It was certainly telegraphed that there would be a comedic mash-up of politics and performance at the 2017 Writers Guild Awards when the West Coast ceremonies kicked off with a brief video that focused on the ethnicities of Guild members and ended with a hammer and sickle woven into the WGA logo.
Host Patton Oswalt, in his second year running as emcee of the ceremonies, then brought out the “trophy girls,” two Russian Army soldiers.
“Each award will come with nine shotgun shells, and we will also say goodbye to the apostrophe in the word you’re,” he promised, before telling the assembled crowd, “You are all haters and losers. I feel bad for Trump, the poor guy. He’s sitting there going, ‘This job sucks! My life before this was amazing! It was golf and hookers and jets!’”
Oswalt then turned his attention to actor James Woods, seated at a table close to the stage, who was there to present an honorary award to writer/director Oliver Stone later in the evening.
“I’m angry,” Oswalt said. “I’m angry that ‘Deadpool’ got nominated, and that Donald Trump is president. But I don’t want to be killed by James Woods. I loved you in ‘The Onion Field.’ You can do whatever you want.”
Woods then ran up to the stage and took one of Oswalt’s shoes. Their interplay became a running gag throughout the evening.
The WGA West’s cocktail and awards dinner gala took place Sunday February 19 at the Beverly Hilton’s International Ballroom, while an East Coast kudofest for WGA East members and guests was held concurrently at New York City’s Edison Ballroom, hosted by comedian Lewis Black.
One of the big winners of the evening knocked aside many of the prognostications as this awards season draws to a close.
In the final award of the night, Barry Jenkins was bestowed with the coveted Original Screenplay trophy for “Moonlight,” after most pundits predicted a win in the category for “Manchester by the Sea.” For the Oscars, “Moonlight” is nominated for adapted screenplay, as it is based on a play, albeit one that was never produced.
“A lot of people back home are watching this and they see me doing these things and they get inspired. But what I want to say is, I can’t say that writing will get you from where you are to this stage, but my experience is that it will get you closer to who you are,” Jenkins said in his acceptance speech, after acknowledging how much he learned from fellow writer Billy Ray. “Much love to all the writers in this room.”
As predicted by many, Eric Heisserer received the Adapted Screenplay statuette for “Arrival”– and will compete against Jenkins at the Academy Awards on Sunday. Heisserer noted he voted for Jenkins and ended a brief acceptance speech by saying, “Stay curious. Keep asking questions. It’s how great storytelling happens and it’s how science prevails.”
Actor and comedian Kumail Nanjiani presented the category, and rued the challenges of writing “dialogue” for nonverbal aliens in his intro of the contenders. ”It would be horrible if the aliens arrived now and saw what was going on. Give us four years. Nazis are back. But this is the first time I can fight Nazis without an Xbox,” he said.
FX’s freshman comedy “Atlanta” cemented its place as an awards darling by winning two WGA Awards, for Comedy Series, topping “Silicon Valley,” “Transparent,” “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” and “Veep,” and New Series, a category in which it competed against “Better Things,” “Stranger Things,” “This Is Us” and “Westworld.”
FX also scored the Drama Series trophy for “The Americans” and Long Form Adapted with “The People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.”
HBO added to its always expanding collection of awards honors with comedy/variety series “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” and long form original “Confirmation.”
The honorary awards at WGA ceremonies are always a highlight, and this year’s featured a number of high-profile honorees and presenters.
Actor Jeff Goldblum presented WGAW’s Valentine Davis Award for Humanitarian Service to acclaimed screenwriter/director Richard Curtis (“Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Love Actually,” “Bridget Jones’s Diary.)
Curtis co-founded Comic Relief in 1985 and later spearheaded its Red Nose Day fundraising initiative, which has raised $1.5 billion internationally. He also produced “Idol Gives Back” with Simon Fuller in addition to other philanthropic projects.
In his acceptance speech, he urged other creatives in the room to donate their time and services to charities that help save people’s lives– after making a series of rapid-fire jokes.
“I recommend awards that are without competition,” Curtis said. “For a brief moment, I thought I had won an Oscar when I heard ‘F–, but it was ‘Forrest F-ing Gump.’ My girlfriend and I binge-watched ‘The Crown,’ and it was the happiest we’ve been in bed in the past ten years. I watched ‘La La Land’ on my 60th birthday, and it made me feel 58 again.”
“The Newsroom’s” Jeff Daniels lauded Oscar and WGA winner Aaron Sorkin as he presented him with the Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award for Television Writing Achievement.
“You know you’ve made it as an actor when you’re hired by someone with a singular voice,” he said of Sorkin before introducing a reel with clips from his shows including “The West Wing,” “The Newsroom” and “Sports Night.”
The admiration between the two men was clearly obvious. “I just finished a movie about a woman who runs a high stakes poker game and I offered Jeff Jessica Chastain’s part,” Sorkin said before getting serious. He lashed out at President Trump for saying that ”coastal elites” were out of touch and not real Americans, challenging his views on climate change being a fraud and the media lying with impunity.
And then, a faux Trump, played by comedian Anthony Atamanuik, took the stage and delivered a monologue. “I thought WGA stood for White Guys Association, and by the looks of you it’s pretty much true. The Beverly Hilton – yuck. This should have been at aTrump hotel. We have so much human furniture. I have a guy named Paco who’s an ottoman. You writers insist on coherent words. But ‘Two Broke Girls’ and ‘Whitney’ are total disasters and so is Final Draft. Steve Bannon, he’s more psoriasis than person. I liked ‘Seinfeld.’ The Jews end up in jail. Can anyone here set up a meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus? George Jefferson was a great American. Donald Glover – he never ages. He was great in ‘Lethal Weapon.’ ‘Zero Days’– that’s how long I can go without grabbing pussies. God bless Mother Russia and heil the Fourth Reich.”
Later in the evening, Norman Lear received a standing ovation as he came on stage to the present the award for Comedy Series. “Some piece of me doesn’t get enough of this, but I’m awed and surprised by it,” Lear said, before telling a story about how he was inducted into the first Television Academy Hall of Fame alongside industry legends Edward R. Morrow, Paddy Chayefsky, Milton Berle, David Sarnoff, William S. Paley and Lucille Ball.
“If that’s what they want to do, who am I to say, my mom said,” Lear recalled.
Woods also wowed with humor when it was his turn on the dais. “If I hadn’t voted for him, this show would’ve been over in 15 minutes,” said the actor, who is well known for his conservative viewpoints, but who slipped in that he didn’t actually vote.
In telling of his relationship with Stone, he described how they came to blows 31 years ago on the “Salvador” set in Mexico—and how Woods tried to walk off the film. “We weren’t fighting about the size of my trailer. I didn’t have one. We weren’t fighting about my good side, because I don’t have one. We were fighting about the writing. Oliver set up a roadblock and I walked back. He said that actually I had a point, that I was right. But for the next three decades he got to be right.”
Woods lauded Stone’s films including his Vietnam trilogy, “Platoon,” “Born on the Fourth of July” and “Heaven & Earth” and a clip reel highlighted several of his voluminous list of other movies including “Scarface,” “Wall Street,” “The Doors,” “Midnight Express,” “Salvador” and “Snowden.”
Stone walked to the podium to the sounds of The Doors “Break on Through to the Other Side.”
“It’s sort of magic to find the sunlight of words that shine through. As a director, it’s an honor to have some time in the sun,” Stone said. “You can be critical but you don’t have to fit in. In 13 wars, we’ve spent $14 trillion and hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost. Remember, it was a system that has been perpetrated that these are just wars for the flag that flies over our country. In the name of wealth, we cannot continue to create such war and chaos. I fought these people, and mostly got my ass kicked. But if you believe and stay the course you can make a difference. Try to find true inner meaning, peace, decency and tell the truth.”
Here is the complete list of winners:
Moonlight, Screenplay by Barry Jenkins, Story by Tarell Alvin McCraney; A24
Arrival, Screenplay by Eric Heisserer; Based on the Story “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang; Paramount Pictures
Command and Control, Telescript by Robert Kenner & Eric Schlosser, Story by Brian Pearle and Kim Roberts; Based on the book Command and Control by Eric Schlosser; American Experience Films
TELEVISION AND NEW MEDIA WINNERS
The Americans, Written by Peter Ackerman, Tanya Barfield, Joshua Brand, Joel Fields, Stephen Schiff, Joe Weisberg, Tracey Scott Wilson; FX
Atlanta, Written by Donald Glover, Stephen Glover, Jamal Olori, Stefani Robinson, Paul Simms; FX
Atlanta, Written by Donald Glover, Stephen Glover, Jamal Olori, Stefani Robinson, Paul Simms; FX
ORIGINAL LONG FORM
Confirmation, Written by Susannah Grant; HBO
ADAPTED LONG FORM
The People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, Written by Scott Alexander, Joe Robert Cole, D.V. DeVincentis, Maya Forbes, Larry Karaszewski, Wally Wolodarsky, Based on the book The Run of His Life by Jeffrey Toobin; FX
ORIGINAL SHORT FORM NEW MEDIA
“The Party” (The Commute), Written by Linsey Stewart & Dane Clark; youtube.com
ADAPTED SHORT FORM NEW MEDIA
“Part 4” (Fear the Walking Dead: Passage), Written by Lauren Signorino & Mike Zunic; amc.com
“Stop the Presses” (BoJack Horseman), Written by Joe Lawson; Netflix
“The Trip” (This Is Us), Written by Vera Herbert; NBC
“Kimmy Goes on a Playdate!” (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), Written by Robert Carlock; Netflix
COMEDY / VARIETY TALK SERIES
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Writers: Kevin Avery, Tim Carvell, Josh Gondelman, Dan Gurewitch, Geoff Haggerty, Jeff Maurer, John Oliver, Scott Sherman, Will Tracy, Jill Twiss, Juli Weiner; HBO
COMEDY / VARIETY SKETCH SERIES
Saturday Night Live, Head Writers: Rob Klein, Bryan Tucker Writers: James Anderson, Fred Armisen, Jeremy Beiler, Chris Belair, Megan Callahan, Michael Che, Mikey Day, Jim Downey, Tina Fey, Fran Gillespie, Sudi Green, Tim Herlihy, Steve Higgins, Colin Jost, Zach Kanin, Chris Kelly, Erik Kenward, Paul Masella, Dave McCary, Dennis McNicholas, Seth Meyers, Lorne Michaels, Josh Patten, Paula Pell, Katie Rich, Tim Robinson, Sarah Schneider, Pete Schultz, Streeter Seidell, Dave Sirus, Emily Spivey, Andrew Steele, Will Stephen, Kent Sublette; NBC
COMEDY / VARIETY SPECIALS
Triumph The Primary Election Special 2016, Written by Andy Breckman, Josh Comers, Raj Desai, David Feldman, R J Fried, Jarrett Grode, Ben Joseph, Matthew Kirsch, Michael Koman, Mike Lawrence, Brian Reich, Craig Rowin, Robert Smigel, Zach Smilovitz, David Taylor, Andrew Weinberg; Additional Materials by Ray James, Jesse Joyce, Jason Reich, Alex Scordelis; Hulu
QUIZ AND AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION
Hollywood Game Night, Head Writer: Grant Taylor; Writers: Michael Agbabian, Alex Chauvin, Ann Slichter, Dwight D. Smith; NBC
General Hospital, Writers: Shelly Altman, Anna Theresa Cascio, Andrea Archer Compton, Suzanne Flynn, Janet Iacobuzio, Elizabeth Korte, Daniel James O’Connor, Jean Passanante, Dave Rupel, Katherine Schock, Scott Sickles, Chris Van Etten, Christopher Whitesell; ABC
“Mel vs. The Night Mare of Normal Street” (Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street), Written by Laurie Parres; Amazon Studios
CHILDREN’S LONG FORM
Once Upon a Sesame Street Christmas, Written by Geri Cole & Ken Scarborough; HBO
DOCUMENTARY SCRIPT – CURRENT EVENTS
“The Choice 2016” (Frontline), Written by Michael Kirk & Mike Wiser; PBS (TIE)
“Inside Assad’s Syria” (Frontline), Written by Martin Smith; PBS (TIE)
DOCUMENTARY SCRIPT – OTHER THAN CURRENT EVENTS
“Jackie Robinson, Part One,” Written by David McMahon & Sarah Burns; PBS
TV NEWS SCRIPT – REGULARLY SCHEDULED, BULLETIN, OR BREAKING REPORT
“Muhammad Ali: Remembering A Legend” (48 Hours), Written by Jerry Cipriano, John Craig Wilson; CBS News
TV NEWS SCRIPT – ANALYSIS, FEATURE, OR COMMENTARY
“CBS Sunday Morning Almanac” June 12, 2016 (CBS Sunday Morning), Written by Thomas A. Harris; CBS
“Chernobyl: 30 Years Later,” Written by Andrew Evans; ABC News Radio
RADIO NEWS SCRIPT – REGULARLY SCHEDULED, BULLETIN, OR BREAKING REPORT
“World News This Week” August 26, 2016, Written by Tara Gimbel Tanis; ABC News Radio
RADIO NEWS SCRIPT – ANALYSIS, FEATURE, OR COMMENTARY
“Morley Safer: A Journalist’s Life,” Written by Gail Lee; CBS News Radio
ON-AIR PROMOTION (TELEVISION, NEW MEDIA OR RADIO)
“CBS On-Air Reel,” Written by Brian Retchless; CBS On-Air Promotion
TELEVISION GRAPHIC ART AND ANIMATION
“The Real History of Cinco de Mayo” (Gawker Media Group), Graphic Animation by Elisa Solinas; Lifehacker.com
OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN VIDEOGAME WRITING
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, Written by Neil Druckmann, Josh Scherr; Additional Writing Tom Bissell, Ryan James; Naughty Dog
OTHER HONORARY AWARDS
Paul Selvin Award to screenwriter Susannah Grant (“Erin Brockovich”) for her script for the HBO telefilm, “Confirmation,” presented by Kerry Washington
Jean Renoir Award for International Screenwriting Achievement to late Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami, presented by Shoreh Aghdashloo to his son Ahmad Kiarostami
Morgan Cox Award to Emmy-nominated “M*A*S*H” writer and past WGAW Board of Directors member Dan Wilcox for his Guild service, presented by WGAW president Howard Rodman