'12 Years A Slave' Writers Win 2014 USC Scripter Award: John Ridley, Solomon Northup

Christy Grosz is editor of AwardsLine.

ridley1Screenwriter John Ridley and the late Solomon Northup, author of 12 Years A Slave, won the 26th annual USC Libraries Scripter Award for best book-to-film adaptation. The winner was announced tonight at a black-tie gala, chaired USCScripterAward__140208174515again by Taylor Hackford and Helen Mirren and held at the Doheny Memorial Library on the USC campus. Ridley was moved to tears in discussing Northup and his memoir as he accepted the award. “There’s a very special relationship that forms between the writer and the originator,” said Ridley, who was joined by several of Northup’s descendants at the ceremony. Ridley praised the novelist and spoke about how adapting the book has been a new and different experience. “The clarity with which he wrote, the evocative language…” Ridley said. “Until I read Solomon’s memoir, I didn’t know what being a writer was about.”

The Scripter Award goes to both the screenwriters and the author of the material on which the script is based. It is solely given for adaptations, not for original screenplays. And while the Scripters don’t rival other awards-season events in size, they take place just before Oscar ballots go out, giving awards watchers fodder and providing headlines when a winner needs the attention the most. In fact, four out of the last five Scripter winners went on to win Best Adapted Screenplay Oscars — and all five won the WGA Award. (Ridley’s screenplay was not eligible for the WGA Award.) Previous winners include Argo (2013), The Descendants (2012), The Social Network (2011), Up In The Air (2010, and the only non-Oscar winner), and Slumdog Millionaire (2009).

Related: Producers Guild’s Stunner Of A Split Decision

During the ceremony, screenwriter Robert Towne, who wontowne1 an Oscar for penning 1974’s Chinatown, was honored with the group’s Literary Achievement Award. It was presented to him by his daughter, Chiara Towne, who also is a USC student. Robert Towne got a big laugh after telling a story about Columbia chief Harry Cohn listening for the sound of typewriters on the lot and running across two writers dozing in their office. One saved the day. “Just as Harry was about to fire him, he sat up and said, I’ve got it. I’ve solved the third act!” On advice he has received: “(They have) given me the advantage of their perspective and given it to me truthfully,” Towne said.

Related: OSCARS: ‘12 Years A Slave’ Editor Describes Filming The Lynching Of Solomon Northup

The 2014 finalists — culled from 86 eligible adaptations, up from last year’s tally of 82 — were a mix of real-life stories (a common theme with many of this awards season’s films), as well as novels. Among the true stories were 12 Years A Slave, author Solomon Northup, screenwriter John Ridley; Captain Phillips, based on the book A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs And Dangerous Days At Sea by Richard Phillips with Stephan Talty, screenwriter Billy Ray; and Philomena, based on Martin Sixsmith’s book The Lost Child Of Philomena Lee, screenwriters Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope. The two novels in the mix were The Spectacular Now, written by Tim Tharp and adapted for the screen by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber; and What Maisie Knew, from author Henry James and adapted by screenwriters Carroll Cartwright and Nancy Doyne.

The selection committee, co-chaired by screenwriter Naomi Foner and USC professor and WGA West VP Howard Rodman, includes critics, screenwriters, authors and producers including Leonard Maltin, Kenneth Turan, Callie Khouri, Steve Zaillian, Michael Chabon, Albert Berger, Gale Anne Hurd and Mike Medavoy. USC deans Elizabeth Daley of the School of Cinematic Arts, Madeline Puzo of the School of Dramatic Arts, and Catherine Quinlan of the USC Libraries also serve on the committee.

  1. Solomon Northup went through a hell none of us ever have to imagine. Then, somehow, he had the poise and perspective to record it, to make sure we’d all understand it as best we could. It took us a while, but I’m really happy he’s been honored for what he’s done, on and off the page.

  2. Way to go John. Thanks for being an inspiration and unqualified success in a tough field. Continued triumphs to you.

  3. “Until I read Solomon’s memoir, I didn’t know what being a writer was about.”
    I believe this statement. If that’s the quality of the acceptance speech he wrote, then he is clearly still at a loss to know “what being a writer was about.”
    Hollywood sustains such mediocrity; what ever happened to the likes of Joe Eszterhas? Even with his worst screen plays that guy understood “what being a writer was about.”

    1. I was unimpressed with the film. The ending was so hamfisted and mishandled by direction.
      I am probably the only living person on Earth who felt no emotion through out the entire three acts – with exception when Solomon’s old friend from the North arrives on the plantation to free him.
      Yes, I have a heart of stone.

  4. I love Hollywood. It’s a place where you can cast aside your fellow union members during a contentious strike so you can continue to make money. Sad.

  5. Moved to tears? Really? This douche has been a sellout for his whole career, from his backstabbing other artists, to scabbing his union, right down to his disdain for black people.

    Also, you fake liberals ass-kissers, Solomon Northrup DIDN’T WRITE THAT BOOK. A white man named David Wise did and used it for abolitionist propaganda. Gordon Parks and Avery Brooke made this film back in 1985 and no one cared because it wasn’t a prurient, violent, rape-fest where white people are split into evil slave owners and benevolent Brad Pitts.

    You all want to believe his story because it gets you out of your responsibility for all of your daily bigotry. Look behind the camera and you’ll see the real racism, a cinematic plantation where black men are used to get white men Oscars.

    Northtup was at least forced into slavery. Ridley and McQueen chose theirs.

    1. You are so full bullcrap Ghost.
      The book IS CLEARLY written by Solomon Northrup.
      So what that the film was made before? Haven’t you learned yet that films get remade and updated in Hollywood.
      Still, an overrated fare

  6. The John I know has integrity. The John I know can stand up for what he believes in regardless of the consequences. Those are values that can not be bought! Can you!

    1. Yes, I can! I walked a picket line with my fellow union members. No one worked. No one! John chose to leave his fellow union members behind and go Fi-Core, a cowardly, selfish move which made many of his fellow union members resent him for it. I took care of himself when others refused to. A man with integrity doesn’t do what he did. A man of integrity doesn’t do such things. That you are defending such actions says a lot about you.

  7. The Right Coast,
    I, too, wondered if Mr. Ridley would be eligible for any awards due to his back turning during the Writer’s Strike. Now we have the answer.
    Fi-Core and still receive awards from Unions? Odd.

    1. He was not eligible for a WGA award precisely because he’s fi-core. The Sceptor award is determined not by the WGA but by the USC’s screenwriting program.

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