Top prizes at the USC Scripter event Saturday went to screenwriter Chloé Zhao and author Jessica Bruder for “Nomadland” as well as scripter Scott Frank and novelist Walter Tevis for Netflix’s “The Queen’s Gambit.”
As in past years, the award goes to both the scriptwriter(s) as well as the writer(s) of the original material.
Searchlight Pictures’ “Nomadland” is based on the nonfiction book “Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century.” Zhao thanked Bruder, the cast and crew of the film and Searchlight, concluding, “I feel so lucky to be able to tell stories for a living.” Bruder added that she had been reporting in 2014 for a magazine article that turned into the book and “It has been one hell of a ride.”
The “Queen’s Gambit” duo won for the episode “Openings.” Frank thanked Tevis for “the gift of that novel … This novel was beautiful and my mission was to protect it.” The son of the late Tevis said “My dad was a great storyteller” and Frank’s adaptation was “awesome.” Tevis’s daughter said, 37 years after his death, he’s getting more recognition, and thanked Frank.
California State Librarian Greg Lucas was given the Ex Libris Award, presented to longtime supporters of the USC libraries. He praised “the power and potential of libraries as we move further into the digital age,” admiring how quickly libraries adjusted to COVID isolation in the past year.
This was the 33rd annual event, and the first done virtually instead of the usual venue on the USC campus.
The nominees this year came from a variety of sources, including plays, magazine articles and books, both novels and non-fiction.
Other nominees for film were Mike Makowsky, “Bad Education” (HBO Films), based on the New York magazine article “The Bad Superintendent” by Robert Kolker; Jon Raymond and Kelly Reichardt, “First Cow” (A24), based on the novel “The Half-Life” by Jon Raymond; Ruben Santiago-Hudson, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (Netflix), based on the play by August Wilson; Kemp Powers, “One Night in Miami” (Amazon), based on the play by Powers
The other nominees for episodic series were Mark Richard and Ethan Hawke, “The Good Lord Bird” (Showtime) for the episode “Meet the Lord,” based on the novel by James McBride; Sally Rooney and Alice Birch, “Normal People” (Hulu), fifth episode; based on the novel by Rooney; Ed Burns and David Simon, “The Plot Against America” (HBO), sixth episode; based on the novel by Philip Roth; Anna Winger, “Unorthodox” (Netflix), first episode: based on the autobiography “Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots” by Deborah Feldman.
Before the awards presentations, USC Libraries dean Catherine Quinlan paid tribute to the faculty and library staff, pointing out that “we all continue to fight on” during isolation; she said the digitizing of material increased 2,000% over the previous year. Quinlan spoke before a virtual background of the campus’s Doheny Library, the setting for past in-person awards.
Howard Rodman, screenwriter, novelist and USC professor, spoke of the difficulty of doing an adaptation, since the scripters must discover “how to be faithful to the text even as you betray it.” He saluted the lineup of nominees, adding, “All the adaptations are honest, unique, heartfelt and full of very highest craft.”
The awards are an annual fundraiser for the USC Libraries. The awards began in 1988 honoring films, and TV adaptations were added in 2016. The works are judged by a panel of screenwriters, WGA members, industry executives, authors, faculty members and members of the Friends of the USC Libraries.
Last year’s winners were Greta Gerwig for her version of Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women” and Phoebe Waller-Bridge for adapting her play “Fleabag.”