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Leonard Maltin: USC Libraries Scripter Award ‘Very Un-Hollywood’

“Captain Phillips,” “Philomena” and “12 Years a Slave” are among films vying for award on Saturday

If the Oscar and Writers Guild nominations for “Before Midnight’s” seem like stretching the definition of an adapted screenplay, maybe it’s time to reconsider the original meaning of the word.

Unlike the Academy and WGA, which regard TV shows and films as eligible sources for adaptations, the USC Libraries Scripter Awards limit media to printed works; meaning books, novellas, plays, short stories, graphic novels and magazine articles. Only live-action and animated English-language, feature-length films are up for the prize. Also unlike the other shows, Scripter honors both the screenwriters behind adapted works and the authors of the original source material.

On Saturday night, “Captain Phillips,” “Philomena,” “The Spectacular Now,” “12 Years a Slave” and “What Maisie Knew” will vie for the 26th annual Scripter Award at USC’s Edward L. Doheny Jr. Memorial Library. The five finalists were chosen from 86 contenders.

Founded by Friends of the USC Libraries in 1988, the award was meant to make audiences aware that not all movies “spring fully-formed from a screenwriter’s mind,” USC Libraries dean Catherine Quinlan said. They’re often adapted from older works and involve a transformation of one kind of story consumption experience into another.

“Their overriding motivation was to demonstrate to people that libraries are a vital part of what screenwriters do and that a lot of screenwriters’ works in movies come from books,” she said. “The role of a library in preserving and making available books is an important role still that people play, even in this age of digitization and 3D.”

Although Quinlan said this definition will stick around for at least another couple of years, it has and will continue to evolve with time.

“As more and more movies were made from comicbooks or from board games — our previous definition of adaptation used to say adapted from a book — we have changed over the years to say that it’s adaptation from printed material,” Quinlan said. “We do try to keep up with the times so if things change dramatically, I’m sure our committee will be looking at that as well.”

Film critic Leonard Maltin, one of the 33 members who comprise this year’s Scripter selection committee of screenwriters, authors, critics, academics and film execs, said, unlike other awards shows, Scripter doesn’t put the emphasis strictly on the finished product of film.

“The tone of the evening is very un-Hollywood,” Maltin, who’s been on the selection committee for over a decade and also lectures at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, said. “It’s hard to communicate in the midst of the hubbub of the awards season crush that this very quietly elegant evening takes place in one of the reading halls at Doheny Library. … Even colleagues of mine, who are a bit blasé about awards season, enjoy this particular evening because it is so different and has such a special quality to it.”

Even though Scripter stands out from other awards shows, it can be a precursor to winning the adapted screenplay Oscar. The winners have matched 10 times in 25 years, including the last three years in a row with “Argo,” “The Descendants” and “The Social Network.”

Captain Phillips,” “Philomena” and “12 Years a Slave” are the overlaps between the two shows this year.

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