Ross sez art of adaptation lies in finding a story's 'spine'

“Mystic River” and “Seabiscuit” received the USC Scripter Award for best adapted film at Sunday night’s 16th annual gala, the first time two films have shared the honor.

“Mystic River” novelist Dennis Lehane and screenwriter Brian Helgeland, “Seabiscuit” author Laura Hillenbrand and scripter-helmer Gary Ross all received awards for their work.

Ross was the only writer able to attend the event, hosted by Sharon Gless. Presenters included John Singleton, Leonard Maltin and Anne Archer.

Maltin described adapting a book into a screenplay as an art unto itself.

“The mediums are so different,” Maltin said. “Knowing where the emphasis is; what you can afford to keep out and still capture the essence of the story being told (in the book) — my hat’s off to people who do it.”

Ross described the procedure as an internal journey.

“You have to find a spine in the story that’s personal to you and means something to you (which) tells you what to do at a certain point,” he said.

A special tribute was made to last year’s master or ceremonies, John Ritter, who described the work of a writer succinctly by saying: “Where would us actors be if it weren’t for good writers?”

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