The Writers Guild of America leaned heavily toward newcomers in its screenplay noms: 14 of the 19 individuals cited are first-time nominees, including seven who are anointed for their first produced screenplay.
In keeping with the award season’s wide-open feel, WGA voters tapped a mix of major studio pics and arthouse fare in noms announced Thursday.
In the race for original screenplay are Julian Fellowes (“Gosford Park”), Joel Coen & Ethan Coen (“The Man Who Wasn’t There”), Milo Addica & Will Rokos (“Monster’s Ball”), Baz Luhrmann & Craig Pearce (“Moulin Rouge”) and Wes Anderson & Owen Wilson (“The Royal Tenenbaums”).
Adapted screenplay noms went to Akiva Goldsman (“A Beautiful Mind”), Ken Nolan (“Black Hawk Down”), Helen Fielding, Andrew Davies & Richard Curtis (“Bridget Jones’s Diary”), Daniel Clowes & Terry Zwigoff (“Ghost World”) and Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens & Peter Jackson (“Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings).
Addica, Boyens, Clowes, Fielding, Nolan, Rokos and Zwigoff were tapped for their first produced screenplays.
The Coens and Curtis are previous WGA winners for, respectively, 1996’s “Fargo” and 1994’s “Four Weddings and a Funeral.” The Coens also were nominated last year for “O Brother, Where Art Thou.” Walsh & Jackson received a nom for 1994’s “Heavenly Creatures.”
Fellowes, speaking from Britain, said, “When a writer receives a compliment from other writers, it is one of the greatest compliments he will ever know.”
Goldsman, buying a piece of pottery in Gotham to celebrate, echoed that sentiment: “There’s nothing really quite like the recognition. When other writers like your work, it’s really cool.”
For Jackson and Luhrmann, the noms come two weeks after they were tapped as finalists for directing honors by the DGA. “Only writers fully understand how hard it is to simplify the text in order to make the story work as a musical — which is a complete reversal of what you usually do,” Luhrmann said. “We truly had no idea how difficult this was going to be when we started.”
From New Zealand, Walsh and Boyens expressed elation but admitted that hammering out three screenplays for “Rings” had been a massive undertaking. “It was five years of hard slog,” Walsh said. “The challenge for us was to take a big sprawling book that a lot of people said was unfilmable. So it was daunting, but it was also exhilarating.”
Adica and Rokos, who both have small parts in “Monster’s Ball,” said the key challenge in the screenplay was to tap into personal experience without being self-indulgent. “I think writers were moved by the simple universal themes of the story,” Adica said.
Fellowes compared his task in crafting “Gosford Park” to putting together a Chinese puzzle. “It was a challenge to find the spine of the story and still make certain that each character has an arc.”
187 films eligible
The nominations, selected by the 11,500 guild members from 187 eligible films, offered no stunning surprises. Still, the voting scribes passed over several high-profile hopefuls including “Ali,” “Amelie” and “Mulholland Drive” for original screenplay and “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” and “The Shipping News” in the adapted category.
The guild had ruled that critical favorites “In the Bedroom” and “Memento” were ineligible for noms, since they weren’t produced by signatories to a WGA contract or one of its overseas affiliates. Animated hits “Monsters, Inc.” and “Shrek” also were ineligible because the companies have not signed either the WGA contract or its new credits agreement for feature animation. Nominees are not required to be WGA members.
News of the nominees leaked out Wednesday night on the Oscarwatch.com Web site, with the disclaimer that it might be a dummy roster (Daily Variety, Feb. 7). But the posting was accurate; it was taken from the wga.org site (the listing was not immediately apparent to those logging on to the guild site, but was visible Wednesday to those who knew how to navigate thecyber hangout).
WGA noms are a closely watched indicator of sentiment among Oscar voters (which has 409 members in the writer branch). The WGA’s pick has matched in one of the two categories in each of the last three years.
The WGA tapped “You Can Count On Me” last year for original screenplay, while the Academy selected “Almost Famous.” “Traffic” won both adapted screenplay awards.
“American Beauty” took both trophies for original screenplay two years ago, while “Election” won the WGA award for adapted screenplay and “The Cider House Rules” took the Oscar in that category.
“Shakespeare In Love” won the WGA and Oscar three years ago for original, while “Out of Sight” won the WGA trophy for adapted screenplay and “Gods and Monsters” won the Oscar in that category.
The WGA Awards will be presented March 2 in simultaneous ceremonies at the Beverly Hilton and the Pierre Hotel in Gotham.