In accepting his original screenplay honors at the Writers Guild’s Saturday kudofest, Christopher Nolan called for the WGA to reverse its longstanding policy of excluding scripts not produced under jurisdiction of the WGA and affiliate guilds.
The evening, handing out prizes in 28 categories with simultaneous events in L.A. and New York also saw Aaron Sorkin continue his winning streak for “The Social Network,” his adaptation of Ben Mezrich’s “The Accidental Billionaires.”
“Inside Job” took the docu trophy while “Mad Men,” “Boardwalk Empire,” “Modern Family” and “30 Rock” won the top TV trophies at the ceremony, presented at Hollywood and Highland in Los Angeles and the AXA Equitable Center in New York.
The win for Warner Bros.’ “Inception” came as the evening’s biggest surprise. Nolan topped the original screenplay contest in voting among the WGA’s 12,000 members as the Brit’s intricate exploration of multiple subconscious worlds bested the Oscar-nominated scripts for “The Fighter” and “The Kids Are All Right” along with “Black Swan” and “Please Give.”
The WGA win for “Inception” offers a twist to Academy Awards calculus, as Oscar-nommed scripts for “Another Year” and “The King’s Speech” weren’t eligible for the WGA trophy.
Nolan noted he was “crushed” when discovering that his “Memento” script — which was Oscar-nommed — was ineligible for the WGA Awards a decade ago.
“Nothing is more important than recognition by my peers,” he added. “I hope next year the person who stands up here can give thanks without qualification.”
WGA leaders have consistently resisted calls for loosening the org’s eligibility rules.
“The Social Network” topped the Oscar-nominated scripts for “127 Hours” and “True Grit” along with “I Love You Phillip Morris” and “The Town.” The Oscar-nommed scripts for “Toy Story 3” and “Winter’s Bone” were ineligible.
Sorkin credited director David Fincher and the producers with elevating his work. “I wrote a good script, but David Fincher made a great movie,” he noted.
“The Hurt Locker” duo of Mark Boal and Kathryn Bigelow awarded Nolan and Sorkin with their trophies in one of the evening’s few joke-free presentations.
Even with guild exclusions, the WGA Awards have been a fairly reliable indicator for Oscar winners in the writing categories with matches in both in 11 of the past 16 years. Boal won both original screenplay awards for “The Hurt Locker” last year, while the adapted screenplay awards deviated last year when Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner won the WGA trophy for “Up in the Air” and Geoffrey Fletcher won the Oscar for “Precious.”
The writers branch composes about 7% of the Acad’s voting membership, or 375 of 5,755. The writers branch makes noms for Oscar, but the entire AMPAS membership votes on the final trophy.
“Inside Job” won the documentary award for Charles Ferguson, repeating his win at the DGA Awards last week. The filmmaker, clad in jeans and turtleneck, elicited major laughs when he said, “In the grand tradition of documentary filmmakers, I’m severely under-dressed.”
“Inside Job,” an exploration of the 2008 financial meltdown, faces Oscar competition from “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” “Gasland,” “Restrepo” and “Waste Land.”
AMC’s “Mad Men” won two TV trophies as it repeated as drama series winner and Erin Levy took the drama episode award for “The Chrysanthemum and the Sword” segment.
ABC’s “Modern Family” won the comedy series trophy with the entire writing staff issuing humorous apologies in their acceptance — including showrunner Steve Levitan, who said, “On behalf of my very sexy wife, I apologize to my children for not locking the bedroom door.”
Robert Carlock repeated in taking the comedy episode award for the “When It Rains, It Pours” segment of NBC’s “30 Rock.” Carlock tied for the trophy last year for a “30 Rock” segment with the “Modern Family” pilot.
HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire” continued racking up kudos with the WGA laurel for new series — which comes on the heels of wins at the SAG, DGA and Golden Globe awards fetes.
Shuttered soap opera “As the World Turns” won the daytime serials award in its 54th year. “Futurama” took the animated trophy for the “The Prisoner of Benda” episode penned by Ken Keeler, who delivered the evening’s only strike-related quip in noting that when he works late with former WGA president Patric Verrone, also nommed for a “Futurama” seg, they’ll work on picket signs.
Robert Schenkkan and Michelle Ashford won the longform adaptation kudo for HBO’s “The Pacific Part Eight” with Schenkkan noting that his father had worked on a bomb disposal squad for U.S. forces in the Pacific during World War II. “Dad, I love you,” he said.
Peter Morgan won the longform award for original script for HBO’s “The Special Relationship.” “The Colbert Report” received the comedy-variety series trophy and “National Memorial Day Concert” took the comedy-variety specials award.
Ubisoft’s “Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood” took the videogame award. “Anyone But Me” and “Frank vs. Lutz” won the first new media writing trophies in the original and derivative categories, respectively.
Disney Channel won both children’s trophies for “Imagination Movers” in series and “Avalon High” for longform for Julie Sherman Wolfe and Amy Talkington. Wolfe provoked laughs in her acceptance by recounting a tweet she received saying “Miss Wolfe — you’ve destroyed my life and I hope you die” by responding, “I’ll take teen hormonal rage over apathy.”
Candice Bergen presented “Murphy Brown” creator Diane English the previously announced Paddy Chayefsky award for lifetime achievement, evoking a promise from English that she’ll keep writing. “I’ll be like Lillian Hellman, wrapped in a blanket with a bottle of scotch, writing something someone will tell me will never get made,” she said.
English evoked major applause by noting that she’s often asked whether she’ll return to TV. “CBS I’m begging you — If Sarah Palin runs for president, please bring my show back,” she declared. “Six episodes is all I’ll need.”
Sony Pictures co-chairwoman Amy Pascal presented the Laurel Award for Screen to Steven Zaillian and noted that Scott Rudin was unable to join her due to pneumonia. Zaillian began his acceptance speech by crediting “Serpico” writers Waldo Salt and Norman Wexler for teaching him how to write when he was an usher in a San Francisco theater, where the cop drama played twice a night for two months.
“Modern Family” stars Eric Stonestreet and Jesse Tyler Ferguson hosted the Hollywood ceremonies and launched the show with a “Write it gay, write it gay, write it gay” musical number, which included the line “As long as there are profits, who would want to be straight? Now all we have to do is get rid of Prop. 8.”
In New York, the ceremony was barbed and profane. Presenter Wyatt Cenac (“The Daily Show”) boasted that he was one of five minorities present at the ceremony and responded to the laughs by adding, “It’s funny because it’s embarrassing.”
Host Kristen Schaal (“Flight of the Conchords”) ended her opening song and dance with a pledge to “get on with the motherfucking show” and described her audience as “semi-well-dressed nerds.”
“30 Rock’s” Judah Friedlander fit that description by adding sequins to one of his trademark trucker hats (it read “Word Economy”) and promised to “keep this shit short” as he presented a number of technical awards.
Tony Gilroy presnted his father, Frank Gilroy, with the Ian McLellan Hunter Lifetime Achievement Award, and described him as “a man who put his ass in the chair every day and made shit up.”
(Cynthia Littleton in Hollywood and Robert Voris in New York contributed to this report.)
Click here to visit Variety’s Boffo blog for up-to-the-minute updates from the WGA Awards.
Complete list of winners:
Inception, Written by Christopher Nolan; Warner Bros.
The Social Network, Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin; Based on the book The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich; Sony Pictures
Inside Job, Written by Charles Ferguson; Co-written by Chad Beck, Adam Bolt; Sony Pictures Classics
Mad Men, Written by Jonathan Abrahams, Lisa Albert, Keith Huff, Jonathan Igla, Andre Jacquemetton, Maria Jacquemetton, Brett Johnson, Janet Leahy, Erin Levy, Tracy McMillan, Dahvi Waller, Matthew Weiner; AMC
Modern Family, Written by Jerry Collins, Paul Corrigan, Alex Herschlag, Abraham Higginbotham, Elaine Ko, Joe Lawson, Steven Levitan, Christopher Lloyd, Dan O’Shannon, Jeffrey Richman, Brad Walsh, Ilana Wernick, Bill Wrubel, Danny Zuker; ABC
Boardwalk Empire, Written by Meg Jackson, Lawrence Konner, Howard Korder, Steve Kornacki, Margaret Nagle, Tim Van Patten, Paul Simms, Terence Winter; HBO
EPISODIC DRAMA – any length – one airing time
“The Chrysanthemum and the Sword” (Mad Men), Written by Erin Levy; AMC
EPISODIC COMEDY – any length – one airing time
“When It Rains, It Pours” (30 Rock), Written by Robert Carlock; NBC
LONG FORM – ORIGINAL – over one hour – one or two parts, one or two airing times
The Special Relationship, Written by Peter Morgan; HBO
LONG FORM – ADAPTATION – over one hour – one or two parts, one or two airing times
The Pacific, “Part Eight,” Written by Robert Schenkkan and Michelle Ashford, Based in part on the books Helmet for My Pillow by Robert Leckie and With The Old Breed by Eugene B. Sledge with additional material from Red Blood, Black Sand by Chuck Tatum and China Marine by Eugene B. Sledge; HBO
ANIMATION – any length – one airing time
“The Prisoner of Benda” (Futurama), Written by Ken Keeler; Comedy Central
COMEDY / VARIETY – (INCLUDING TALK) SERIES
The Colbert Report, Writers: Barry Julien, Dan Guterman, Eric Drysdale, Frank Lesser, Glenn Eichler, Jay Katsir, Max Werner, Meredith Scardino, Michael Brumm, Opus Moreschi, Peter Gwinn, Rich Dahm, Rob Dubbin, Scott Sherman, Stephen Colbert, Tom Purcell, Peter Grosz, Paul Dinello; Comedy Central
COMEDY / VARIETY – MUSIC, AWARDS, TRIBUTES – SPECIALS
National Memorial Day Concert 2010, Written by Joan Meyerson; PBS
As the World Turns, Written by Susan Dansby, Lucky Gold, Janet Iacobuzio,Penelope Koechl, David Kreizman, Leah Laiman, David A. Levinson, Leslie Nipkow, Jean Passanante, Gordon Rayfield, David Smilow; CBS
CHILDREN’S EPISODIC & SPECIALS
“Happy Ha-Ha Holidays” (Imagination Movers), Written by Michael G. Stern, Randi Barnes, Rick Gitelson, Scott Gray; Disney Channel
CHILDREN’S SCRIPT – LONG FORM OR SPECIAL
Avalon High, Teleplay by Julie Sherman Wolfe and Amy Talkington, Based on the novel by Meg Cabot; Disney Channel
DOCUMENTARY – CURRENT EVENTS
“Flying Cheap” (Frontline), Written by Rick Young; PBS
DOCUMENTARY – OTHER THAN CURRENT EVENTS
“Wyatt Earp” (American Experience), Written by Rob Rapley; PBS
NEWS – REGULARLY SCHEDULED, BULLETIN OR BREAKING REPORT
“Sunday Morning Almanac” (CBS Sunday Morning), Written by Thomas A. Harris; CBS News
NEWS – ANALYSIS, FEATURE, OR COMMENTARY
“Resurrecting Eden” (60 Minutes), Written by Jenny Dubin; CBS
2009 Year in Review, Written by Gail Lee; CBS Radio News
NEWS – REGULARLY SCHEDULED OR BREAKING
CBS World News Roundup, Written by Paul Farry; CBS Radio News
NEWS – ANALYSIS, FEATURE OR COMMENTARY
“Passages,” Written by Gail Lee; CBS Radio News
PROMOTIONAL WRITING AND GRAPHIC ANIMATION WINNERS
ON-AIR PROMOTION (RADIO OR TELEVISION)
CSI Promos, Written by Anne de Vega; CBS
TELEVISION GRAPHIC ANIMATION
“Sunday Morning, By Design” (CBS Sunday Morning), Graphic Designer Bob Pook, Graphic Artist Diane Robinson; CBS News
VIDEOGAME WRITING WINNER
Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, Story by Patrice Desilets, Jeffrey Yohalem, Corey May;
Lead Script Writer: Jeffrey Yohalem; Script Writers: Ethan Petty, Nicholas Grimwood, Matt Turner; Ubisoft
NEW MEDIA WRITING WINNERS
OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN WRITING – ORIGINAL NEW MEDIA
“The Real Thing,” “Identity Crisis,” “Girl Talk,” “Naming Things,” “Curtain Up” (Anyone But Me), Written by Susan Miller, Tina Cesa Ward; http://www.AnyoneButMeSeries.com
OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN WRITING – DERIVATIVE NEW MEDIA
“Strip Pong,” “Tear Jerks,” “Brainstorm,” (Frank vs. Lutz), Written by Jon Haller; 30 Rock New Media, http://www.nbc.com