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'Shakespeare,' 'Ryan,' 'Truman' top WGA noms

The accolades keep mounting for the award season’s most-mentioned pictures, as “Shakespeare in Love,” “Saving Private Ryan” and “The Truman Show” racked up nominations Wednesday from the Writers Guild of America.

Nods for screenwriting in 1998 films also went to the scribes of “Bulworth,” “The Opposite of Sex,” “A Civil Action,” “Gods and Monsters,” “Out of Sight,” “Primary Colors” and “A Simple Plan.”

The nominations emerged from a field of 122 entries in the category of films written directly for the screen and from 91 for those based on material previously written or published.

For films written for the screen, the nominees are:

  • Warren Beatty and Jeremy Pikser, for the screenplay of “Bulworth,” story by Beatty. It was a 20th Century Fox film;

  • Don Roos, “The Opposite of Sex” (Sony Pictures Classics);

  • Robert Rodat, “Saving Private Ryan” (DreamWorks and Paramount);

  • Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard, “Shakespeare in Love” (Miramax and Universal);

  • Andrew Niccol, “The Truman Show” (Paramount).

For screenplays based on previously produced or published material, the nominees are:

  • Steven Zaillian, “A Civil Action,” based on the book by Jonathan Harr (Touchstone);

  • Bill Condon, “Gods and Monsters,” based on the novel “Father of Frankenstein” by Christopher Bram (Lions Gate Films);

  • Scott Frank, “Out of Sight,” based on the novel by Elmore Leonard (Universal);

  • Elaine May, “Primary Colors,” based on the novel by Joe Klein, who wrote it as Anonymous (Universal);

  • Scott B. Smith, “A Simple Plan,” based on his own novel (Paramount).

Four of the 12 nominees — Beatty, Roos, Condon and Zaillian — directed their own pictures.

Beatty has won the WGA award on three occasions, having been nominated four out of the five times he has written a screenplay; he won with partner May for “Heaven Can Wait” in 1978, for “Reds” (co-written with Trevor Griffiths) in 1981 and for “Shampoo” (co-written with Robert Towne) in 1975.

May was also nominated for “The Bird Cage” (1996) and “A New Leaf” (1971), and wrote “Ishtar” (1987) and “California Suite” (1978).

Won for ‘Schindler’s’

Zaillian won a WGA award for “Schindler’s List” (1993) and was nominated for “Awakenings” (1990). He also wrote the scripts for “Mission: Impossible” (1996), “Clear and Present Danger” (1994) and “The Falcon and the Snowman” (1985).

Frank’s previous nod came with “Get Shorty” (1995). He is currently working on the script of “Minority Report” for Steven Spielberg.

“I’m shocked that as many people saw the movie to be able to vote for it,” said Frank, referring to “Out of Sight,” which drew middling box office but critical raves. “I wasn’t sure anybody saw it, but you have no control over that. I was more surprised that people remembered it.”

Seeing is believing

“Sight” won best picture, director and screenplay garlands from the National Society of Film Critics, and best picture and screenplay from the Boston Film Critics.

But the juggernaut title belongs to “Shakespeare,” with three Golden Globes already in hand (including the screenplay award), five nominations from the Screen Actors Guild, another from the Directors Guild of America, and several other nods; and “Ryan,” with two Globes, two SAG noms and one from the DGA.

“Everybody had Shakespeare crammed down our throats when we were kids, like medicine,” Norman told Daily Variety. “I just thought there was a wonderful comic possibility to take something that everyone knows and to change their opinion of it. It seemed easy, as long as it was entertaining. And what’s more entertaining than a guy who’s got love problems?”

Bard in the biz

To Norman, who also penned “Cutthroat Island” (1995), “The Aviator” (1985) and “The Killer Elite” (1975), the amusing allusions to the Hollywood film industry in “Shakespeare” were not a forced idea, since it became obvious to him during his research that the bard and his colleagues of the stage “were inventing showbiz as they went along,” he said.

“It’s one of those great moments writers have when they start exploring a field and the field gives them their story,” Norman said. “That doesn’t always happen. Sometimes you get lucky.”

Norman’s writing partner on “Shakespeare,” Stoppard, was traveling in India and could not be reached for comment.

Name recognition

For Rodat, who was inspired to write “Ryan” when he noticed the same last names listed several times on a World War II memorial in New Hampshire, said the story for the movie crystallized once he, Spielberg, Tom Hanks and others read the first-person recollections of survivors of the Normandy invasion.

“We had visions of what happened, and yet Steven’s vision of it brought it to life in ways that none of us anticipated,” said Rodat, who co-wrote “Fly Away Home” (1996) and “Tall Tale: The Unbelievable Adventures of Pecos Bill” (1995).

Rodat visited the set in Wexford, Ireland, with his 2-year-old son, Ned, and found himself in the main bunker overlooking the beach at dusk; it was wet and foggy, he said, “the exact conditions” that prevailed during the invasion.

“I imagined my son being a German soldier looking out, or one of the American soldiers coming in — both of them terrified,” Rodat said.

Don Roos, who was responsible for “Love Field” (1992), “Single White Female” (1992) and “Diabolique” (1996), said he was thrilled at the reception from the writers’ union for “Opposite of Sex” because “we’re all fellow sufferers of the process” of making movies.

Since he was also the director on “Opposite,” Roos was able to tell his cast that the film would “be about the script and the performances,” he said. “It’s not really an understood concept in Hollywood, respecting the text. I had actors who really wanted to respect the text; they didn’t simply want to use it as a jumping-off point.”

Winners will be announced Feb. 20 during the 51st annual Writers Guild Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills and at Windows on the World in New York.

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