HAMMOND Goes Inside The WGA Awards

In accepting the Best Original Screenplay award for Inception at Saturday night’s Writers Guild Awards, winner Christopher Nolan addressed the elephant in the room by noting that not all the best screenplays were eligible for the prize. The Writers Guild, as they do every year, disqualified scripts not made under Guild agreements and this year that list included four screenplays that are nominated for Oscars including The King’s Speech, Toy Story 3, Another Year, and Winter’s Bone. Nolan noted that 9 years ago, even though he was a WGA member, he was told his script (later Oscar nominated) Memento would not be eligible for a WGA award. Nolan alluded to those “screenplays not considered but I am not going to name them for fear of boosting their chances at other shows”. He said that, hopefully, next year all scripts will be eligible “without qualification”.

I talked to WGA President John Wells at the pre-show reception about this thorny issue and he said that The Weinstein Company did in fact want to try and make King’s Speech eligible retroactively but that the producers of the film balked at the costs. (Wells’ recent film The Company Men was distributed by TWC.) He said the practice of disqualifying screenplays that don’t meet Guild production standards is one that comes up time and again at WGA Board meetings but the guild feels it’s a good way of convincing some productions to sign on to the Basic Agreement. I think they ought to reconsider and not penalize members by locking them out of the awards competition. [FYI, Nikki disagrees with me strenuously!]

Nolan’s Inception was kind of a surprise winner as it was considered to be locked in a tight race for the award with The Kids Are All Right and The Fighter. It clearly benefitted from the absence of The King’s Speech, the movie that has swept all the other major guild contests. This is now Nolan’s first major Guild win.

Aaron Sorkin’s  Adapted Screenplay win for The Social Network was no surprise and gave the Sony Pictures contingent present, including studio boss Amy Pascal, something to cheer about for a change after being on the losing end at other Guild shows the previous two weekends. Sorkin accepted by offering a shout-out to his director: “I wrote a good screenplay, but David Fincher made a great movie.” Short of a stunning upset, Sorkin is expected to sail to victory at the Oscars as well. But the fate of his film is another question in light of The King’s Speech surging momentum.

Another other movie award also went to a Sony product: Best Documentary screenplay was won by Sony Pictures Classics’  Inside Job with its writer/director Charles Ferguson saluting SPC by saying, “They gave me final cut and they really meant it. There were very few people who went uninsulted in this film.”

The show itself was a fast moving affair with highlights including presentation of the prestigious Laurel Award for Screen going to Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List) who also mentioned Fincher by noting he was having “fun” working with him on Sony’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Pascal presented him with the award (with help from a videotaped Steven Spielberg) to a standing ovation. Amy noted that Scott Rudin was to have joined her but he was recovering from a bout with pneumonia.

Another standing ovation went to Murphy Brown creator Diane English who won the Laurel Award for Television.  She ended her sharp remarks by targeting a network: “CBS, if Sarah Palin runs for President, I am begging you to bring my show back. Six episodes is all I need.”

Modern Family’s Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Eric Stonestreet hosted the West Coast show, exec produced by Spike Jones, Jr (again), while The Daily Show With Jon Stewart correspondent Kristen Schaal hosted back east. See the WGAE’s opening musical number here. The show got off to a rousing start with a specialty number entitled, “Write it Gay”. (One of their bits in which they called out various writers in the crowd for doing bad things ended with the line, “See you tomorrow Nikki Finke!”)

Modern technology found its way into the show, held at the Grand Ballroom of Hollywood’s Renaissance Hotel,with Paul Selvin Award winners Jez and John-Henry Butterworth accepting their special Fair Game honor via Skype and a winning writer in the Videogame category reading his prepared speech off his Blackberry. And for the first time the ceremony was streamed live online exclusively for WGA members who were given a special access code to watch at home.

TV award winners included Modern Family for Series and 30 Rock for Episodic, The Pacific for longform adaptation, and The Special Relationship for original. Mad Men picked up another two WGA honors with Best Episodic script for Erin Levy’s “The Chrysanthemum and the Sword” and again repeating as Best Series Drama (accepted by creator/exec producer Matt Weiner who said he was surprised). It beat out HBO’s  Boardwalk Empire which did manage to win the night’s first award for New Series and was accepted on behalf on the writing team by Margaret Nagle who noted all the show’s writers had been in the business collectively for 139 years and were proud to be a part of the Guild. Boardwalk Empire is on a roll lately, also winning awards at SAG, DGA, and the Golden Globes, making it a good Emmy bet in its first season.

  1. I already had a soft spot for Chris Nolan because even though I didn’t “love, love!” Inception I thought he should have been nominated for an Oscar for it. He totally got dissed. After reading his unselfish comments alluding to the movies that SHOULD have been nominated for WGA awards — and probably would have BEATEN his very own Inception had they been allowed entry– I can only conclude that Nolan is more than just one of the best helmers of our era, he’s also an uber mensch! Solid guy, it seems, and we never hear of him being a jerk on the set like Michael Bay even though he’s got exponentially more talent than Bay could ever dream of.

  2. I hope Inception does a clean sweep at the Academy Awards to make up for the injustice done to The Dark Knight two years ago. I heartily appreciate Chris Nolan’s work and think he is an amazingly talented film director.

  3. Gracious comments by Nolan, but the script was a true mess– an embarrassment to the Guild to list as a winner. Paddy Chayevsky is spinning in his grave.

  4. Bobby The Saint, I agree with most of your comment, but I absolutely love ,love ,love ” Inception” – definitely one of the year’s best films .

  5. Stop complaining. I love you, Nolan, but it’s quite clear. Guild Awards for Screenplays written by Guild Writers for films that were produced in accordance WGA basic agreement. Duh. I think the WGA is a train wreck of an organization but I completely respect their right to run their awards any way they see fit. It’s their award.

  6. The WGA awards are given to WGA members who made an outstanding film under the jurisdiction of the WGA.

    Saying non-WGA members or films made outside of the WGA jurisdiction should be nominated is simply asinine.

    1. Here, here!! A union’s awards show should be for union work. Why did SAG give a “best cast” award to an AFTRA show (never mind that the 2 unions should merge anyway)?

      Face it: all this awards crap only matters to the winners. And what matters is getting work and getting your quote.

  7. I’m so glad that christopher Nolan has gotten a major award from his peers. It is well deserved and I hope he finally wins an oscar for it, but my guess is that the kings speech will win best screenplay, just because the academy loves a sweep

  8. WGA is always complaining that their members aren’t sufficiently compensated and profiled. What better way than to stream the ceremony so everyone can get to know these talented and unheralded artisans. Get in front of the curve, not behind it…

  9. Asinine? Really? So I guess the DGA and PGA are asinine for nominating films regardless of whether they were in their jurisdiction? More
    small time head in the sand thinking from the WGA.

  10. Nolan’s a hack. There. I said it.

    Conan is a joke. There. I said it.

    J. Stewart is not funny. There. I said it.

    The Green Zone was unwatachable. There. An oldie. I said it.

    Zach Galistinkus. Mr. Average. There. I said it.

    Come on Lemmings. Let’s get back to the artists. The filmmakers. The stories that speak. No more crapola.


  11. An idiot needs no permission to speak his jaded mind. You are wrong on nearly every count (greenzone was bad, welcome back from stasis) esp about Nolan being a ‘hack’. A hack is a journeyman, indiscernible from their work picture to picture. I think of Ratner, Sommers, and Wiseman. These are servicable directors who are unremarkable in their work. Their vision and skill do not mark their pictures. Nolan is not like that. Be has a clear vision of his films and make them according to that inspiration. I know. I made a film with him. He is not a hack. He is pretty amazing in all his talents. We learn more by absorbing the truth than by pretending we are ether than it.

  12. I don’t agree. He is not a writer. He’s an FX guy and a good one. But awards for that are fine for Nolan. Not writing awards. Not directing awards. As Harvey said, the great one be one the fabric of cinema, great stories, simple stories well told. Nolan is not great. Yes, Ratner is a hack director. In reality he is not a director at all. He is a Producer. There are many Sheep today who are in the WGA and DGA that are really great Producers. They put the film together with personality or connections in the room. Think about it. The great directors and writers did just that. Paul Schrader, Peter Weir etc. Were not in front of their product. They handed it off and let the producers do their job. Today you have the McG’s, Ratners, the writers who are not real and they know who they are, Nolan, putting these films together. So I don’t agree with your follow up to the Nolan hack comment. Hack only sounds strong to you because Nolan does so much. But it is the so much that makes him a hack writer and director. He’s not good at either. Sorry.

  13. They should rename the award “Best WGA Eligible Original Screenplay.” That ought to sort out any confusion.

  14. “Nolan’s Inception was kind of a surprise winner as it was considered to be locked in a tight race for the award with The Kids Are All Right and The Fighter.”

    Um, what? The Fighter has never been a script contender. That’s laughable. I know a lot of WGA members and even they admit the script is the weakest part of The Fighter.

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