Was it last year or earlier this year when Kyle Turner asked whether people who discuss/nominate/award screenplays actually read the screenplays, or do they just go off the vibes of the finished film?
Anyway, ask this he did, and I felt directly indicted because, while I tried in 2007 and 2008 to only nominate screenplays I'd read, I stopped this because...well, mostly, it's difficult to find them the further back you go, but also because, ugh, the time and the energy. But he's right. If we're going to discuss screenwriting, we can't just look at the finished product with all the edits, rewrites, performances, etc, that interpret the work. We have to look at the source of all this, the blueprint. Is it a 1:1 transfer? Did the final product let down the promise of the written word; did it improve on it? Are script and film completely different? How much could the actors, crafts artists, director work from?
These are the questions I asked as I went through these nominees and reflected on how much reading determined the wins for Shakespeare in Love and Gods and Monsters:
Where available, I've linked to the available drafts (and for the real students of all film craft, Ian McKellen's official site has his Gods and Monsters script scanned page by page - with his notes!).
We start with Adapted Screenplay:
Gods and Monsters
from the novel Father of Frankenstein by Christopher Bram
first of two nominations; WGA Awards nominee for Best Adapted Screenplay
A great study for how to write characters through action and dialogue, gently guiding actor and reader to understanding who James Whale (and Clay Boone and Hanna) is (are). Equally at home as comedy of Hollywood manners as it is cat-and-mouse-esque two-hander, depending on Whale's moods. Develops Clayton's guardedness, flattery, friendship with Whale pretty convincingly.
Out of Sight
from the novel by Elmore Leonard
first of two nominations; WGA Awards winner for Best Adapted Sceeenplay
Heists, prison escapes, boxing, a man-on-the-run pursued by a beautiful US marshal...and knows that for all this excitement to happen, you need to believe these people exist, you need to buy the chemistry between Foley and Karen. It is there in the script, pages of sexy, funny repartee, action bluntly conveyed, building a final film that is all of that, an enjoyable, sexy, suspenseful good time.
from the novel by Anonymous
second of two nominations; BAFTA Award winner for Best Adapted Screenplay; WGA Awards nominee for Best Adapted Screenplay
The movie should've ended where the screenplay did. The script is perfect, has it all: intelligent, witty, believable. Thorough in its characterizations: no one sounds alike, even when they're trading barbs and rejoinders. Knows how to slow things down and gets the chaos of a working campaign - in the script, multiple times the dialogue is set side-by-side, private conversations and important phone calls, all vital, taking place simultaneously.
A Simple Plan
Scott B. Smith
from his novel
first and only nomination; National Board of Review's Best Screenplay of 1998; WGA Awards nominee for Best Adapted Screenplay
Noose-tightening plotting, ace character development, with our main guy Hank going from "good" guy to multiple murderer, all over money. But it shows us early on, too, how self-absorbed Hank is, treating his brother Jacob like a chore, only visiting his parents' gravesite certain times of year ("You think this is the only day we can come here?"), not noticing others' hardships and sacrifices. His own selfishness and cowardice are there from the getgo; the "turn" comes quicker than you'd think. Great.
The Thin Red Line
from the novel by James Jones
first and only writing nomination
Famously, the shooting script was thrown out in post-production with a whole new narrative center discovered and voiceovers added, so the film as written is not the film as released. And so what? Malick still wrote the voiceovers, still organized the narrative. As briefly as many of these characters appear, they are vivid on the screen, and that's because they're so meticulously crafted on the page. There is a repetitiveness to the voiceovers, an underlining of points already made visually, but sometimes those underlinings are very pretty to hear.
It's a solid lineup, but one must cast a vote. And I cast mine for:
OUT OF SIGHT
And moving on to Original Screenplay:
Warren Beatty & Jeremy Pikser
story by Warren Beatty
Beatty's fourth of four writing nominations; Pikser's first and only nomination; LAFCA Awards winner for Best Screenplay; Golden Globe nominee for Best Screenplay, WGA Awards nominee for Best Original Screenplay
You can see the appeal. It's direct, it's funny, it reads intelligent and informed. Characters are mostly ciphers, but it's entertaining. On page, anyway. On-screen, the shortcomings are more apparent. A faux-intelligent movie.
Life is Beautiful
Vincenzo Cerami & Roberto Benigni
Benigni's first and only writing nomination; Cerami's first and only nomination; BAFTA Awards nominee for Best Original Screenplay
I didn't get to read any version of the screenplay, so I'm just going by what I saw in the film. I don't hate this movie. Its heart is in the right-ish place and, more than a few more famous films on the topic, it takes the time (an hour!) to explore its characters and their world as people rather than lambs to the slaughter. I do like the scene where Guido imitates a fascist health official and his clownery reveals just how moronic their eugenics sounds. What sticks in the craw is the idea that children must be protected from truth no matter what, that it makes the experience of the Holocaust digestible, that his kid is such a moron.
Saving Private Ryan
first and only nomination; Golden Globe nominee for Best Original Screenplay, WGA Awards nominee for Best Original Screenplay
I fell in love with the writing while watching. The scene where they stop off for the night in a church and we get to know them, their apprehensions, Giovanni Ribisi's monologue about pretending to be asleep when his mother got home: that whole scene took me back to the pre-battle campfire conversations of Henry V (was this scene part of the Frank Darabont/Scott Frank rewrites?). Then actually reading the script, you get an appreciation for the battle scenes: how to write chaos, keep it navigable, make it filmable. Character, story, action: perfect.
Shakespeare in Love
Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard
Norman's first and only nomination; Stoppard's second and final nomination; Golden Globe winner for Best Screenplay, NYFCC Awards winner for Best Screenplay, WGA Awards winner for Best Original Screenplay; BAFTA Award nominee for Best Original Screenplay, LAFCA Awards runner-up for Best Screenplay
What a breeze of a story it is, what dialogue, what characters! One of my favorite elements is how Will and Viola write Romeo and Juliet and run the lines by night, their foreplay and love talk translated on the stage to not-always-physical passion - and with the twist of Viola taking the man's lines as Will recites the woman's. Playful double entendre that I'm sure the Bard himself would admire. The development of the backer from ruthless debt collector to patron of the arts to actor is a small but genius stroke.
The Truman Show
first and only nomination; BAFTA Award winner for Best Original Screenplay; Golden Globe nominee for Best Screenplay, WGA Awards nominee for Best Original Screenplay
One gets the feeling that the script wanted to keep things a mystery for longer than the movie does (bourne out by a read of the shooting draft). Knowing the puzzle going in, however, there is a thrill in being in on the conspiracy and waiting for Truman to catch on - something Niccol knows, anticipates, and mines. After all, any indictment of the TV generation has to include the audience as well. Fantastic, knows it, acknowledges it, plays with it - convinces you of its reality. And maintains the heart through all of it.
To me, it is obvious:
SAVING PRIVATE RYAN
Tomorrow, the nominees for Best Director: Roberto Benigni (Life is Beautiful), John Madden (Shakespeare in Love), Terrence Malick (The Thin Red Line), Steven Spielberg (Saving Private Ryan), and Peter Weir (The Truman Show).