Zaillian an accidental success

WGA honoree 'stumbled' into scribe work

Steven Zaillian won an Oscar, a BAFTA, a Golden Globe, a WGA Award and the Humanitas Prize for his “Schindler’s List” screenplay alone. But he never intended to become a writer.

“I never had a life plan,” he says. “I sort of stumbled into writing screenplays.”

Those missteps nonetheless led him to the Writers Guild’s 2011 Laurel Award for Screen, honoring a lifetime achievement in writing for motion pictures. Apparently, plans aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

The accidental screenwriter continued, as he puts it, “just going from one thing to the next.” Those things included “Awakenings,” for which he got Oscar and WGA noms, “Searching for Bobby Fischer,” which won him the Humanitas Prize again and another Oscar nom for “Gangs of New York.” Coming to screens this year: Zaillian’s adaptation of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.”

Indeed, Zaillian’s projects have spanned dozens of topics — from gangs to chess.

“They say ‘write what you know.’ I end up writing what I don’t know and discovering along the way. It’s more interesting.”

Over the years, he’s forayed into directing and producing (noting that if he could go back in time, he would be more involved with documentary filmmaking).

He says “Searching for Bobby Fischer,” which he both wrote and directed, was his most personal project.

“I never look back at my whole body of work,” Zaillian says. “So it’s gratifying that this WGA award does that.”

It’s clear that he is also a humble man.

Getting a lifetime achievement award is no easy feat, but, he says, “I’d really like to be remembered as a good father, husband and friend.”

More from the WGA Awards:
WGA quietly girds for next negotations
Steven Zaillian | Diane English | Susannah Grant | Seth Freeman | Mike Scully

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