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USC's Scripter Awards: Celebrating The Most Influential Filmmakers You've Never Heard Of

Ariel Sobel |
February 1, 2015 | 8:00 p.m. PST

Staff Reporter

2015 Scripter Award Nominees (USC Libraries)
2015 Scripter Award Nominees (USC Libraries)

“...I just came back from Sundance and although I thought this year was very strong narratively, the documentary portion…” This bit of small talk let me know I had arrived at the 2015 Scripter Awards. Last weekend I, along with a mix of book buffs and film snobs (of the most endearing kind) paid my respects to the literary merit of films and the books they’ve been adapted from.

This, like every year, was one where wildly popular novels came to the screen. Blockbusters based on widely read works such as "The Giver," "The Hunger Games," and "Divergent" burst into cinema, generating a strong box office response, but meager critical ones. Almost every time a popular book becomes a movie, it’s met with tons of anticipating fans... who rapidly decay into disappointed haters.

But this past film year has not been the most shameful for Hollywood; there were plenty of book-to-movie successes, even ones the masses could identify. "Gone Girl," which was written by Gillian Flynn both as a novel and screenplay, received glowing reactions by critics and audiences alike.

And it was not alone. Several of this year’s best films were adapations from lesser-known works; that means there is something to compare the movie to, but most of us don’t know it exists. This frees filmmakers from trying to recreate someone else’s story and instead write one in their own voice. This has been a trick of the trade dating back to Alfred Hitchcock.

But this level of anonymity often denies the original writers credit for inspiring the screenplays, sometimes even for creating the whole story. The Scripter Awards seek to remedy this by awarding novelists and screenwriters together as collaborators each year.

After reporting on the grandiose event last year, I was no longer able to devote half my time gaping at the transformation of Doheny Library. The normal studying tables had been replaced with elaborate dining arrangements, complete with floral masterpieces and a four-course dinner. Tonight, the hushed students who walk Doheny's halls were upgraded to industry people in black tie chattering during the silent auction (with even more pretentious dialogue than the usual cinephile banter amongst SCA’s film students). And most spectacularly, the reference desk had become a full-fledged bar.

When I first checked in, other press asked to take my picture. Although I was adequately dressed up, it didn’t make much sense - I’m a sophomore screenwriting major (fancy terms for a nobody). But knowing the guests at the awards show, it wasn’t that surprising. No one knew who the “stars” looked like, because they’ve spent their entire lives behind the camera, or before it starts shooting at all.

Tonight celebrated storytellers.

A great assortment of storytellers indeed. The nominees: "Inherent Vice," "Wild," "The Imitation Game," "The Theory of Everything" and "Gone Girl." Each powerful pieces, many of which began as personal experiences, yet spoke to large audiences and critics on a public scale.

As the only award show that pays homage to both the novelists who inspire and the screenwriters who cultivate, the special guests were not faces you’d know. However, their voices are hard to miss.

In "Wild," Reese Witherspoon might have portrayed a woman wandering across America on a thousand-mile hike to recover from heroin addiction, but nominee Cheryl Strayed was the one who had the courage to tell her account of it. "Theory of Everything" let us experience what it was like to live and grow alongside Steven Hawking; but without his wife and novelist, Jane, we’d only know enough about the acclaimed scientist to create two hours and three minutes of advanced physics class. (Though both have the ability to make me cry in public.)

We can talk about the genius of David Fincher’s directing, but "Gone Girl" belongs to one woman: Gillian Flynn. It’s her book. It’s her screenplay. It’s her story.

In world where we’re much more concerned with muses than artists, it’s nice to see people who lived incredible lives and sought out compelling stories having a night for themselves. For those of us with asymetrical faces and mediocre acting abilities, it gives us hope that we will be given some appreciation for making the words that fly out of Benedict Cumberbatch’s mouth sound so pretty. Tonight it didn’t matter what someone was wearing or who you saw. It mattered who you heard.

Screenwriter Graham Moore and biographer Andrew Hodges, who won the award for "The Imitation Game," certainly focused on that. The film, a biopic about brilliant British World War II codebreaker and computer pioneer Alan Turing, and the persecution he faced for his homosexuality, gave back a voice to someone used and thrown away by Western society. Moore, who accepted the award on behalf of them both (Hodges was teaching mathematics at Oxford University at the time) stated it best: “Alan Turing never got to stand on a stage and hear people applaud his name, and I do right now, and that is a profound injustice. All that I can do is spend the rest of my life endeavoring to repair it.” Putting his name in worldwide theaters and viewers' hearts (not to mention the Oscar shortlist) is a hell of a way to start.

 

Contact Staff Reporter Ariel Sobel here.

 



 

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