Dustin Lance Black’s original screenplay win Saturday at the Writers Guild of America Awards gives a boost to “Milk” as award season slides into the home stretch. Fox Searchlight’s “Slumdog Millionaire” kept its hot streak going as Simon Beaufoy took the adapted screenplay honor.
Ari Folman won the docu competish for Sony Pictures Classics’ “Waltz With Bashir.”
On the TV side, AMC’s “Mad Men” and NBC’s “30 Rock” took the top drama and comedy series kudos. HBO’s “In Treatment” won for new series while NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” prevailed in the comedy/variety series competish.
In other smallscreen categories, Vince Gilligan drew the episodic drama nod for the pilot of AMC’s “Breaking Bad.” Andrew Guest and John Riggi took episodic comedy for the “Succession” seg of “30 Rock.”
Danny Strong won the longform original vote for HBO’s “Recount,” the telepic that earned the thesp-turned-scribe his entry into the WGA. Kirk Ellis won for adapted longform for HBO’s “John Adams,” based on the biography by David McCullough. Animation honors went to Jeff Westbrook for the “Apocalypse Cow” episode of Fox’s “The Simpsons.”
In his opening remarks, WGA West prexy Patric Verrone noted the impact of the strike and its legacy of encouraging some scribes to turn to the Internet as an alternative to traditional film and TV work.
“This is our future, and we are embracing it,” Verrone said, citing a handful of Web shingles engaged in made-for-Internet productions under WGA contracts.
Last year’s awards dinner in Los Angeles was canceled due to the WGA strike. This year, differences in the timing of the award presentations at the Gotham and L.A. fetes took some of the suspense out of the evening, as word of wins revealed in New York spread via email and the Web in the Century Plaza ballroom.
Black had tears in his eyes Saturday night when he accepted the WGA’s original screenplay award for “Milk,” his biopic of pioneering gay politician and activist Harvey Milk.
“I want to thank God for making my dreams come true, and I want to thank God for giving us Harvey Milk,” Black told the crowd at the Century Plaza hotel.
Before Black’s name was called for the last award of the night, he’d been onstage just a few minutes earlier to accept the guild’s Paul Selvin kudo for scribes who highlight issues of civil liberties and constitutional freedoms. He used that moment to call for the federal government to act “immediately, decisively and unequivocally” to protect the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans.
“We need to dream bigger than Proposition 8,” Black said, referring to the anti-same-sex marriage ballot measure California voters approved in November. “I’m a child of Harvey Milk, and I’m a child of the movies. Those two things can inspire a guy to dream big.”
“Milk” beat the screenplays for “Burn After Reading,” “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” “The Visitor” and “The Wrestler.” It was the only one of the WGA original screenplay nominees to earn a spot in the same category in the Oscar heat, where “Milk” will face off against “Frozen River,” “Happy-Go- Lucky,” “In Bruges” and “Wall-E.”
“Slumdog Millionaire,” the Mumbai-set rags-to-riches tale adapted from Vikas Swarup’s novel “Q&A,” topped fellow Oscar adapted screenplay contenders “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “Doubt” and “Frost/Nixon” as well as “The Dark Knight.”
“Slumdog” scribe Beaufoy accepted his award at the New York ceremony saying, “This (award) is beautiful. There are a lot of awards out there that are not genuinely beautiful.”
WGA winners have matched Oscar winners in the original screenplay category in nine of the past 14 years, including last year’s wins by Diablo Cody for “Juno.” In the adapted screenplay race, the WGA winner has gone on to an Oscar 10 times in the past 14 years, last year, when Joel and Ethan Coen triumphed for “No Country for Old Men.”
Folman’s victory for Sony Classics’ “Waltz With Bashir” came a week after he won the DGA’s docu nod. A former Israeli soldier’s exploration of his lost memories is up for an Oscar for foreign-language film.
Writers Guild Award ceremonies were held simultaneously at the Century Plaza, hosted by Neil Patrick Harris, and at New York’s Hudson Theater, hosted by “The Daily Show’s” John Oliver.
Among the honorary award recipients, veteran TV scribe William Blinn got the room’s attention with his advice for up-and-comers as he accepted the Paddy Chayefsky kudo for television. Blinn, whose credits range from “Brian’s Song” to “Roots” to “Starsky and Hutch,” warned of the dangers of “self-absorption and self-pity” for tyro scribes.
“Get off your ass and do the work,” Blinn instructed. “You have an obligation to understand how goddamned lucky you are to be doing a job you like, and one that 95% of people in the world envy beyond description.”
(Addie Morfoot in New York contributed to this report.)
2009 WGA WINNERS:
“Milk,” Written by Dustin Lance Black, Focus Features
“Slumdog Millionaire,” Screenplay by Simon Beaufoy, Based on the Novel Q and A by Vikas Swarup, Fox Searchlight Pictures
“Waltz with Bashir,” Written by Ari Folman, Sony Pictures Classics
“Mad Men,” Written by Lisa Albert, Jane Anderson, Rick Cleveland, Kater Gordon, David Isaacs, Andre Jacquemetton, Maria Jacquemetton, Marti Noxon, Robin Veith, Matthew Weiner; AMC
“30 Rock,” Written by Jack Burditt, Kay Cannon, Robert Carlock, Tina Fey, Donald Glover, Andrew Guest, Matt Hubbard, Jon Pollack, John Riggi, Tami Sagher, Ron Weiner; NBC
“In Treatment,” Written by Rodrigo Garcia, Bryan Goluboff, Davey Holmes, William Merritt Johnson, Amy Lippman, Sarah Treem; HBO
EPISODIC DRAMA – any length – one airing time
“Pilot” (Breaking Bad), Written by Vince Gilligan; AMC
EPISODIC COMEDY – any length – one airing time
“Succession” (30 Rock), Written by Andrew Guest & John Riggi; NBC
LONG FORM – ORIGINAL
“Recount,” Written by Danny Strong; HBO
LONG FORM – ADAPTATION
“John Adams,” “Episode 1, Join or Die,” Teleplay by Kirk Ellis, Based on the book by David McCullough; “Episode 2, Independence,” Teleplay by Kirk Ellis, Based on the book by David McCullough; HBO
ANIMATION – any length – one airing time
“Apocalypse Cow” (The Simpsons), Written by Jeff Westbrook; Fox
COMEDY/VARIETY – (INCLUDING TALK) SERIES
“Saturday Night Live,” Head Writers Seth Meyers, Andrew Steele, Paula Pell, Writers Doug Abeles, James Anderson, Alex Baze, Jessica Conrad, James Downey, Charlie Grandy, Steve Higgins, Colin Jost, Erik Kenward, Rob Klein, John Lutz, Seth Meyers, Lorne Michaels, John Mulaney, Paula Pell, Simon Rich, Marika Sawyer, Akiva Schaffer, Robert Smigel, John Solomon, Emily Spivey, Andrew Steele, Kent Sublette, Jorma Taccone, Bryan Tucker, Additional Sketches by Robert Carlock; NBC
COMEDY/VARIETY – MUSIC, AWARDS, TRIBUTES – SPECIALS
“2008 Film Independent Spirit Awards,” Written by Billy Kimball, Aaron Lee, Jennifer Celotta, Rainn Wilson; IFC/AMC
“As the World Turns,” Written by Jean Passanante, Leah Laiman, Courtney Simon, Lisa Connor, David A. Levinson, Peter Brash, Richard Culliton, Susan Dansby, Cheryl Davis, Leslie Nipkow; CBS
CHILDREN’S EPISODIC & SPECIALS
“Elmo’s Christmas Countdown” (Sesame Workshop), Written by Joey Mazzarino; ABC
CHILDREN’S SCRIPT – LONG FORM OR SPECIAL
“Polar Bears” (The Naked Brothers Band), Written by Polly Draper; Nickelodeon
DOCUMENTARY – CURRENT EVENTS
“Bush’s War: Part One” (Frontline), Written by Michael Kirk; PBS
DOCUMENTARY – OTHER THAN CURRENT EVENTS
“Secrets of the Parthenon” (NOVA), Written by Gary Glassman; PBS
NEWS – REGULARLY SCHEDULED, BULLETIN, OR BREAKING REPORT
“ABC Weekend News,” Written by Joel Siegel, Karen Mooney, David Muir; ABC
NEWS – ANALYSIS, FEATURE, OR COMMENTARY
“Yankee Stadium and the New Gilded Age” (Bill Moyers Journal), Writers Bill Moyers & Michael Winship; PBS
“Black History Month,” Written by Anthony J. McHugh; CBS
NEWS – REGULARLY SCHEDULED OR BREAKING
“World News This Week,” Written by Marianne J. Pryor; ABC
NEWS – ANALYSIS, FEATURE, OR COMMENTARY
“Tributes,” Written by Gail Lee; CBS
PROMOTIONAL WRITING AND GRAPHIC ART WINNERS
ON-AIR PROMOTION (RADIO OR TELEVISION)
“Jericho: Two-Minute Drills,” Written by Eric Jacobson; CBS
TELEVISION GRAPHIC ANIMATION
“Medical Animations” (CBS Evening News), David Rosen; CBS
“Star Wars: The Force Unleashed,” Writers Haden Blackman, Shawn Pitman, John Stafford
and Cameron Suey, LucasArts