“This is such a low profile event,” said writer-comedian Mike Birbiglia of the Writers Guild Awards held last night. “I’m not sure it’s even happening.”
I’ve always enjoyed the Writers Guild Awards, held simultaneously in New York and Los Angeles, because it’s the only awards show that celebrates writers, who know how to write amusing speeches, typically about how under appreciated and underpaid they are and about how they’re always struggling to find their next gig.
The WGAs are not televised. There’s not much food, but plenty of booze, and guests get really drunk. The winners and presenters also drop F-bombs, tell raunchy jokes and trade insults, so the event is almost as much a celebrity roast as it is an awards show.
Since its inception in 1949, annually the WGAs have honored writing for film, television, and radio. In more recent years, they’ve added the categories of new media and video games.
Actor Richard Kind hosted the New York event, which was at B.B. King’s, a casual club in Times Square. Guests included Gina Gershon, Louis C.K, Lucy Alibar, Bobby Cannavale, blue insult comic Lisa Lampanelli, Fred Armisen, Mike Birbiglia, John McLaughlin (“Black Swan”), and Terry George (“Hotel Rwanda”).
“Castle” star Nathan Fillion hosted the West Coast counterpart at the JW Marriott, a five-star luxury hotel. Their celebrity wattage included Jessica Chastain, Julie Bowen, Jane Lynch, Steven Spielberg, James Gandolfini, Francis Ford Coppola, Amy Poehler and Tobey Maguire.
The ongoing joke of the evening is the competitiveness and even animosities between the two branches of the WGA, with each coast announcing their winners separately. This means one coast gets the news before the other, so they ask you not to tweet the winners’ names.
Kind, who told me before the awards show that he wrote his own gags and was nervous about bombing, turned out to be hysterically funny. In one sketch, he came on stage dressed as Ayatollah in a beard, robe and prayer cape. “I want to tell you I stand in solidarity with the WGA East. We also have something in common: I also hate the West.”
The fact is the WGA’s picks for best original and adapted screenplays are harbingers of golden statuettes next week, so Oscar prognosticators pay attention. Last year the WGA awarded “Midnight in Paris” by Woody Allen, and “The Descendants” by Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash best adapted and original screenplays awards respectively. Both went on to win Oscars.
Last night the big winner for adapted screenplay was “Argo,” written by Chris Terrio. Richard Kind, who has a cameo in “Argo,” accepted the award on behalf of Terrio. “It’s a special movie that honors America and Hollywood,” said Kind. “It’s taut. It’s beautifully directed.”
With yet another award win for the Ben Affleck CIA hostage thriller, it’s also the Oscar frontrunner for both best adapted screenplay and best motion picture.
The other big prize, for original screenplay, went to Mark Boal for Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty.” This win was a surprise. The Osama bin Laden thriller had fallen off of the Oscar bandwagon recently, probably over the torture controversy, but this win has given it a new boost. (Boal received a WGA award in 2010 for best original screenplay for Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker,” and he later went on to win the Oscar.)
The WGA documentary prize went to the Sony Pictures Classics movie “Searching for Sugar Man,” by Malik Bendjellou. The feel-good film about singer-songwriter Rodriguez, a rock icon to South Africans, is now a lock for an Oscar.
If the New York WGAs didn’t have the glitz of the Hollywood counterpart, it did have “Girls” creator Lena Dunham, who was the center of attention. Even Gina Gershon, who was a presenter, singled out Dunham from the stage and told her how much she’d like to be a guest on her show.
Dunham and her co-writers — Judd Apatow, Lesley Arfin, Dunham, Sarah Heyward, Bruce Eric Kaplan, Jenni Konner, Deborah Schoeneman and Dan Sterling — won for best new series, besting “The Mindy Project,” “Nashville,” “The Newsroom” and “Veep.”
Dunham, her hair in a stylish pixie cut, wore a strapless black-and-white animal print dress and strappy stilettos, and looked nothing like her “Girls” character Hannah. (She’s also learned how to pose on the red carpet; she jutted out one hip and seductively lowered her chin for the photographers.)
Jonathan Ames, who presented the award to Dunham, chugged from an “I Love New York “coffee mug, which he claimed was “loaded with vodka and club soda.” As he did last year, he whined about the cancellation of his HBO show, “Bored to Death.” “A terrible title right from the start,” he lamented. For more than 20 minutes, the self-absorbed writer riffed on everything from pubic hair to his youthful stint in rehab.
By the time he got around to giving Dunham the best series award, she joked, “I’m so anxious accepting this award, from you particularly.”
She went on to say, “There are a lot of parts of the television making process that interest me, but it all comes from writing for me, and I feel it’s such a gift to do this as a job. It’s a gift to be in a room with so many people I admire.”
Dunham told a story about how she first met insult comic Lisa Lampanelli, a presenter last night, whose material was so blue most of it can’t be repeated here.
Dunham recalled, “I spent New Year’s Eve when I was 15 watching Lisa Lampanelli at Caroline’s Comedy Club with my mother, and we went up to her afterwards, and my mother told her about me, ‘She wants to be you.’ And “Lisa went, ‘What? A…,” and used an expletive we can’t quote on a family site.
Afterwards Ames rambled on and finally presented Louis C.K. with the best comedy series award for “Louie.” Louis C.K. told him, “Please, just shut up.”
“I still regret coming here,” Louis C. K. joked. “I say I do everything on my own but I really don’t. I take all the money and the credit.” Of his co-writers Pamela Adlon and Vernon Chatman, who joined him on stage, he added, “They come up with beautiful ideas.”
Early in the evening, the WGA East coast honored Nora Ephron with a tribute given by writer Meg Wolitzer, who spoke of Ephron’s friendship and support of young women writers. (Dunham, when accepting her award for best new series, remarked about how fortunate she was to be one of those women who benefitted from Ephron’s encouragement.)
A highlight of the tribute included clips from Ephron’s many movies and interviews. And then there were Ephron’s witty observations: “If pregnancy were a book, they would cut off the last two chapters.” Also, “When your children are teenagers, it’s important to have a dog so that somebody in the house is happy to see you.”
Other winners last night included the writers of “Breaking Bad” (Drama Series), “Hatfields & McCoys,” – Nights Two and Three (Long form – original) and “Game Change” (Long form-adapted).
The Writers Guild of America, East, also presented special honors to David Koepp (“Jurassic Park”) – Ian McClellan Hunter Award for Career Achievement in Writing, and Bob Schneider – Richard E. Jablow Award for devoted service to the Guild.
The Writers Guild of America, West presented special honors to:
- Tom Stoppard – Laurel Award for Screen for lifetime achievement in screenwriting
- Joshua Brand & John Falsey – Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award for Television for lifetime achievement in television writing
- Tony Kushner (Lincoln) – Paul Selvin Award for written work which embodies constitutional rights and civil liberties
- past WGAW President Daniel Petrie, Jr. – Morgan Cox Award for exemplary service to the Guild
- Everybody Loves Raymond Creator Phil Rosenthal – Valentine Davies Award for community service and humanitarian efforts
- Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto, Ryûzô Kikushima, and Hideo Oguni – Jean Renoir Award for Screenwriting Achievement, given to international screenwriters who have advanced the literature of motion pictures and made outstanding contributions to the profession of screenwriter.
Here is the complete list of Writers Guild Awards winners:
Zero Dark Thirty, Written by Mark Boal; Columbia Pictures.
Argo, Screenplay by Chris Terrio; Based on a selection from The Master of Disguise by Antonio J. Mendez and the Wired Magazine article “The Great Escape” by Joshuah Bearman; Warner Bros. Pictures.
Searching for Sugar Man, Written by Malik Bendjelloul; Sony Pictures Classics.
Breaking Bad, Written by Sam Catlin, Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould, Gennifer Hutchison, George Mastras, Thomas Schnauz, Moira Walley-Beckett; AMC.
Louie, Written by Pamela Adlon, Vernon Chatman, Louis C.K.; FX.
Girls, Written by Judd Apatow, Lesley Arfin, Lena Dunham, Sarah Heyward, Bruce Eric Kaplan, Jenni Konner, Deborah Schoeneman, Dan Sterling; HBO.
“The Other Woman” (Mad Men), Written by Semi Chellas and Matthew Weiner; AMC.
“Virgin Territory” (Modern Family), Written by Elaine Ko; ABC.
LONG FORM – ORIGINAL
Hatfields & McCoys, Nights Two and Three, Teleplay by Ted Mann and Ronald Parker, Story by Bill Kerby and Ted Mann; History Channel.
LONG FORM – ADAPTED
Game Change, Written by Danny Strong, Based on the book by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann; HBO.
“Ned ’N’ Edna’s Blend Agenda” (The Simpsons), Written by Jeff Westbrook; Fox.
COMEDY / VARIETY (INCLUDING TALK) – SERIES
Portlandia, Writers: Fred Armisen, Carrie Brownstein, Karey Dornetto, Jonathan Krisel, Bill Oakley; IFC.
COMEDY / VARIETY – MUSIC, AWARDS, TRIBUTES – SPECIALS
66th Annual Tony Awards, Written by Dave Boone; Special Material by Paul Greenberg; Opening and Closing Songs by David Javerbaum, Adam Schlesinger; CBS.
The Young and the Restless, Written by Amanda Beall, Jeff Beldner, Susan Dansby, Janice Ferri Esser, Jay Gibson, Scott Hamner, Marla Kanelos, Natalie Minardi Slater, Beth Milstein, Michael Montgomery, Anne Schoettle, Linda Schreiber, Sarah K. Smith, Christopher J. Whitesell, Teresa Zimmerman; CBS.
CHILDREN’S – EPISODIC & SPECIALS
“The Good Sport” (Sesame Street); Written by Christine Ferraro; PBS.
CHILDREN’S – LONG FORM OR SPECIAL
Girl vs. Monster, Teleplay by Annie DeYoung and Ron McGee, Story by Annie DeYoung; Disney Channel.
DOCUMENTARY – CURRENT EVENTS
“Money, Power and Wall Street: Episode One” (Frontline), Written by Martin Smith and Marcela Gaviria; PBS.
DOCUMENTARY – OTHER THAN CURRENT EVENTS
“The Fabric of the Cosmos: The Illusion of Time” (Nova), Telescript by Randall MacLowry, Story by Joseph McMaster and Randall MacLowry; PBS.
NEWS – REGULARLY SCHEDULED, BULLETIN, OR BREAKING REPORT
“Tragedy In Colorado: The Movie Theatre Massacre,” Written by Lisa Ferri, Joel Siegel; ABC News.
NEWS – ANALYSIS, FEATURE, OR COMMENTARY
“The Ghost of Joe McCarthy” (Moyers & Company), Written by Bill Moyers, Michael Winship; Thirteen/ WNET.
NEWS – REGULARLY SCHEDULED OR BREAKING REPORT
“World News This Year 2011,” Written by Darren Reynolds; ABC News Radio.
NEWS – ANALYSIS, FEATURE, OR COMMENTARY
“Dishin Digital,” Written by Robert Hawley; WCBS-AM.
PROMOTIONAL WRITING AND GRAPHIC ANIMATION WINNERS
ON-AIR PROMOTION (RADIO OR TELEVISION)
“Partners,” Written by Dan A. Greenberger; CBS.
TELEVISION GRAPHIC ANIMATION
“The Oscars” (Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood), Animation by Bob Pook; CBS.
VIDEOGAME WRITING WINNER
OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN VIDEOGAME WRITING
Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation, Scriptwriting by Richard Farrese, Jill Murray; Ubisoft.
NEW MEDIA WRITING WINNERS
OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN WRITING ORIGINAL NEW MEDIA
“The Compromises, Episode 1,” “The Pest, Episode 3,” The Snake, Episode 4,” “The Bonding, Episode 6,” “The Future, Episode 7/Series Finale” (Jack in a Box), Written by Michael Cyril Creighton; jackinaboxsite.com.
OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN WRITING DERIVATIVE NEW MEDIA
“Hide And Seek,” “Keys to the Kingdom,” “The Chosen Ones,” “Parting Shots” (The Walking Dead: Cold Storage), Written by John Esposito; amctv.com.
(*Editor’s Note: There were no nominees in the Documentary – Radio category this year.)
A special career achievement award went to “Spider-Man” and “Jurassic Park” screenwriter David Koepp.