WGA pic noms slight studios

“The English Patient,” “Shine,” “Secrets & Lies” and “Fargo” garnered nominations Thursday for the Writers Guild of America Awards, once again proving the strength of the independents in this year’s award season.

In television nominations, NBC’s “Law & Order” and “Seinfeld” each earned three nominations for separate episodes, while Dennis Miller captured two nominations, one for “Dennis Miller Live” and another for the HBO special “HBO Comedy Hour: Dennis Miller Citizen Arcane.”

The awards will be presented on March 16 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles and at New York’s Tavern on the Green.

Much of the attention is bound to go to the feature film nominees, with the awards just a little more than a week before the Oscars.

Nominated for best screenplay written directly for the screen were “Fargo,” by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen; “Jerry Maguire,” by Cameron Crowe; “Lone Star,” by John Sayles; “Secrets & Lies,” by Mike Leigh; and “Shine,” screenplay by Jan Sardi and story by Scott Hicks.

Nominated for screenplay based on material previously published or produced were Elaine May (“The Birdcage”), Douglas McGrath (“Emma”), Anthony Minghella (“The English Patient”), Billy Bob Thornton (“Sling Blade”) and John Hodge (“Trainspotting”).

Noticeably omitted were Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski for “The People vs. Larry Flynt.” They won a Golden Globe for their screenplay last month. The film’s director, Milos Forman, who also won a Globe, failed to garner a DGA nomination.

DGA group makes cut

Interestingly, all of the DGA’s nominees — Joel Coen, Minghella, Leigh, Hicks and Crowe — also received WGA nominations. And WGA officials noted the prevalence of original writers on the projects. In other words, the films were made without extensive rewrites from other scribes, a trend that has irked the WGA for years.

“That is good for writers,” Thornton said. “That says something about it. It is a spark of hope that people are not always constantly there to rewrite (the project).”

Thornton was nominated last month for a Screen Actors Guild award for his performance in “Sling Blade,” which is based on his stage play.

“This was probably the easiest thing that I have written because I loved it so much,” Thornton said. “When you do something that is so personal, to me, that is the easiest to write.”

By contrast, Sardi said “Shine” was among the most difficult works that he has done, because “it was dealing with someone’s life. You are dealing with an enormous amount of integrity and people’s memory.”

Sardi said one of the challenges was to avoid giving the movie a “biopic feel” and instead focus on the relationship between protagonist David Helfgott and his father.

“From the beginning, I felt that all good drama is about emotion,” he said. “Emotion is the backbone of the story. So all the biographical details in a sense become the wallpaper.”

‘Law’ lauded

In television nominations, “Law & Order” garnered nominations for the episodes “Aftershock,” “Savages” and “Trophy.” Also nominated in the drama category were “Murder One,” “The X-Files,” “Party of Five” and “NYPD Blue.” The nominated “X-Files” episode, “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose,” won an Emmy for writer Darin Morgan last fall.

Miller’s writing team from “Dennis Miller Live” also won an Emmy for writing in a comedy or variety series. They were joined in the WGA nominations by the writers of “Tracey Takes On” and “Late Night With Conan O’Brien.”

“Seinfeld” took nods for the episodes “The Soup Nazi,” “The Pool Guy” and “The Sponge.” HBO’s “The Larry Sanders Show” was the remaining nominee for the episode “Eight.”

Overall, ABC captured the most TV and radio nominations with 17, followed by CBS with 11 and NBC with nine.

The TV nominees were presented between Sept. 1, 1995, and Aug. 31, 1996, and were selected by panels of judges. All of the members of the WGA voted for the feature nominees.

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