The Word

Scribe Czars — Joss Whedon vs. Kevin Williamson

In 1997, Joss Whedon and Kevin Williamson emerged out of the ink-stained, albeit well-paid, screenwriting underclass, ascending to the rarefied air of TV and film moguldom.

After success scribbling such pics as “Toy Story” and “Alien Resurrection” — as well as uncredited surgery on “Speed,” “Waterworld” and “Twister” — Whedon created and executed produced the hit WB series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” based on his screenplay.

Whedon then struck the motherlode when he inked a $16 million overall film and TV production deal with Fox.

Williamson established himself as one of the foremost purveyors of the horror genre after penning the blockbuster “Scream,” its sequel “Scream 2” and the frightener “I Know What You Did Last Summer.” He then turned to the tube, creating, writing and executive producing the WB series “Dawson’s Creek.”

Ensuring that Williamson wouldn’t stray from the “family” again, in September Miramax/Dimension Films signed him to a $20 million film and TV production pact that will stretch into the next century.

Dead Wordsmith — Henry James vs. Henry James

Roll over Shakespeare and Austen — in 1997 there was a new literary lion ruling the big screen.

While Henry James’ works have made their way to film in the past — including “The Europeans,” “The Bostonians” and “Daisy Miller” — 1997 brought a reunion tour of Hollywood and the blueblood scribe’s tales.

Beginning with the December 1996 release of Jane Campion’s “The Portrait of a Lady,” the ensuing months brought such film adaptations of James’ work as Ian Softley’s “The Wings of the Dove” and Agnieszka Holland’s “Washington Square.”

Even the Sundance Film Festival is not immune to James’ allure. Meg Richman’s “Under Heaven,” another adaptation of “The Wings of the Dove,” is slated to premiere at the January event.

Among the Jamesian projects in development are dueling pics based on “The Aspern Papers”; Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s adaptation of “The Golden Bowl”; and a TV film based on “The American.”

Publishing Prize — “Cold Mountain” vs. “Cobra Event”

While the $3 million sale to Fox 2000 of Richard Preston’s “Cobra Event” created tremendous stirrings in the relatively quiet book-to-film market this year, this year’s book darling must be “Cold Mountain.”

Charles Frazier’s debut novel transcended its modest publishing roots to become the literary darling of the year. United Artists took notice, paying $1.25 million for the screen rights to the Civil War tome, which was brought to Anthony Minghella’s attention by “The English Patient” author Michael Ondaatje. As part of the deal with UA, Minghella will adapt the novel and may direct.

And if that weren’t enough, in November, “Cold Mountain” was the surprise recipient of the National Book Award for fiction, beating out the much-lauded “Underground” by Don DeLillo.

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