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.