The USC Libraries Scripter Awards honor the year’s best film and television adaptations, as well as the works on which they are based. This group of academics, industry professionals, and critics (for which I vote) is often predictive of the Adapted Screenplay Oscar race.
While Netflix dominated this year’s nominations with three adapted scripts, for movies “The Irishman” (Steve Zaillian adapted Charles Brandt’s “I Heard You Paint Houses”) and “The Two Popes” (Anthony McCarten adapted his own play), and Susannah Grant, Michael Chabon, and Ayelet Waldman’s limited series “Unbelievable,” the winners were Amazon’s “Fleabag” (play and series author Phoebe Waller-Bridge was in London), and Sony’s “Little Women,” whose scribe Greta Gerwig gave a heartfelt speech. This could presage another win at the WGA Awards next week and on Oscar night in the Adapted Screenplay category.
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“It’s the book of my life,” Gerwig said of Louisa May Alcott’s classic “Little Women.” “Reading and rereading this book through my childhood turned me into who I am today. She wrote about girls who wanted and yearned and dreamed. This process of adaptation of a novel 150 years old was a duet or conversation with someone who is no longer there. In the middle of the night I was certain I could speak to her. I hope the movie is a gift extended to the next generation of women.”
Last year’s Scripter winners were the exception: “Leave No Trace” screenwriters Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini were not nominated for the Oscar; they adapted Peter Rock, author of “My Abandonment.”
The year before was more typical, as the Scripter Award went to “Call Me by Your Name” screenwriter James Ivory (who won the Oscar), and author André Aciman; past winners include “Moonlight,” “The Big Short,” and “The Imitation Game,” which all won Oscars. In fact, before 2019, eight Scripter Award winners went on to claim Oscars.
The finalist writers for film adaptation are listed in alphabetical order by film title:
Matthew Carnahan and Mario Correa for “Dark Waters” (Focus Features) based on the New York Times Magazine article “The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare” by Nathaniel Rich.
Steven Zaillian for “The Irishman” (Netflix), based on the nonfiction work “I Heard You Paint Houses” (Steerforth Press) by Charles Brandt.
Taika Waititi for “Jojo Rabbit” (Fox Searchlight), based on the novel “Caging Skies” (Harry N. Abrams) by Christine Leunens.
Greta Gerwig for “Little Women” (Sony), adapted from the Signet Classics novel by Louisa May Alcott.
Anthony McCarten for “The Two Popes” (Netflix), based on his play “The Pope” (Flatiron Books).
The finalist writers for television were, in alphabetical order by series title:
Phoebe Waller-Bridge for the first episode of “Fleabag” (Amazon) based on her one-woman play of the same name, available through Nick Hern Books.
Joel Fields and Steven Levenson for the episode “Nowadays,” from “Fosse/Verdon” (FX), based on the biography “Fosse” by Sam Wasson from Mariner Books.
Emerald Fennell for the episode “Nice and Neat,” from “Killing Eve” (BBC America) based on the novel “Codename Villanelle” (Mulholland Books) by Luke Jennings.
Susannah Grant, Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman for the first episode of “Unbelievable” (Netflix) and based on the article “An Unbelievable Story of Rape,” by T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong, from ProPublica and The Marshall Project.
Damon Lindelof and Cord Jefferson for the episode “This Extraordinary Being,” from HBO’s “Watchmen,” based on the DC comic book series by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.
The USC Libraries announced the winning authors and screenwriters on Saturday in the USC Edward L. Doheny Jr. Memorial Library. Since 1988, Scripter has honored the authors of printed works alongside the screenwriters who adapt their stories. In 2016, the USC Libraries inaugurated a new Scripter award, for television adaptation. Television and film finalists compete in separate categories.
Chaired by screenwriter and USC professor Howard Rodman, who praised this year’s writers for their ability to “transform the pages into wild flickering light,” the 2020 Scripter selection committee selected the finalists from a field of 61 film and 58 television adaptations. Serving on the selection committee, among many others, are film critics Leonard Maltin and Kenneth Turan; authors Lisa Belkin, Steve Erickson, and Michael Ondaatje; screenwriters Larry Karaszewski, Wesley Strick and Erin Cressida Wilson; producers Tony Ganz, Gail Mutrux, Linda Reisman, and Suzanne Todd; and USC Deans Elizabeth Daley of the School of Cinematic Arts and Catherine Quinlan of the USC Libraries.