The scribes of “Shakespeare in Love” and “Out of Sight” carried away the top honors in motion picture screenwriting Saturday from the Writers Guild of America.
In a lengthy ceremony at the Beverly Hilton, Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard won for “Shakespeare” in the original screenplay category, beating Warren Beatty and Jeremy Pikser (“Bulworth”), Don Roos (“The Opposite of Sex”), Robert Rodat (“Saving Private Ryan”) and Andrew Niccol (“The Truman Show”).
For Stoppard and Norman, the WGA award follows a Golden Globe and an Academy Award nomination.
“I’ve been coming here for years, but I think it’s only this movie that has enabled people to stop treating me as a visitor from the strange world of the London theater,” said Stoppard, who has written 16 screenplays but is known primarily as a playwright. “I still feel like an import from the London theater — we get Nicole Kidman, you get me. That’s how it works.”
Norman, whose home town is Los Angeles, said the award made him feel like a “hottie.”
“This award is very special,” he said. “It’s given to people like us by people who do what we do.”
Scott Frank’s prize for “Out of Sight,” for best screenplay adaptation — based on the novel by Elmore Leonard — follows awards from the National Society of Film Critics and the Boston Society of Film Critics, as well as an Oscar nomination.
“I feel a little bit guilty standing up here tonight because I’ve been stealing from (Leonard’s) work for years,” said Frank, who recalled that when he first read “Sight,” he thought it was “so good, all I can do is ruin it.”
With his award, Frank conquered a category that included Steve Zaillian (“A Civil Action”), Bill Condon (“Gods and Monsters”), Elaine May (“Primary Colors”) and Scott B. Smith (“A Simple Plan”).
In the television categories, Nina Shengold won the original long form group with “Labor of Love,” a movie-of-the-week shown on Lifetime. Shengold voiced a common concern, that writers are being forced to relinquish control of their material. “It is a writer’s privilege,” she said. “I hope we at the WGA will continue to fight for the ability to write our own movies.”
The adapted longform category was taken by James Henerson, for “The Love Letter” (Hallmark/CBS), based on Jack Finney’s short story. Cain, however, won the episodic drama category, for “Proofs for the Existence of God,” which he wrote under the name Paul Leland. It was a 20th Century Fox Film Corp. production shown on ABC.
There were two prizes under comedy/variety. The first, in the music/awards/tributes/ group, went to Tim Doyle, for “Ellen: A Hollywood Tribute,” from Touchstone TV/ABC. The second, for series including talk shows, went to “Dennis Miller Live,” written by Eddie Feldmann, David Feldman, Jose Arroyo, Leah Krinsky, Dennis Miller, Jim Hanna and David Weiss (Happy Family Prods/HBO).
In episodic comedy, the award was given to an installment of “Frasier” called “Frasier’s Imaginary Friend,” written by Rob Greenberg (Paramount Pictures Corp./NBC).
In daytime serials, “All My Children” took the prize for its writers — Agnes Nixon, Megan McTavish, Lorraine Broderick, Hal Corley, Frederick Johnson, Peggy Sloane, Victor Miller, Craig Carlson, N. Gail Lawrence, Juliet Law Packer, Karen Lewis, Michelle Patrick, Bettina F. Bradbury, Judith Donato, Kathleen Klein, Caroline Franz, Charlotte Gibson, Elizabeth Page and Sharon Epstein (ABC).
The best children’s script was deemed to be “Telly as Jack,” from “Sesame Street,” written by Christine Ferraro (Children’s Television Workshop/PBS).
Of the two documentary categories, the current events section was won by “Once Upon a Time in Arkansas,” written by Michael Kirk and Peter J. Boyer (Kirk Documentary Group/ PBS).
The non-current events prize went to “Truman,” part of the “The American Experience” series, written by David Grubin (David Grubin Prods./PBS)
Of the two news categories, Jerry Cipriano and L. Franklin DeVine won the regularly scheduled news/bulletin/breaking report group, for “Farewell to a Princess” (CBS).
In analysis/feature/commentary, Edmund Levin took the prize for “Theodore Kaczynski’s Brother,” which aired on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
The first of the radio categories, documentary, was won by Ruth Davis, for “The Nature of Giving” (ABC Radio Network). In regularly scheduled news/bulletin/breaking report, Stuart H. Chamberlain Jr. took the prize for “World News This Week” (ABC).
A three-way tie was the result in news — analysis, feature or commentary: Andrea Smith Stapleton, “Goodnight Moon” (ABC); Greg Kandra, “Sinatra,” from “Dan Rather Reporting” (CBS Radio Network); Hank Weinbloom, “Frank Sinatra: The Final Curtain” (ABC).
Nancy McColgan won the on-air promotions category for her work for CBS Promotions, while graphic designer Beth Leudesdorf, also with CBS, won the graphic animation category.
Leudesdorf won a second prize for “60 Minutes at 30,” in the graphic design for package/campaign/series group.
The awards were given in both Beverly Hills, at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, and in New York, at Windows on the World.
In L.A., the honorary Screen Laurel Award went to Paul Schrader; the Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award to David Milch; the Valentine Davies Award to Barry Kemp; the Morgan Cox Award to former WGA president Del Reisman; the Edmund H. North Award to Frank Pierson; and the Paul Selvin Award to Frank Military.
The Lt. Robert Meltzer Award was posthumously presented to the late Paul Jarrico and accepted by his widow, Lia Benedetti.
In New York, the Evelyn F. Burkey Award went to producer David Brown (“Deep Impact,” “A Few Good Men”), who was lauded for “bringing dignity to writers everywhere.” Another, the Ian McLellan Hunter Award, went to screenwriter Horton Foote.
“Writing for film and TV has never been easy,” Foote said. “The desire to improve upon a writer’s work has become an epidemic. What makes this extremely dangerous is that we don’t own the copyright. That is why it is so important to have the WGA fighting for our rights.”
Dick Cavett emceed the WGA’s East Coast ceremony. He began the evening by saying, “Leave it to the guild to host another lovely dinner at the epicenter of international terrorism.”