By Sheryl Aronson
The Century Plaza, Hyatt Regency, Century City, February 13th
The world of current events and technology were the big winners last Saturday night at the WGA Awards as Spotlight won for best screenplay and The Big Short won for best adapted screenplay as well as Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief won for best documentary. Mr. Robot won for best new series on television and Silicon Valley won for best episodic comedy series.
The red carpet, steeped mostly in writers (a scattering of actors and the President of the DGA) didn’t glow with glamour as much as it resounded with a brilliant exchange of words. Some writers strutted their wit and humor while others spoke with eloquence and gravity.
Nicholas Rutherford, a writer for SNL quipped, “I live like I’m in my twenties…don’t tell anyone I’m really in my thirties.” When asked about his impressions of being a staff writer for SNL he said, “Writing for SNL involves the highest highs and the lowest lows. I’m always stressed out and doubting myself. I did think I was funny until this summer…” When comparing himself to the veteran writers…”We’re the big little dorks…we didn’t know if we should rent tuxedoes or come in shorts and sneakers.”
Moira Walley-Beckett, the first woman to win an Emmy in twenty years for writing an episodic series, (her episode Ozymandias, won in 2014) on the other hand, was dressed in a chic black fitted gown and talked about her newest series, Skin and Bones. “I wanted to rip the Band-Aid off of the ballet world. I had so many stories to tell because of my life as a dancer. The underbelly of ballet is so different then as it appears – it’s an optical illusion. Skin and Bones is a very personal story and just wanted to tell it.”
What better way to spend the evening than to interview the men and women who spend countless hours alone behind the computer, writing those films and television shows we love to watch. Patton Aswalt, comedian/ actor/ writer and the WGA Award’s host, said the funny truth. “You are my people. I am a writer. A lot of your work will go unnoticed. A lot of what you do will be unappreciated. You’ll probably die alone and penniless and depressed… “ And the whole audience laughed because they knew exactly what he meant.
In the Press Room each winner arrived after they won the award. Now they were finally in the limelight where the cameras blinked madly in front of their faces. One of the photographers had to fix the bow tie of Silicon Valley winner, Clay Tarver because it was on crooked… did he care about this? Not really. He was ecstatic to have just won his award and had a huge smile on his face. In an interview he told me, “The characters of Silicon Valley reflect the world where the most success happens in the sector but they are least prepared to deal with the success- those are the computer nerds,” He laughed and continued. “The show has a fantastic premise. The style of the comedy is dry and truthful and based on the real world. To me if anyone wants to date 2016 you wouldn’t talk about rock’n’roll or you wouldn’t talk about fashion, you would look at the tech world which is the cutting edge and where all innovation is right now. These people… the inventors of this new world… must feel like their God, but they are also the least willing to make fun of themselves. No one has really looked at doing this yet and our show has done it.”
Peter Gould tried out a myriad of smiles as he showed off his award, winning for best episodic drama with writing partner Vince Gilligan, for Better Call Saul. When asked how he felt about winning, the writer said, “ So stunning. I had no thought that Vince Gilligan and I would win. We have been working together for nine years on Breaking Bad. It’s a wonderful affirmation that we’re on the right track with this new show Better Call Saul. Saul was Walter White’s lawyer on Breaking Bad and not just me came up with his character but a whole slew of writers came up with this fast talking, sleazy lawyer…we had the ex- factor Bob Odenkirk and he brought a humanity to this slickster – a little touch of humanity to him that led us to believe that perhaps there could be a free standing TV series about Saul Goodman.”
Two teams of women won the best children’s awards. Winners for best children’s episode were Gretchen Enders and Aminta Goyel. They posed with whimsical laughter and dramatic flair. Gretchen stood about six feet tall with blazing red hair and Aminta, stood about five feet tall with jet-black hair. “We don’t see eye to eye…”they laughed. Goyel said, “Kudos to Amazon television. This show is really special and taking a lot of risks…the episode we won for is a really dark one.” (Gortimer, Ranger and Mel vs. The Endless Night)
The other team were composed of Josann McGibbon and Sara Parriott who won long form for Descendants. These two ladies had worked together for many years and seemed very at ease in each other’s company. “We’ve written for everything. We worked for Disney Animation for a while and enjoyed that. This was such an opportunity. As we’re getting older we’re involved with community service and working with teens. This story was about teens getting a fresh start so it really speaks to the cause we feel passionate about.”
The most illustrious writing team that evening, Marta Kauffman and David Crane, were recipients of the Writer’s Guild of America, West’s 2016 Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award for writing Achievement in recognition of their lifetime achievement in outstanding writing for television. Together, they co-created one of television’s most popular and highest rated sitcom series, Friends. The mutual love and respect for one another emanated outwards as they posed for the photographers. David Crane said of Marta, “She’s emotionally the most astute writer. She is just funny and wonderful. Back when we didn’t know what we were doing…we were doing it.” Marta agreed.” It was such a great journey.” They finished each other sentences as they continued speaking. “We did game shows…we had so much fun…we didn’t even talk about the game shows…” Kauffman said… “how about musical theater…” they both laughed. “We worked at the same law firm… Schlepping and typing.” Crane quipped. Marta adds, “I remember we were sitting one day…nineteen years ago…writing an episode of Friends. David looked around at all the construction taking place in my house because I was remodeling and said to me…the setting might change but here we are doing the same thing we’ve been doing for fifteen years.”
Ms. Kauffman had also talked with me on the red carpet and shared her thoughts about being a female writer back in the 1980’s. “I started writing in 1989 for television and there was rampant misogyny, but luckily I had David working with me. One of my goals was to make it easier for women writers. Now our company is very female oriented.” Kauffman heads the writing team for Grace and Frankie starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin. “ It’s a ridiculous cast and so much fun to do. I am having such a good time working with people who are grateful to be working and are such pros, so smart and observant. They get what it means to be a professional and they ask the right questions.”
John McNamara, screenwriter and producer of one of my favorite movies, Trumbo, received the WGAW’s Paul Selvin Award. This honors ‘that member who best embodies the spirit of the constitutional and civil rights and liberties that are indispensable to the survival of free writers everywhere.’ When approached about winning this award, Mr. McNamara seemed humbled and was a bit reticent about his feelings. “Trumbo was the protagonist in the greatest David and Goliath story of the 20th century,” McNamara said. So much of my writing was his words though. It’s a story that Hollywood should have told a long time ago and I’m so happy I got to make it.” With that statement he thanked me with a bow and left.
Josh Singer, who won Best Original Screenplay along with Tom McCarthy for Spotlight, impressed me with his dedication to the cause of sexual abuse and spreading the word about the horrific consequences of this act. On the red carpet we talked about what kind of impact the WGA nomination had on him. “Being nominated tonight is important because the focus it’s bringing to the film. It’s a film with a message about journalism and abuse. I hope this message spreads.”
He also praised the survivors that the movie talked about. “Talking with people like Phil Saviano and Joe Crowley, who are survivors… I can’t imagine myself as a survivor. We used the words we got from them…couldn’t have done this movie without them.”
When asked about working with the Boston Globe journalists, Singer sang their praises. “The reporters were our life line. We couldn’t have made this movie without them. They were incredible resources that we went back to again and again. They never turned us away.”
Commenting on his co-writer and director of Spotlight: “Tom is incredible writer, a great guy, and I enjoyed working with him. He’s very good at boiling down information and making a concise story.”
Singer ended by saying, “I had a lot of mentors. John Wells and Peter Noah to name a few. These writers taught a kid out of law school (Harvard) who thought a lot of information made a story, wasn’t true… you can have a alot of information and pair it down. That’s what was the instrumental thing we did in Spotlight.”
The Big Short was the winner for best adapted screenplay and also featured a real current event issue in our financial world. Co-writer Charles Randolph said, “The Big Short” is one big massive comedic lecture.” Unfortunately, Charles Randolph and Adam McKay weren’t available for comment because they had to catch a plane.
Mad Men once again took home the best drama series and the truckload of writers were quite buoyant about their victory whereas writers for Real Time with Bill Maher were beyond ecstatic because they’ve been nominated over 30 times and said, “We scored zero every time but now we’re winners.”
Veep won for best comedy series. “It’s very hard to write for Julia Dreyfus because you’re hard on yourself and think you can always be funnier, “ said the two writers representing the show. “Late nights, long hours, 24/7 it feels like nothing is ever finished…it’s the same every season…we just want to make the best show and the funniest show.” When asked about working with Julia Dreyfus they said, “Julia is easy to work with and contributes so much to the writing process. She is such an amazing comedian. She makes everything she does better.”
And are we surprised that General Hospital won for best daytime drama which I found out has been on since 1969 and one of the writers has been with the show for twenty years. She still loves writing for it because of the immediacy of seeing ones words being spoken then being able to get new ideas from hearing the actors speak.
Ending the night was one of the funniest female writers ever to walk this planet, Elaine May. She and Mike Nichols were a writing pair back in the late 50’s early 60’s. Tonight she was being honored and the recipient of 2016 Laurel Award for Screenwriting Achievement. Her speech was magnificent and hysterically funny. She told a story about how writers are the forgotten people when it comes to movies whereas the director shines brightly. She related a tale about the illustrious director, Frank Kapra. “We all know how special and magical Frank Kapra’s movies were with his special signature on it. Well one day one of Kapra’s writers sent him 110 blank pages and said in a note, “Why don’t you fill these pages with that special Kapra magic.” Enough said. The whole room of writers applauded and laughed.
At least for this one evening, all writers were not the forgotten ones and took the limelight at the WGA Awards.
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All Photos by Sheryl Aronson / The Hollywood 360