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Why ‘Birdman’ Will Be MIA at the WGA Awards

The awards season momentum for “Birdman” — which has won the major trophies at the PGA, SAG and DGA ceremonies — is about to be halted temporarily.

When the Writers Guild of America hands out its screenwriting awards Saturday, the Oscar-nominated scripts for “Birdman” and “The Theory of Everything” won’t be named. Both scripts were excluded by the WGA last year when the guild sent out its nominations ballot to members, which included 60 scripts in the original category and 48 in adapted.

The script for “Birdman,” written by director Alejandro G. Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. and Armando Bo, is up for an Oscar in the original screenwriting category. Anthony McCarten’s script for “The Theory of Everything” is contending for an Oscar in the adapted screenplay contest.

The WGA restrictions on script awards are far more rigorous than those for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, SAG-AFTRA and the Directors Guild of America. The WGA — which also excluded the scripts for “Mr. Turner” and “Selma” — requires that scripts be produced under a WGA agreement or by an affiliate guild.

In addition, members who have resigned from the WGA, such as “12 Years a Slave” screenwriter John Ridley, are ineligible for the guild award. Ridley went on to win the Oscar for adapted screenplay last year; other notable scripts excluded from the WGA Awards but that have gone on to win Oscars include Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” and David Seidler’s “The King’s Speech.”

WGA West spokesman Gregg Mitchell told Variety that “Birdman” and “The Theory of Everything” were excluded because “neither film was covered by a WGA or affiliate guild agreement.”

In the case of “Birdman,” none of the four writers is a WGA member — a key point since WGA writer cannot work for a non-signatory company. So if any of the writers were WGA, the producer would have been required to become a WGA signatory.

The production companies on “Birdman” are New Regency Productions, M Productions, Le Gribsi, TSG Entertainment and Worldview Entertainment. Only New Regency is a WGA signatory.

Christopher Nolan brought up the exclusion issue at the WGA Awards show in 2011. In his acceptance speech for winning the original screenplay trophy for “Inception,” he asserted that he had been “crushed” when he found out that his “Memento” script — which was Oscar-nominated — was ineligible for the WGA Awards a decade earlier.

Nolan also urged the WGA to loosen the eligibility rules, but that’s unlikely to happen. Unlike the other guilds, the WGA has been the ultimate arbiter of screenplay credits since 1941 for any script under its jurisdiction, so changing the rules would mean that the guild would not have made the official authorship determination on the script.

And both WGA West president Christopher Keyser and WGA East president Michael Winship have said repeatedly that they won’t loosen the eligibility.

“We view the awards as a celebration of the membership, so we’re not going to change the rules,” Winship told Variety.

The guild rules require that members of the WGA East and WGA West cannot perform writing services for or sell screenplays to producers or companies that are not signatory to the unions’ basic agreement.

A producer or a company does not have to be a signatory to engage a screenwriter’s services or to buy a screenplay from a write. But a producer or company that is a signatory to the basic agreement can only hire a union writer to perform writing services and can buy screenplays only from union writers and in each instance must pay at least the union minimums.

As a result, most producers and companies have a signatory company and a non-signatory company. And by not writing under WGA jurisdiction, Inarritu’s writing credit was not subject to the WGA credit rules requiring an arbitration when a production executive’s name is submitted for a screenwriting credit.

The WGA rules for screenplay eligibility are as follows:

“Feature films eligible for a Writers Guild Award were exhibited theatrically for at least one week in Los Angeles during 2014 and were written under the WGA’s Minimum Basic Agreement (MBA) or under a bona fide collective bargaining agreement of the Writers Guild of Canada, Writers Guild of Great Britain, Irish Playwrights & Screenwriters Guild, or the New Zealand Writers Guild. Theatrical screenplays produced under the jurisdiction of the WGA or an affiliate Guild must have been submitted for Writers Guild Awards consideration.”

Six of the WGA nominees — the scripts for “American Sniper,” “Boyhood,” “Foxcatcher,” “The Imitation Game,” “Nightcrawler” and “Whiplash” — also received Oscar nominations. “Whiplash” is in the adapted category for the Oscars and the original category for the WGA.

Candidates for the WGA Awards:

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Boyhood, Written by Richard Linklater; IFC Films

Foxcatcher, Written by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman; Sony Pictures Classics

The Grand Budapest Hotel, Screenplay by Wes Anderson; Story by Wes Anderson & Hugo Guinness; Fox Searchlight

Nightcrawler, Written by Dan Gilroy; Open Road Films

Whiplash, Written by Damien Chazelle; Sony Pictures Classics

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

American Sniper, Written by Jason Hall; Based on the book by Chris Kyle with Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice; Warner Bros.

Gone Girl, Screenplay by Gillian Flynn; Based on her novel; 20th Century Fox

Guardians of the Galaxy, Written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman; Based on the Marvel comic by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning; Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

The Imitation Game, Written by Graham Moore; Based on the book Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges; The Weinstein Co.

Wild, Screenplay by Nick Hornby; Based on the book by Cheryl Strayed; Fox Searchlight

 

 

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