Friday, February 18, 2011

OSCARS: Best Original – Adapted Screenplay

Winner - Casablanca 1943
Best Adapted Screenplay
Filmmaking, at its very essence, is story telling. It utilizes visual technology to manufacture and create an engaging, entertaining, and fulfilling story. But before the tickets are sold, the ads are run, the cameras roll, or the actors are cast, there must be a script. You wouldn't hunt for treasure without a map, nor would you build a house without a blueprint, and that's just what the script is, a blueprint. It allows the filmmakers to envision how the film will look in the end. It is what brings everybody involved in the production together. The script is the most important thing in the process of filmmaking, for without the tangible translation and presentation of ideas there would be nothing to film.

Achievements in writing have been recognized and honored since the very first Academy Awards ceremony in 1928. At that time three awards were distributed: one for adaptation, one for original story, and one for titles. The award for title writing was retired after the first year. During the following two years a single award for "writing" was presented after which the award split, honoring Best Original Story, and Best Adaptation (or Screenplay). In 1940 the Best Original Screenplay category was created, making writing achievements eligible in three categories again. By 1957 the award for Best Original Story had been retired as well, in favor of the Best Original Screenplay category. From then on there have only been two categories for awarding achievements in writing: Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Nominee - Salvador 1986
Best Original Screenplay - 
Oliver Stone & Richard Boyle
An original screenplay is a work that is not based off of pre-existing, published material. That is to say it can include historical situations and figures, as long as the work is not based on an autobiography, or similar work. Since the material is 100% original it must incorporate all the elements of narrative composition. These include character development; physical description and personality traits, setting, plot, conflict, and a climax which resolves everything. The true mark of a great original screenplay is one that defies convention and avoids cliché, especially when it comes to the ending. The last thing an audience wants is to see the ending coming from the beginning. A big part in the undertaking of an original screenplay is inspiration. The aforementioned elements of writing require a sense of creativity with the end result being a work of art. Unless of course the author is just out to make a buck, in which case the work is probably not that original.

The best results from this classification come from established filmmakers, usually a writer/director combo. They know what they want and how to get it. Their inspiration derives from a greater ambition and understanding of presentation. Peter Jackson, James Cameron, Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee, John Landis, Oliver Stone, John Carpenter, Wes Anderson, Mel Brooks, Frank Darabont, and Christopher Nolan, just to name a few, all play an intrical role in the screenwriting process of the films, whether it is an adaptation or original idea. Even Alfred Hitchcock would direct his screenwriters on how to develop and shape the stories for his films. Many writers, such as William Peter Blatty, John Patrick Shanley, and David Koepp developed into directors over the course of their careers. It allows for a greater control over the project; regardless of success, it is their vision that endures. Of course the lone writer, the true wordsmith, is someone who can never be forsaken. It is their creative spirit that drives the industry, either through original content, or purchased assets and developments. Not every director is a writer; look at Clint Eastwood, or Steven Spielberg. They can tell a story, they can even write a little, but their strengths lie elsewhere, in other departments and fields, which creates the need for solo writers who do nothing better than understand the elements of narrative composition.

Winner - The Departed 2006
Best Adapted Screenplay - 
William Monahan
When it comes to adapted screenplays the writers thrive on ambition and a different kind of inspiration. They want to share a story that has inspired them rather than conjure something cheap and inadequate. The source material could be a book of fiction, or non-fiction, a short story, an article, a poem, a play, a song, even an earlier film, hence sequels. In that regard most of the work has already been done on the creative end. The characters, whether fictional or real, have been developed, the setting, plot, conflict, and climax have all been worked out and are in place. It is the screenwriter’s job to translate the text from prose into the correct format. In some cases they may have to add dialogue, create, combine, or delete characters to fit in the confines of a film. Another element that plays a substantial part in the success of an adapted screenplay is the relevance. Whether or not the subject matter is contemporary or dated and how well the writer manages to translate it for the filmmakers. The bottom line: there are almost always some liberties taken with adapted screenplays and with this category the best screenplay is not always the most accurate or faithful screenplay.

The harsh reality of screenwriting is that just like blueprints to a house, things can change within a blink of an eye. A screenwriter can sell their script to a studio, which may only want the premise; everything else will go through a series of rewrites. The characters, the dialogue, the setting, even the conflict and climax can all change from the time the pages come off the printer to when the frames pass through the projector. They may even make changes on set while filming. The dialogue that was painstakingly crafted may not work for the actors who have been hired to play the roles and it needs to be changed. The director may allow a lot of adlibbing on the set. A crucial location to the plot may be unavailable for filming, or manufacturing on the films budget and needs to be changed, causing a butterfly effect through the rest of the script. Even if everything on the page is filmed the story can still change in the editing process. Scenes, characters, subplots can all be cut out. The crime is when people win awards for work they did not do, or get ignored for work that they did do.  

This year's nominees for Best Original Screenplay: 
Another Year – Mike Leigh
The Fighter – Scott Silver (Screenplay), Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson (Story & Screenplay), Keith Dorrington (Story)
Inception – Christopher Nolan
The Kids Are All Right – Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg
The King’s Speech – David Seidler

This year's nominees for Best Adapted Screenplay: 
127 Hours – Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy
The Social Network – Aaron Sorkin
Toy Story 3 – Michael Arndt, John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, & Lee Unkrich
True Grit – Joel & Ethan Coen
Winter’s Bone – Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini

-          Red Balloon (1956). – Best Original Screenplay
-          Breaking Away (1979). – Best Original Screenplay

-          Annie Hall (1977) beating Star Wars (1977). There simply isn’t anything “original” about a whiney, neurotic, insecure, sex-starved Jewish guy, who thinks that anyone who doesn’t like him is an anti-semite (trust me, it’s because his “schtick” is annoying), pining for love in NYC. – Best Original Screenplay
-          Again, Salvador (1986) and Platoon (1986), but especially Salvador (1986) losing to Hannah and her Sisters (1986). Best Original Screenplay
-          Little Miss Sunshine (2006), which is a film with good actors performing flat roles in a poor plot whose climax is essentially ripped off from Napoleon Dynamite (2004). Not too original. Best Original Screenplay
-          Brook Busey (aka Diablo Cody) winning for Juno (2007) – a film with arguably the worst dialogue that sends all kinds of wrong messages to its target audience. To be fair, Ms. Cody did live down to expectations by penning Jennifer’s Body (2009).Best Original Screenplay
-          Overlooking Sean Penn’s magnificent job of adapting and editing Jon Krakauer’s novel for Into the Wild (2007), which is a far superior job than the Coen brothers duct tape approach to screenwriting as of late. Best Adapted Screenplay

Winner - Breaking Away 1979
Best Original Screenplay - Steve Tesich


  1. Hilarious and true low points! Excellent Woody synopsis! "ANNIE HALL" sucks!!! CUTTERS RULE!!! First time I saw "RED BALLOON" was in 1st grade at P.S. 46 in the Bronx. Saw it many other times in Congers Elementary and on HBO! Great movie!

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