The 2015 Writers Guild Awards (WGA) for the West Coast were held on February 14, making it a day for romancing last year's best writers with accolades and honors. In lieu of roses, we think taking home a WGA award expressed the WGA members' love for their fellow writers quite well enough.
The WGA Awards run the gamut of media platforms, choosing their sweethearts from among writers for television, video gaming, radio, and Internet-based shows. Being held so close to the Academy Awards, the categories of Best Original, Adapted, and Documentary Feature Screenplay generate high levels of interest, of course. And as the theatrical screenplay nominees and winners expressed again and again during our interviews, being recognized by their peers within the professional union makes the WGA awards that much more meaningful.
Screenplay writer and filmmaker Benjamin Affleck was presented with this year's Valentine Davies Award at the ceremony, which honors the WGA member "whose contributions to the entertainment industry and the community-at-large have brought dignity and honor to writers everywhere." According to WGA President Chris Keyser, who wrote of Affleck founding the Eastern Congo Initiative and his volunteer efforts with many other charitable organizations, Affleck "has somehow found the time to become an engaged leader in humanitarian causes here and abroad.…And in doing so, he has raised the bar for what it means, in this community, to be a socially committed citizen." [insert link: http://www.wga.org/wga-awards/2015-valentine-davies-award-ben-affleck.aspx]
Also raising awareness of important causes were this year's Documentary Screenplay nominees, whether those causes were exploring the noxious state of our legal system through recounting the life of Aaron Swartz in the Internet's Own Boy, retelling the events of the USA's abandonment of Saigon in Last Days in Vietnam, giving the Russian hockey players of the Miracle on Ice a chance to tell their side of the events in Red Army, or bringing the artistry of a photographer who lived her life in secret out into the open with Finding Vivian Maier. We spoke with winner Brian Knappenberger (the Internet's Own Boy) both before and after he took the top prize as well as nominees John Maloof and Charlie Siskel (Finding Vivian Maier) and Mark Bailey and Keven McAlester (Last Days in Vietnam). Gabe Polsky (Red Army) was the final documentary screenplay nominee.
In the Adapted Screenplay category, winner Graham Moore (the Imitation Game) charmed us with his hero worship for fellow tech geek and outsider Alan Turing, while nominee Jason Hall (American Sniper) expressed his own admiration for his script's subject, Chris Kyle. They were joined on the ballot by Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl), James Gunn and Nicole Perlman (Guardians of the Galaxy), and Nick Hornby (Wild).
Original Screenplay nominees E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman (Foxcatcher) also met up with our hosts on the red carpet. They credited one of the night's presenters, Steve Carrell, with a lot of John du Pont's humanization in the film, but we suspect their nominations mean their fellow writers recognize a good case of characterization when they see it. Ultimately, the voters saved their best flattery for Wes Anderson, giving him the award for the Grand Budapest Hotel among the pool of other potential suitors that included Richard Linklater (Boyhood), Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler), and Damien Chazelle (Whiplash).
Can we woo you with these clips of our own red carpet romancing? In them, you'll see that all these commendable writers know how to put their best foot forward both onscreen and on the page. We didn't even mind being left without a goodnight kiss.
Brian Knappenberger Hopes the Internet's Own Boy Would Be Proud of His Film
Brian Knappenberger speaks to how the Internet's Own Boy exposes failings in the legal system and how it ultimately ruined the life of such an amazingly smart and dedicated young man. Knappenberger shares his hope that Swartz would feel proud of the ways the film has opened eyes and inspired people around the globe to make their own change. When grief is as fresh and deep as it was for Swartz's friends and family so soon after his death, filming is hard, but knowing how to handle that is part of being a documentarian.
After His Win, Brian Knappenberger's Thoughts Were on Aaron Swartz and His Future
Knappenberger conveyed his genuine surprise at winning Best Documentary Screenplay despite how touching of a tribute he made to Swartz. The film does question whether Swartz was a genius, but as Knappenberger explains, Swartz's passion is ultimately more inspiring than his smarts. Knappenberger stops short of calling the film a triumph in the face of such tragedy but is proud of its worldwide effect. His own future projects involve a turn toward narrative filmmaking, but he'll never leave documentaries behind completely.
Writing and Directing Last Days in Vietnam Was a Marital Affair
The writers of Last Days in Vietnam, Mark Bailey and Keven McAlester, were joined on the red carpet by Bailey's wife, Rory Kennedy, who directed the documentary. Bailey deferentially communicates how much of a privilege it is to be honored by their peers in the WGA and just how their team of three functioned. Kennedy gives her writers the credit for making this retelling of history into an edge-of-your-seat production.
Finding Vivian Maier's Story was More Important than Finding Her Photographs
Charlie Siskel, co-writer of Finding Vivian Maier, lends us his excellent understanding of the importance of writing in documentary filmmaking, a relationship that isn't always obvious to film-goers. He relates how Maier's double life made her an attractive puzzle to figure out, if she can be figured out at all. For Siskel, helping Maier get her due as an artist has been his biggest reward. Siskel would love to discover more artists, but his focus is on finding a great story no matter the topic.
Graham Moore Reminds Us: Great Writing Comes from Great Research
On the red carpet before the ceremony, Graham Moore talks about the responsibility he and the production team felt to do Alan Turing's story justice. Getting inside Turing's constantly moving mind was definitely a challenge, as was bringing that mind to life in the script. But the greater challenge was researching Turing's life when the man himself had to keep so much of it secret, including his role in breaking the Germans' codes. Moore also talks about how rewarding it was for Turing to receive a posthumous pardon and shares his hopes that the film will help make that reality for all the gay men and women who've been prosecuted for their sexuality in Britain's past. Moore may not have pursued the career in technology that Turing's example initially inspired him toward, but we think this young writer is still doing pretty well for himself.
Telling Turing's Story Has Been Graham Moore's Dream Since Space Camp
After his win, Moore's passion for telling Turing's story only became more evident. He takes us through the process of nurturing it for years, taking it from his spec script to the winner of a WGA, and two weeks after our interview, an Academy Award. Turing has always been an inspiration for Moore for more as a geeky kid and outsider looking for a hero. He also shares the reactions of Turing's family to the special screening the production team put on for them.
Foxcatcher's Tag Team of Screenwriters Split the Script around the Writer's Strike!
E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman revel in their back pats from Keira Knightly, one of the evening's many A-Listers who came out to support the writers of the roles that have made them famous. Futterman explains why we're less likely to see him in front of the camera these days—namely because of the wider opportunities that writing presents than acting. Turns it Frye started writing Foxcatcher all the way back before the writer's strike. Futterman took over the script in more recent years—we think they created a nice whole between the two of them. Both writers talk about how humanizing the character of John du Pont was their biggest challenge, but it turns out that we can still relate to a man who has everything when he feels as though he has nothing. And never underestimate the talent of Steve Carrell.
Jason Hall's Immense Respect for Chris Kyle Comes through in Interview as Well as in Script
Jason Hall's hardest scene to write, in the midst of many contenders, was the one back home in the States in which a fellow Marine approaches Chris Kyle to thank him for saving his life. Kyle was so humble that getting the tone of that moment just right was difficult. But getting to watch Clint Eastwood direct the film was a remarkable experience, one Hall won't be forgetting anytime soon. He credits the movie's appeal to Kyle's personal "Midas" effect. Of course, having to do rewrites in the wake of Kyle's murder was heartwrenching, but Hall hopes his friend would have been proud of the end result, especially of how it honors other soldiers, one of Kyle's primary concerns.