Emmy Rossum wore a sparkly short gown and an even shinier diamond on her finger at the Writers Guild of America (WGA) awards last week at the Edison Ballroom in Manhattan.
Adding glamour to the event, Rossum held the hand of her fiancé, “Mr. Robot” creator Sam Esmail, as she glided down the red carpet past reporters who called her name.
Mr. Robot Wins Best New Series – WGA 2016
“Mr. Robot” went on to win the WGA award for best new series. Last month the show won a Golden Globe and is now gaining steam heading into the Emmys.
WGA Awards Carry Clout
The WGA awards may not be the glitziest movie event. After all, writers are rarely described as glamorous. But the WGAs carry clout for anyone involved in film, television and digital media. And just to confuse things, it’s held simultaneously in New York and Los Angeles. (In Los Angeles, the legendary Elaine May received a lifetime achievement award.)
On this special night, writers can complain about how terrible and lonely their profession is and how they are underpaid and unappreciated. The speeches are often hilarious, and because the WGAs are not televised, they are unfiltered and often raunchy.
Sadly for us writers on the red carpet, we were not able to hear the speeches since we weren’t permitted inside. But there was plenty of talent to chat with on the red carpet before the ceremony began.
There were several breaks with tradition this year. The WGAs usually take place on Sunday but because several nominees had to take off for the Baftas, which were to be held the next day, the WGAs were moved ahead one day.
Also, to accommodate those who were headed to London, the top awards for best screenplay for adapted and original film, which is usually given at the end of the show, was the first award announced.
“That gives me a shot to make my flight,” Tom McCarthy told me on the red carpet. The writer/director of “Spotlight” said as soon as the winner was announced, “I’m going straight to the airport.”
When I asked him what surprised him about the awards circuit – months earlier he began by collecting trophies at the Gothams – he said with a smile, “It’s relentless. But I’m having fun. I’ve been talking about this movie since September, which I imagine is a good thing since it’s still in a lot of theaters, pushing the film and the agenda of the film which is exciting.”
Tom McCarthy made his flight, and “Spotlight” went on to win best original screenplay. The best-adapted screenplay award went to “The Big Short,” and in a happy twist for the winners, they also each won the same awards at the Baftas. The best documentary winner at the WGAs went to Alex Gibney for his critical and brilliant look at Scientology, “Going Clear.”
On the red carpet, I chatted with honorees Al Franken, Richard LaGravenese and Melissa Salmons. Presenters and nominees included Taylor Hackford (“Ray”), Aderpero Oduye (“The Big Short”), Marin Ireland (“The Slap”), Margo Martindale (“The Good Wife”), Adam Rapp (“Flesh & Bone” and “Vinyl”), Bob Balaban and Tony Goldwyn (“Scandal”).
Bob Balaban told me he was to present the best screenplay award, and he had to acknowledge why the award was going to be given at the beginning instead of the end of the evening.
As for how he prepared his speech, he said, “They sent me some stuff and I thought it’s kind of funny and as it got closer I thought, ‘I think I can do better.’ And I got some secret help from my wife (screenwriter Lynn Grossman), who is also in the Writers Guild and we came up with something that I think is good.”
Al Franken, who is a comic, writer, actor and politician – he’s currently the junior Senator from Minnesota – was given the Evelyn F. Burkey Award for bringing “honor and dignity to writers” said the press release.
“It’s quite an honor,” he told me. Politics was still on his mind, and Franken told me he supported Hillary Clinton. “I’ve known her for 22 some odd years and she’s the smartest, toughest, hardest working person I know, and the right person for this job,” he said. “I’ve seen her up close, and I hope we have her as president.”
He also likes Bernie Sanders, who he called a colleague, “but I think Hillary is the right person.”
Margo Martindale was wearing comfy shoes that looked like slippers but were furry boots. “My husband said you’re not wearing boots are you?” she laughed. “Yeah, it’s cold!”
She told me, “Those girls with the high heels, they’re going to be sorry.” When a clueless reporter (me), confused her with Ann Dowd from “The Leftovers,” she was nonplussed and gracious. “Happens all the time,” she laughed.
Michael Ian Black, who was the evening’s host, told me how he prepared for his job: “You think of jokes and then other people think of jokes. You throw in some topical stuff, mostly, obviously show biz stuff but then you throw in some political shit.”
Just hours earlier in the evening, news came of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s death. “I’m trying to think of a good Scalia joke,” Black told me. “Do I even bring it up or not? I sort of feel like I want to.”
When I mentioned it might be too early, he demurred, “I wouldn’t say anything disrespectful. But I might imply it.” He conceded it was nerve wracking telling jokes in front of writers, saying he didn’t want to mess it up, although he used an expletive. Black told me he was most looking forward to meeting Al Franken, who just moments earlier passed him on the red carpet.
Director Taylor Hackford, who was there to support Richard LaGravenese, told me he was getting ready to shoot “The Comedian” starring Robert De Niro. The script is by Mr. LaGravenese. I asked after his wife, Helen Mirren. “She’s in Europe. She comes on Monday. She would have been here to celebrate Richard but she’s working,” he said.
Mr. Hackford beautifully explained the importance of writers. “Everything starts with the script. It’s the foundation you build on, and if it’s a firm foundation, you have a good film. If it’s not, you probably won’t.”
Complete List of WGA Awards Winners:
Spotlight, Written by Josh Singer & Tom McCarthy; Open Road Films
The Big Short, Screenplay by Charles Randolph and Adam McKay; Based on the Book by Michael Lewis; Paramount Pictures
Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, Written by Alex Gibney; HBO Documentary Films
TELEVISION AND NEW MEDIA WINNERS
Mad Men, Written by Lisa Albert, Semi Chellas, Jonathan Igla, Janet Leahy, Erin Levy, Tom Smuts, Robert Towne, Matthew Weiner, Carly Wray; AMC
Veep, Written by Simon Blackwell, Jon Brown, Kevin Cecil, Roger Drew, Peter Fellows, Neil Gibbons, Rob Gibbons, Sean Gray, Callie Hersheway, Armando Iannucci, Sean Love, Ian Martin, Georgia Pritchett, David Quantick, Andy Riley, Tony Roche, Will Smith; HBO
Mr. Robot, Written by Kyle Bradstreet, Kate Erickson, Sam Esmail, David Iserson, Randolph Leon, Adam Penn, Matt Pyken; USA
ORIGINAL LONG FORM
Saints & Strangers, Written by Seth Fisher, Walon Green, Chip Johannessen, Eric Overmyer; National Geographic Channel
ADAPTED LONG FORM
Fargo, Written by Steve Blackman, Bob DeLaurentis, Noah Hawley, Ben Nedivi, Matt Wolpert, Based on the film Fargo; FX
ORIGINAL SHORT FORM NEW MEDIA
“Back to Reality” (Weight), Written by Daryn Strauss; weighttheseries.com
ADAPTED SHORT FORM NEW MEDIA
“Chapter Two: Phoebe” (Heroes Reborn: Dark Matters), Written by Zach Craley; nbc.com
“Housetrap” (Bob’s Burgers), Written by Dan Fybel; Fox
“Uno” (Better Call Saul), Written by Vince Gilligan & Peter Gould; AMC
“Sand Hill Shuffle” (Silicon Valley), Written by Clay Tarver; HBO
COMEDY / VARIETY TALK SERIES
Real Time with Bill Maher, Writers: Scott Carter, Adam Felber, Matt Gunn, Brian Jacobsmeyer, Jay Jaroch, Chris Kelly, Bill Maher, Billy Martin, Danny Vermont; HBO
COMEDY / VARIETY SKETCH SERIES
Inside Amy Schumer, Head Writer: Jessi Klein Writers: Hallie Cantor, Kim Caramele, Kyle Dunnigan, Jon Glaser, Kurt Metzger, Christine Nangle, Dan Powell, Tami Sagher, Amy Schumer; Comedy Central
COMEDY / VARIETY SPECIALS
Jimmy Kimmel Live: 10th Annual After The Oscars Special, Written by Jack Allison, Tony Barbieri, Jonathan Bines, Joelle Boucai, Greg Dorris, Gary Greenberg, Josh Halloway, Sal Iacono, Eric Immerman, Jimmy Kimmel, Bess Kalb, Jeff Loveness, Molly McNearney, Danny Ricker, Joe Strazzullo, Bridger Winegar; ABC
QUIZ AND AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION
Hollywood Game Night, Head Writer: Grant Taylor; Writers: Michael Agbabian, Alex Chauvin, Ann Slichter, Dwight D. Smith; NBC
General Hospital, Writers: Ron Carlivati, Anna Theresa Cascio, Andrea Archer Compton, Suzanne Flynn, Kate Hall, Elizabeth Korte, Daniel James O’Connor, Elizabeth Page, Jean Passanante, Katherine Schock, Scott Sickles, Chris Van Etten; ABC
“Gortimer, Ranger and Mel vs. The Endless Night” (Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street), Written by Gretchen Enders & Aminta Goyel; Amazon Studios
CHILDREN’S LONG FORM SPECIAL
Descendants, Written by Josann McGibbon & Sara Parriott; Disney Channel
DOCUMENTARY SCRIPT – CURRENT EVENTS
“American Terrorist” (Frontline), Written by Thomas Jennings; PBS
DOCUMENTARY SCRIPT – OTHER THAN CURRENT EVENTS
“The Great Math Mystery” (Nova), Written by Daniel McCabe; PBS
TV NEWS SCRIPT – REGULARLY SCHEDULED, BULLETIN, OR BREAKING REPORT
“Cuba” (60 Minutes), Written by Scott Pelley, Nicole Young, Oriana Zill de Granados, Andy Court and Robert Anderson;CBS News
TV NEWS SCRIPT – ANALYSIS, FEATURE, OR COMMENTARY
“The Storm After the Storm” (60 Minutes), Written by Sharyn Alfonsi, Michael Rey and Oriana Zill de Granados; CBS News
“Marking the End of Vietnam: 40 Years Later,” Written by Andrew Evans; ABC News Radio
RADIO NEWS SCRIPT – REGULARLY SCHEDULED, BULLETIN, OR BREAKING REPORT
“Remembering New York Icons,” Written by Thomas A. Sabella; CBS Radio News
RADIO NEWS SCRIPT – ANALYSIS, FEATURE, OR COMMENTARY
“Passages,” Written by Gail Lee; CBS Radio News
PROMOTIONAL WRITING WINNER
ON-AIR PROMOTION (TELEVISION, NEW MEDIA OR RADIO)
“The McCarthys and Under the Dome Promos,” Written by Erial Tompkins; CBS
OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN VIDEOGAME WRITING
Rise of the Tomb Raider, Lead Narrative Designer John Stafford; Narrative Designer Cameron Suey; Lead Writer Rhianna Pratchett; Additional Writer Philip Gelatt; Microsoft
*There were no nominees in the Television Graphic Art and Animation category this year.