The road to this year’s adapted screenplay Oscar race began six years ago for first-time screenwriter David Magee, who took Allan Knee’s play “The Man Who Was Peter Pan” and compressed a decade of J.M. Barrie’s life into a single year for “Finding Neverland.” “Barrie was, in so many ways, just a boy himself,” Magee says. “He pretty much lived in a dream world. A lot of the incidents in the film, like going to the summer cottage to play pirates, actually happened.”
Another unusual path to the race was taken by “Before Sunset,” which lands in the adapted category as the sequel to “Before Sunrise.” The script was a collaboration between director Richard Linklater and actors Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, all of whom were reprising their roles. The trio worked out a structure then wrote scenes on their own, with Linklater editing everything together over the course of a year. The final draft was fine-tuned during pre-production in Paris.
“Perhaps what I’m most proud of is that not one word in the entire film is improvised,” says Delpy. “Everything is written — all the hesitations, everything.”
In adapting “The Motorcycle Diaries” from the memoirs of Ernesto “Che” Guevara and Alberto Granado, screenwriter Jose Rivera had to live up to Guevara’s legend without letting it overwhelm the film. Far from being a political treatise, the film is, above all, a travelogue about two friends coming of age. Rivera spent two years researching and writing the script, paying careful attention to the depth of the two leads. “You can also characterize the movie as a love letter to South America,” adds Rivera, “or as a way to pay respect to its diversity and enormous history.”
Working from a classic odd-couple conceit, longtime co-writers Alexander Payne (who directed) and Jim Taylor achieve a pitch-perfect balance of humor and pathos on “Sideways.” Unlike their first two adaptations, “Election” and “About Schmidt,” Payne and Taylor’s script for “Sideways” remains almost entirely faithful to the structure and plot of Rex Pickett’s novel. “I liked how human the novel was, how sad and funny it was,” Payne says. “That’s the main reason we responded to it, and because of that we didn’t feel the need to change much of what he wrote.”
Good odds were placed as final contending films rolled out in December on “Closer,” which Patrick Marber adapted from his hit 1997 play. The difficulty of the subject matter made it a difficult script to work on and to sell to Oscar voters, who passed it over for a nom. “We knew we were making a film that had a lot of dialogue and long scenes, and that it wouldn’t appeal to everyone,” says Marber.
Based on short fiction by a former boxing trainer, the script to “Million Dollar Baby” is being talked about for the brutal left hook it delivers in its sudden departure from genre expectations, and for the depth and truth of its character work. Paul Haggis obtained the rights and wrote the script on spec and had to come up with additions to bring the truths of F.X. Toole’s stories to the screen. After Swank and Clint Eastwood signed on, Haggis says he nervously offered to make any changes Eastwood might need; “Clint said, ‘Script’s fine.’ “