Eye on the Oscars: The Writer

The Oscar race has been good to rookie screenwriters.

In the past six years seven freshman scribes — Michael Arndt (“Little Miss Sunshine”), Diablo Cody (“Juno”), Dustin Lance Black (“Milk”), Geoffrey Fletcher (“Precious”), Mark Boal (“The Hurt Locker”) Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (co-writers with Alexander Payne on “The Descendants”) have nabbed a little gold man in either the adapted or original screenplay categories.

Each winner was competing with veteran writers and well as fellow feature film newcomers including Nancy Oliver (“Lars and the Real Girl”), Courtney Hunt (“Frozen River”) as well as Neill Blomkamp and his “District 9″ co-scribe Terri Tatchell.

The members of this year’s freshmen class are hoping to make their own pilgrimage to the Oscars, and perhaps to the podium.

“Argo” screenwriter, Chris Terrio has been tackling the infamous Iran hostage crisis since 2009.

Terrio says while Antonio J. Mendez’s book “The Master of Disguise,” Joshuah Bearman’s Wired magazine article “The Great Escape” as well as hundreds of hours of research laid the foundation for his screenplay, he had to find his own voice in the story.

“I think the process of adapting journalism is completely different from the process of adapting fiction or a play,” Terrio says. “(The film adaptation of) “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” is brilliant, but the characters, tone and almost every word of the screenplay comes from the play. ‘Argo’ was different. It was a process of trying to build an inhabitable world, creating almost a hundred new characters, and finding a voice that isn’t immediately apparent in the factual sources.”

For Jennifer Lee, Disney’s “Wreck-It Ralph” is not just her first produced screenplay but her first time working in animation.

Lee who co-wrote “Ralph” with Phil Johnston, says the duo never wrote solely for child audiences.

“(Phil and I) wanted the script to speak just as much to adults as it did to kids.”

Pic, about a vidgame villain’s quest to become a hero, features the voices of accomplished performers John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman.

“We wanted to allow the actors freedom, so we had to know what the core of each scene was while also knowing what we could do to let (the actors) be organic and real. It was about being flexible and making sure the story got what it needed.”

While “Arbitrage” scripter Nicholas Jarecki was given credit for co-writing Gregor Jordan’s “The Informers” in 2008, he considers “Arbitrage” his break-out project.

“The movie ‘The Informers’ and the script I wrote have no relationship,” says Jarecki, who spent nine months writing “Arbitrage.”

“I started working on the script right when the financial crisis was happening, so the hedge-fund magnates were dominating the headlines. It seemed like a great world to investigate.”

After submitting a rough draft of “Beasts of the Southern Wild” to the Sundance Screenwriters Lab in 2008, Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin were invited to attend the workshop in 2009. Adapted from Alibar’s play “Juicy and Delicious,” about a boy who feels like the whole world is collapsing when his father is dying, the duo realized that they had to make drastic changes to properly translate the story to the bigscreen, including making the protagonist a little girl.

“I wanted to find a way to take (the play’s) story, which had a lot of resonance for me, and expand upon it,” Zeitlan says. “It wasn’t a traditional adaptation. We were really creating something new.”

Like “Beasts” Yaron Zilberman’s classical music drama “A Late Quartet” took years to write and has earned praise for its stars — in this case Philip Seymour Hoffman and Christopher Walken.

“The biggest challenge I faced had to do with ending the film,” Zilberman says. “It went through many rewrites. I even made a couple of minor changes in the edit to really refine what was trying to be said.”

Eye on the Oscars: The Writer
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