Writers Guild Awards Winners Add New Drama to Oscar Race, Cement TV Icons

With Saturday night’s Writers Guild of America Awards, all of the guilds have now spoken– their voters deciding the best written, best directed, best acted and best produced movies of the year.

And for the first time in recent memory, there is no clear consensus– which makes the ongoing Oscar race even more interesting than it is when just one or two films and their key talent are considered a lock.

For those with short memories, the DGA went with ”Gravity,” the PGA tied “12 Years a Slave” and “Gravity,” and SAG went with “American Hustle.”

At the WGA, where “Gravity” and “Slave” were not nominated, “Her’s” writer Spike Jonze won the award for original screenplay, which was up against David O Russell for “American Hustle,” Woody Allen for “Blue Jasmine,” Bob Nelson for “Nebraska” and Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack for “Dallas Buyers Club.”

In his acceptance speech, Jonze called the trophy “an award for pain, because writers endure a very specific kind of torture.”

In the adapted screenplay category, Billy Ray took the prize for “Captain Phillips” in a field that included Tracy Letts’ “August: Osage County,” Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy for “Before Midnight,” Peter Berg’s “Lone Survivor” and Terence Winter for “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

“I owe quite a debt to Captain Richard Phillips, who survived something I know would’ve killed me,” Ray said in his acceptance speech about the real-life ordeal the hijacked captain endured. “It was Captain Phillips who wrote this movie. I just wrote it down.”

Jonze and Ray are also nominated for Oscars in their respective screenplay categories and have now gained traction with their WGAs.

There were no such underdogs on the television side.

Four months after its record-breaking series finale, the accolades for “Breaking Bad” keep rolling in. The latest came Saturday night when the AMC drama took the award for best drama series at the 2014 Writers Guild Awards, which honor outstanding achievement in writing for film, television, radio, promotion, new media and videogames.

“This has been an amazing last seven years. No one saw it coming,” said the perennially modest creator, writer, producer and sometime director Vince Gilligan, who won the DGA last weekend, in accepting the trophy. “I’m continually reminded that motion pictures—movies and television—are collaborative. I can’t imagine doing this without the amazing cast, producers and directors. But I’m reminded that it all starts with the word created on the page.”

The award was handed out near the end of ceremonies held on the West Coast at the JW Marriott L.A. LIVE in Los Angeles, while a separate East Coast kudofest took place at New York City’s Edison Ballroom. Some Los Angeles attendees were unnerved to find out the winners were published online before they were announced in the Pacific time zone.

Still, that didn’t diminish the joy for the writers of HBO’s “Veep,” which took the award for comedy series in a field that included “Modern Family,” “30 Rock,” “Orange is the New Black” and “Parks and Recreation.”

The prestigious new series prize went to Netflix’s much-lauded “House of Cards.” The other contenders were “The Americans,” “Masters of Sex,” “Ray Donovan” and “Orange is the New Black.”

The Los Angeles ceremony, which was not televised but streamed live on latimes.com, was hosted by actor Brad Garrett, who got flack on social media by starting things off with racial jokes about “Gravity” that many considered offensive.

West Coast presenters included Julie Delpy, Bruce Dern, Julianna Margulies, Stana Katic, Walton Goggins, Dermot Mulroney, Nick Offerman, Joe Manganiello, Amber Tamblyn, Betsy Brandt, B. J. Novak, Sasha Alexander and “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek.

The writing staff of “Jeopardy!” received the first-ever WGA award for quiz and audience participation.

The honorary awards were especially poignant this year, honoring Paul Mazursky, Garry Marshall, Sam Simon, Alex Gibney– all of whom gave moving and often funny speeches–and posthumously to Thomas C. Cook, whose daughter accepted graciously on his behalf.

The WGA also recognizes individual episodes of drama and comedy, for which “Breaking Bad’s” Gennifer Hutchison and “30 Rock’s” Jack Burditt and Robert Carlock took home trophies.

In the hotly contested comedy/variety series category, the writing staff of “The Colbert Report” beat competitors from “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” “Saturday Night Live,” “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” “Conan” and “Portlandia.”

(A complete list of winners can be found here: http://www.wga.org/content/default.aspx?id=5399)





What ‘Argo’ and ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ Now Share: WGA Awards for Their Writers

To twist a popular line from the screenplay–”I’ve never left anyone behind”– “Argo” is apparently not leaving any awards behind. Chris Terrio added another one to the film’s trophy case by taking the award for best adapted screenplay at the 2013 Writers Guild Awards, which honor outstanding achievement in writing for film, television, radio, new media and videogames.


“I’m so honored to be in the category,” Terrio said of the competition for the prize, “Life of Pi,” “Lincoln,” “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and “Silver Linings Playbook,” before recalling the journey that led to this accolade. “When I started this in 2008, I couldn’t pay my rent and I was living in New York and I had defaulted on my student loans. I had nothing, but I had my spec scripts, and I had my Guild card. And I can’t tell you how that propped me up, to know that in a very lonely profession I was in the same club as all you guys.”


Terrio’s award was handed out near the end of ceremonies Sunday night at the JW Marriott L.A. LIVE in Los Angeles. He also lauded fellow WGA member and “Argo” director, producer and actor Ben Affleck, who has recently racked up honors at BAFTA, DGA and PGA, as being kind and brilliant.


“Zero Dark Thirty’s” writer Mark Boal won the award for original screenplay, which was up against those for “Moonrise Kingdom,” “Flight,” “Looper” and “The Master. ”

“I don’t agree with pitting works of art against each other– unless of course I’m the one getting the award – but it’s really lovely to get this from the WGA,” he said before showering praise on the film’s director. “Unlike Ben Affleck, [director] Kathryn Bigelow came tonight. She led us to a place of truth and beauty, and there’s no higher calling for an artist. I thank her for letting me be part of that vision.”


Boal and Terrio are also nominated for Oscars in their respective screenplay categories. Several of their fellow Academy Award nominees were not eligible for WGAs under the Guild guidelines, including Quentin Tarantino’s already acclaimed script for “Django Unchained.”


The WGA Awards are held concurrently on both coasts—the New York confab taking place this year at the B.B. King Blues Club– and the East was apparently a few steps ahead of the West, as several of the winners in Los Angeles were notified by their counterparts in New York before their names were announced.


That was the case for the writing staff of HBO’s “Girls,” which won the hotly contested award for new series over two other HBO offerings, “The Newsroom” and “Veep,” in a field that also included Fox’s “The Mindy Project” and ABC’s “Nashville.”


The Los Angeles ceremony was hosted by actor Nathan Fillion, star of “Castle,” who started things off by saying if the audience didn’t know him, their moms did. “I’m the face of your words, the one who goes out into the world where I take credit for them. Actors and writers don’t always see eye to eyeglasses, but agree on one thing: producers are dicks. I will land this awards show upside down if I have to.”


West Coast presenters included Julie Bowen, Jane Lynch, Jessica Chastain, Steven Spielberg, Kate Walsh, Jacki Weaver, Rico Rodriguez, Anna Gunn, Alfred Molina, Matthew Weiner, Amy Poehler, Adam Scott, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele and Tobey Maguire.

The honorary awards were especially prominent this year, and their recipients– Tom Stoppard, Tony Kushner, Phil Rosenthal, Dan Petrie, Jr. and Joshua Brand and John Falsey were referred to several times throughout the evening as inspirations.


“Breaking Bad” continued its award-winning ways by taking the best drama series writing prize from competitors that included “Mad Men,” “Boardwalk Empire,” “Game of Thrones” and “Homeland” – a field that virtually defines the current golden age of television.


The comedy series trophy was also hotly tested with “Louie” winning out over last year’s winner, “Modern Family,” “Parks and Recreation,” “Girls” and the recently retired “30 Rock.”


The WGA also recognizes individual episodes of drama and comedy, for which “Mad Men’s” Semi Chellas and Matt Weiner and “Modern Family’s” Elaine Ko took home trophies.


Two highly acclaimed longform programs took more honors, as the writers of History’s “Hatfields & McCoys” and HBO’s “Game Change” hoisted hardware.


While those wins for Ted Mann, Ronald Parker, Bill Kerby and Danny Strong might have been expected, a surprise came in the comedy/variety series category, when “Portlandia” won over “The Daily Show,” “The Colbert Report,” “Saturday Night Live,” “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” “Conan,” “Key & Peele” and “Real Time with Bill Maher.”


Perhaps the funniest line of the evening came during Fillion’s intro of a clip from one of the nominated screenplays. “It’s the story of a man who just wanted to spend a quiet evening at home with his family,” he said, as minds throughout the hotel ballroom raced to figure out to which one he was referring. ”Instead, Navy SEALS shot him in the eye.”


(A complete list of winners can be found here: http://www.wga.org/wga-awards/nominees-winners.aspx?id=5184)

–Hillary Atkin



And So It is Written: Writers Award the Best On Screen

These truly are the glory days of ABC’s smash hit comedy, “Modern Family,” which by the conclusion of the 2012 Writers Guild of America Awards Sunday night had added two more trophies to its already awards-laden mantle. 


It was the third year in a row that ““MF” walked away with the guild’s top comedy series award, cementing its position as the one to beat against other laughers in the category that included “30 Rock,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Louie” and “Parks & Recreation.”


“We are very scared that people are sick of us,” showrunner Steve Levitan admitted to the audience, referring to the freshness of its recent wins at the Golden Globes and the SAG Awards. Not to mention those five Emmy Awards from last fall.


When his show also took the statuette for episodic comedy, which recognizes specific episodes, all of the credited writers came up on stage and spit out a one-liner indicative of their talent, including Elaine Ko, who spoofed Asian-American stereotypes by saying, “I’m bad at math, I don’t play an instrument, and I’m not Jeremy Lin.”


The WGA West ceremony at the Hollywood Palladium—a simultaneous one was held by WGA, East at the B.B. King Blues Club in New York, was filled with such laughs — due in no small part to its hosts, “Community’s” Joel McHale and this season’s TV comedy “it” girl, Zooey Deschanel. The star of “New Girl” started off the festivities by saying “Welcome to the nerd prom” and proceeding to make fun of male writers’ penchant for wardrobes filled with plaid shirts, admonishing them to shield themselves from the harsh lights of the outside world.


The list of  West Coast presenters ranged from Tom Selleck to Amy Poehler, Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis, Bryan Cranston and Vince Gilligan, Patton Oswalt and Lisa Kudrow as the Guild awarded a series of honors in other television categories, new media, video games, documentary and feature films.


AMC’s “Breaking Bad” gained proof that it is stronger than ever, taking home two trophies, one for drama series and one for episodic drama, tying with up-and- comer “Homeland,” which is already stacking up a cache of awards from its freshman season on Showtime.


With Poehler, who had appeared on “SNL” the night before, pushing for her former show in the tough competition for the comedy/variety (including talk) prize, it was Colbert that was in the cards. Stephen’s writing staff bested the scribes at “Conan,” “Jon Benjamin Has a Van, “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” “Real Time with Bill Maher,” “Saturday Night Live” and “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” Since no one from “The Colbert Report” was in the audience, Poehler temporarily claimed the winged statue.


In the animation category, “The Simpsons” scored four of the six nominations (episodes from “Futurama” and “Ben 10: Ultimate Alien were the others) and funny enough, Bart and company scored the prize in an episode entitled “Homer the Father” by Joel H. Cohen.


In the long form original category, only two contenders duked it out, “Five” on Lifetime, and “Cinema Verite” on HBO, which took home theWGA. In long form adapted, again only two candidates and both aired on HBO: “Mildred Pierce” and “Too Big to Fail,” a dramatization of the financial crisis starring William Hurt that bested its rival in the eyes of WGA voters.


As usual during this untelevised kudofest, some of the best material came during the presentation and acceptance speeches of the honorary awards. “The Help” co-stars Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, both sitting pretty for the Academy Awards next weekend in their respective lead and supporting actress categories, presented screenwriter-director Tate Taylor with the Paul Selvin Award, which recognizes work that embodies the spirit of constitutional rights and civil liberties.


Taylor, a white man from Mississippi, has been maligned in some quarters for adapting Kathryn Stockwell’s novel about black maids working in Jackson,Mississippi during the 1960s, on the brink of the civil rights movement– as has Stockwell herself, because she is white.


In his acceptance speech, Taylor adroitly addressed those issues, after revealing that he was co-raised by a black woman and had been roommates with Spencer for years as they both tried to break into the entertainment industry, noting that they kept loaning each other the same $500 and would fight over the last bowl of chili in their apartment.


“I’ve become aware of a troubling irony,” Taylorsaid. “As ‘The Help’ began its rise, there are those that said two white people had no right to tell the story. Two white people in 2010 had no right to tell the story of people in 1963. But we came from a place of love as Southerners with respect and admiration for those women and millions like her the world over–who may be home with your children right now. People should have the right to tell any story they choose. If not, we all lose. We should strive for a place for people to tell the kind of stories they want without judgment.”


Judgment was exactly what David Fincher said drew him to Eric Roth, the recipient of the Laurel Award for Screen, which honors lifetime achievement in outstanding writing for motion pictures. Roth’s work ranges from “Forrest Gump,” “The Insider” and “Ali” to this year’s “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” to “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” which Fincher directed.


“I found someone who hated more people in Hollywoodthan I did, and that was something to build on,” said Fincher, in a funny taped piece set on a soundstage.

For his turn, Roth read a lengthy email reply to Brad Pitt’s query about the importance of storytelling in film, starting out with, “Blondie, go back to what you do best—off-road motorcycling.”


Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick received the Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award for Television. They received it after kudos from a writer they mentored, Jason Katims, and a lengthy clip from the pilot of their first breakout hit, “thirtysomething” that brought back a lot of memories of that groundbreaking 1980s show.


“Midnight in Paris” got the WGA’s top honor for original screenplay for its writer (and director) Woody Allen, a win to which McHale reacted by saying, “I can’t believe he’s not here.” He wasn’t at the New York ceremony either, but recently made his West Coast presence known through a taped piece for the DGA Awards.


For the best adapted screenplay, Alexander Payne won the prize for “The Descendants,” which he also directed, with co-writers Jim Rash and Nat Faxon. Payne thanked novelist Kaui Hart Hemmings for her Hawaii-set book, saying they had a very good time in her world.


Meanwhile, McHale noted that his friend Rash wrote all the dialog for George Clooney’s wife, who….um, hello, was in a coma.


It was that kind of night.


(A complete list of winners can be found here: http://wga.org/awards/awardssub.aspx?id=1517 )