglourious Basterds, A Single Man, and The Road. A person close to the process tells me that TWC is aware these movies don’t qualify under WGA rules but argues that “many smaller films like them that have to fight to be made” simply can’t afford otherwise, and that it would cost in the hundreds of thousands — at least — to make them eligible retroactively. This Weinstein source said that, fortunately for the company, “the Academy is the great equalizer” and they expect to have better luck there. At least two other people I spoke with  that are connected to films that are eligible did not  shed any tears over the WGA reject list. Apparently the less, the merrier.

  1. Addendum:

    Those extra “hundreds of thousands” the TWC is complaining about? What would that money be for?

    P & W and Healthcare for the writers they have– as yet– neglected to give those benefits to in the first place.

    Sorry if I sound like a Union Apologist, but I bet Mr. Hammond– in the period of unrest in HIS profession– enjoys the healthcare and benefits his new gig hopefully comes with.

  2. You do realize the WGA is a private organization right? God forbid they actually have rules as to what qualifies for their private awards… I saw some shit on youtube that was pretty funny. Guess it’s not fair the WGA didn’t offer to make that guy eligible either. Come to think of it, didn’t see SAG or AFTRA offering up youtube videos for eligibility either.

    Lines and rules exist for a reason. The Weinsteins and anyone else not following the rules knows going in that they’re choosing not to be eligible. End of story.

    Yeah, maybe it sucks for indies that it would cost more money to abide by union rules. But that’s the price of membership. If you choose not to be a member, you can’t complain when that organization refuses to acknowledge you.

    I mean, that would be like a Chrysler employee bitching because he or she wasn’t eligible to win Ford’s employee of the year award. I mean, it’s just an award to honor excellence among auto workers, right? Who says the granting entity has to give it to one of their own members?

    1. Hey ‘Seriously’ – we wouldn’t care if the WGA said RIGHT ON EVERY PR RELEASE (and UP FRONT in the beginning of the release) AND at their awards ceremony:

      “These awards are for the best writing done by Writers Guild of America union members this year.”

      Don’t you ever say “this represents the best work being done in our profession….” It doesn’t.

      It’s the best work being done by one group.

    2. Yes, you can choose to make it so that your group is comprised only of talent-sapped hacks with health insurance, while better work is done in indies and on the internet. I mean, I know you were trying to be a prick to indies when you compared them to youtube videos but yes, there is better content on the internet then what is written by the average WGA member. And then you can exclude that superior work from your awards.

      You just risk your group becoming completely irrelevant in the process.

  3. It isn’t really the WGA’s fault that Toy Story 3 and How To Train Your Dragon aren’t eligible, it is the animation studios that refuse writers WGA agreements so they don’t have to pay them hefty residuals when the movies make a gazillion dollars.

  4. Doesn’t it make sense for the WGA awards to honor movies written under WGA guidelines? Why does everything have to be about the Oscars? An award show that has its own set of policies for eligibility and its own biases and politics. An award show that this very blog is dedicated to mocking and picking apart every year as the show airs.

  5. Independent of the WGA being exceptionally flawed…FUCK the weinsteins.

    You work for them once, dont get paid and threatened to have you career (or more) taken away from you, and never again…except for 53 people who are the combination of (mostly) unique and talented voices who hate authority more than they love money. So fuck you Harvey and Bob…you love nothing more than money and winning, not the art, not the craft, not people, not family. And that’s what you will die with: a lot of money you’ve won, or stole or sold out a shit load of real things that could have nurtured your forever wounded souls…or, equally likely, you’ll be in prison.

    Shame on you both for the atrocities of your lives.

    1. I second your condemnation of the Weinsteins. They’re the lowest of the low, and the quickest way for your average filmmaker to seriously damage and possibly destroy his/her career is to get into business with them. For every King’s Speech garnishing Oscar attention, there are dozens of Shanghai’s who will never see the light of day.

    2. I think the Weinsteins are the greatest guys in the world. And I’m not just saying this so they will take a meeting with me, or produce my movie, or invite me to the Hamptons. But if they wanted to any of that it would be great. Jut like them. They are great. Am I repeating myself? Wow. Just thinking about how great they are gets me all flustered.

    3. Worked for the Weinstein’s on two films, 10 years apart. On the second film, they wanted to know why I couldn’t do it for the same price I did the first film for…ten years earlier. They made a ton of money on both films, I lost money on the first and broke even on the second. I passed on their next offer.

    1. Playing by the rules evidently got shit-for-movies made AND nominated this past year. I don’t care about the Oscars but WGA have some self respect arleady!

  6. Look, we can argue about the relative worth of various films and screenplays till we’re blue in the face, but we all know the truth is, none of the industry film awards have anything to do with quality, and everything to do with money, politics, contractual obligations, and self-promotion.

    As such, the WGA awards are right in line with every other award presented.

    To be clear, the WGA awards are not, and have never been, awards for “best writing,” whatever that may be; they’re awards for the “best writing” that’s been created by writers working under the terms of the Guild’s Minimum Basic Agreement contract with signatory production companies. These are awards presented by the Guild to members of the Guild (or affiliated international guilds) who’ve worked on projects covered by contractual terms negotiated by the Guild. As such, they’re not intended to recognize absolute excellence, only relative excellence. It isn’t the Guild’s fault that various writers and/or production companies choose to create films with scripts that aren’t covered by the Guild’s contract. This award is purely a membership-based award, and really only has relevance within the Guild itself, and to Guild members, but over the years, studios have used the Guild’s award as a way to promote a screenplay as a candidate for the more commercially-relevant Academy Award.

    None of these things mean anything except access to money.

    1. I disagree with your statement that “it isn’t the Guilds fault.” Working rules allow non-sigs to purchase union members spec scripts which is often how these loopholes happen. The WGA has been slow and ineffective in bringing indies into the fold and they should change the rule so that any member in good standing is eligible regardless of the the signatory status of the production.

  7. Another non-story used to fill space here. As referenced above, the WGA awards are for Guild members and their signatory partners. To fault them for not including everybody is lame. It’s not the “Best Screenplay of the Year” award – it’s the WGA awards. And who wants to be “connected” to the Oscar’s anyway? Like that’s a mark of quality?

    1. Ditto on the Oscars being a mark of quality.

      All awards selected and presented of a small cabal of industry insiders FOR MORE MONEY ONLY is just masturbation, plain and simple. I think that’s why Tarrantino and his so-called authority buckers aren’t members of the DGA and the WGA, and they don’t need to be, as they have sweetheart deals that trump whatever an artists’ union can hope to provide in protection.

      The tragedy is that people THINK any of these awards means “quality”… which is completely subjective, and typically just a matter of keeping score and following the momentum of the moment.

  8. Is it possible you are as stupid as the column suggests? How dare the WGA have a contest honoring the best screenplay written by a member of the WGA. The audacity, the horror… Don’t they know that their only function is to act a minor league warm-up for the Oscars?

    Why can’t they march in lockstep with the DGA, dammit. How can I take a swipe at their union president? If this had happened it would have embarrassing, but it didn’t so… ah, um. It’s news and means something cause I typed it, so there. And let’s not get a quote from Wells, let’s just insinuate that he’s somehow slimy or evading his own union.

    Anti-union, anti-writer bullshit.

    Tough union regulations? The WGA low-budget agreement isn’t tough. It’s honorable. If your movie actually makes the producers rich, there’s some retroactive payments. If not, not.

    “The Academy is the great equalizer?” After the millions TWC spends to influence their tiny aged membership? Quoting bullshit doesn’t make it true.

    Make an effort, be a journalist. Flat-out the worst researched, least accurate, most slanted, ill-informed piece of shit I have read on Deadline yet.

    1. well said.

      pretty sad that this article was even written. I realize everyone is out of town for the most part and there’s not much news to report, but it’s no excuse for this drivel.

  9. There’s a way to write an article about the WGA script awards and the omissions of several Oscar candidates. It could actually be a very interesting and intelligent piece about the trend of production companies moving away from WGA productions (or something like that) or how expensive it is for smaller budget productions to sign up with the WGA.

    But this isn’t it. This is just anti-WGA propaganda.

  10. How ironic that a website that came to prominence supporting writers during the strike now takes this ill-reasoned swipe at the WGA. Shame on you, Pete Hammond, for selling out writers to some execs promising you a scoop.

  11. Maybe there’s a disconnect in terms of nominees but the WGA Awards have been pretty much on point in terms of who actually wins the Oscar. The last five, the only one they missed was Precious (they picked Up in the Air).

    And I have to agree with the comment above, “The Academy is the great equalizer” comment is laughable. In the end, these are awards for art and entertainment. I have a hard time getting bent out of shape about rules when the entire venture is kind of silly. (Although it makes for a lot of ad sales so I get why you have to report on it.)

    1. Re: Update

      When it comes to “…awards should honor the absolute best”, I think the previous commenters already touched on this – this is a group rewarding their own. There are countless other award shows out there that can give an award to the best of the best; no reason a group like the WGA can’t reward the best of their group.
      As for the part about the media, the WGA should change their rules because “the media” can’t report on their awards correctly?

      But, mainly, I think the issue is that this should have been presented as an op-ed piece and not reporting on a real issue. I know the line between op-ed and news is being erased, especially on blogs, but this seemed especially bad since it was something that, as you wrote, happens EVERY year and the main driving force behind the article is your own personal feelings.

  12. The Screen Actors Guild should take a page out of the WGA’s book and limit their awards to SAG signatory productions.

  13. The Oscars over the years have shown that sometimes it is not the quality of who is nominated, but who has the best campaign. When they stop with the silly campaigning for the Oscars, then maybe they can be the true honor they are supposed to be. But until then, Oscars are frequently given to who kisses the most ass.

  14. Per your lazy, unimpressive update:

    More bullshit. The screenplays aren’t ruled ineligible — ooh let’s keep the good ones out — they are ineligible. By their very nature of not being guild work. From the get-go. You don’t want to hire a guild writer, you don’t want to pay pension, health and welfare — or even guild minimums — you’re not going to get honored at that guild. Come on now.

    The WGA should honor the best? Really? They honor their own. Their rules, their awards, their honors. Should? Jeez, spend 2 minutes in a shrink’s office and take that word out of your vocabulary. It’s not your friend. I promise you.

    Realistically — the media does a shitty job reporting the season and is steered by publicists and easy gimmes. If it’s handed to you, you report it. That’s not journalism.

    Bottom line, you have yet to rectify your shoddy reporting — why don’t the Weinsteins operate under the WGA contract? Why is it worth buying expensive ads and throwing screenings but not making contributions to the health plan of the writer who got you there? How did John Wells of all people find himself in that bind? How accurately or inaccurately have the WGA awards predicted the Oscar across the last 25 years?

    A ridiculous argument, shouted louder — or updated — doesn’t become any less ridiculous. Do some work. Then get back to us.

  15. Funny how all the bitching and whining are probably coming from WGA members who, frankly, aren’t very talented./employed so they hide behind The Union for some kind of “career protection”. If you’re an often brilliant writer like a Sorkin, a Tarantino, a Nick Hornby or a smart up and coming talent like a Neil Blomkamp (co writer on “District 9″ as well as director), you don’t need a f*cking useless, out of date, out of touch hack group like the WGA. Pixar consistently has some of the FINEST screenplays to come out of the studios, year after year but they’re not allowed to take part in your little pity party and some WGA hack who “wrote” (I use that as a VERY loose term) “Furry Vengence” and sh*t like “Prince of Jersey -er Persia” can. TALENT rises to the top, not self serving “union rules”. NO ONE pays attention to the WGA awards. People DO pay attention to the Oscars. End of Story you whining HACKS!!

    1. “Voice of Reason” my ass.

      It’s the WGA awards and it honors WGA work. What’s so hard to understand about that? You claim the guild is such a unneeded joke but then you’re pissed that they don’t include all scripts for consideration of *their* award. Who cares? If they’re so useless why would you even give a thought to who is eligible?

      The majority of writers in hollywood actually like being in the guild and getting the health benefits it’s fought for. It’s their profession, their union, their awards. Doesn’t matter what someone like you thinks on an issue that clearly has nothing to do with you. End of story.

  16. All awards are promotional tools to raise awareness, generate buzz, boost the profile of an industry, get people engaged. If quality sneaks into the equation somewhere that’s a bonus, but let’s not imagine there’s anything scientific going on here.

  17. Whew. I don’t think Pete Hammond (as his rebuttal comments suggest) is taking an anti-WGA stance. He is simply pointing out that, in terms of their lack of eligibility for the WGA Award, writers whose films are made by non-signatory companies are’punished’ by the decision of the production company over which the writer has no control or say. I agree with the poster who suggests that perhaps the WGA could take a stronger stance on behalf of their members in good standing by making it more difficult for skin-flint producers to get away with their penny-ante ways, and force productions to become signatories when employing members.I don’t know if that’s possible, of course, or even practical, but it is galling that multi-millionaire producers like the Weinsteins or the insanely profitable animation studios don’t see fit to make their films under the terms of the mba. As I said, I don’t know if stricter enforcement is possible, and probably the writers would be the ones to suffer if the bar was set higher with the money-men(and women), who knows..My point is simply that Hammond is not bashing the Guild, but simply stating a fact– the ineligible writer is the one who loses out in this set of circumstances.

    1. @Duh: Duh..As I said in my earlier post, it is not within the writer’s control as to whether the production entity that produces a film based on the writer’s script is a signatory to the mba. They are not deliberately “banging out sps for non-guild productions”.If an offer is made to option/purchase a script, are you suggesting the writer tell his/her agent not to sell it unless the company is a signatory? Seems pretty naive, putting the writer in an untenable position.

      1. But DGA people can’t work on non-signatory films, can they? Why do WGA writers get a pass?

  18. Speaking of WGA Awards, I haven’t received that many screeners this year for WGA consideration.
    These are the ones I received:
    Inception
    The Kids Are All Right
    The Town
    True Grit
    The Fighter
    Please Give
    Get Low
    I Love You, Philip Morris
    Did anyone else get anything more?

    1. That’s what I got as well. You can see the others for free at certain theaters by flashing your WGA card.

  19. I’m a WGA member and I’ve always thought these restrictions just make the WGA Awards less relevant than they should be. Every year people look at the nominees and go something like , “Why isn’t Memento nominated?! Are they crazy?!” and then remember, oh right, the WGA ignores any work not written by a guild member or not produced by a company that’s a guild signatory. I thought “Inglourious Basterds” was the best original screenplay last year, but the guild wouldn’t let me vote for it. If I wanted to vote for Best Original Screenplay I had to pick something I didn’t think was the Best Original Screenplay. They should probably include the restrictions in the title of the awards – “And the Best Original Screenplay Written by a Guild Member for a Guild Sanctioned Production is –“

  20. “I would hope my reporting on this particular story is not taken as any personal position on my part against the Writers Guild as some commenters seem to think.”

    How could we take it any other way?

    It’s an extremely biased story, slanted to obscenely rich producers (TWC) who don’t pay P/W or Health benefits for working writers that they hire non-union, and then complain about the injustice of not being recognized by that same Union come awards time.

    please…

    Shame on them. Shame on YOU.

    Many many writers have struck and suffered for these things that you seem to think should be ignored just because… well, why? You need to write a story?

    There are many many writing awards for non-Uniuon WGA writers… I have been nominated for several of them… Oscars, Spirit Awards, BAFTAS, Globes, Critics Awards (how many of THOSE are there??), etc… They all have “Best Writing” Categories. And “Toy Story 3″ and “King’s Speech” will have plenty of attention.

    Let us honor the writers who worked under guild MBA in peace.

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