Sometimes I find myself covering so many things that I don’t write about them right away. A case in point: my weekend trip to Santa Barbara. I’m still writing up the Sandra Bullock tribute and haven’t transcribed my writers panel, which went well even without Quentin Tarantino, who did turn up the following day for Peter Bart’s director’s panel (clips below).
What struck me was that not only were many of the screenwriter panelists very funny, but veteran writer-directors Jason Reitman (Up in the Air), Nancy Meyers (It’s Complicated) and Pete Docter (Up) and screenwriter Alex Kurtzman (Star Trek), were joined by relative newbies Geoffrey Fletcher (Precious), Mark Boal (The Hurt Locker) and Scott Neustadter (500 Days of Summer). I love it when by dint of luck, talent and timing, folks come out of nowhere and hit their projects right into the fluke zone. It happens every year.
Reitman and I both headed back to LA for the Scripter Awards that night (missing the James Cameron tribute), which as I suspected, he won. The winner of the Scripters–which rewards both the original writer and the movie adapter–usually goes on to win the best adapted screenplay Oscar. I voted with the selection committee this year. The posh black-tie USC library benefit is held in the elegant Doheny library, where my date, producer Dan Lupovitz, and I sat at one of many long tables between two other couples, producers Tony Ganz and Gail Mutrux and screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson and actor J.C. MacKenzie. We had a blast listening to smooth jazz and smart speeches from selection committee chair Naomi Foner (Running on Empty), presenter Steve Zaillian (Schindler’s List) and literary achievement winner Eric Roth (Forrest Gump, The Insider).
“Adaptation is collaboration,” said Reitman, a Trojan, whose father Ivan shot scenes from Ghostbusters in the library stacks. “I need someone who I can steal his words and present them as my own.” He thanked fellow winners, author Walter Kirn and co-writer Sheldon Turner, as well as his writer wife, Michele Lee. “I wouldn’t be able to write women without her,” he said. He also thanked the real laid-off workers in Up in the Air as authentic collaborators.
Turner thanked his parents for putting him through law school to become a screenwriter.
“I’m a novelist, so we don’t get awards,” said Kirn, who thanked Turner and Reitman for rescuing his book from post-9/11 obscurity. Kirn actually wrote an early draft of the project with director Jay Roach; it sounded like a pretty miserable process.
And Zaillian, recovering from Money Ball going to writer Aaron Sorkin, is setting to work this week adapting The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, with neither actors nor director in mind. The heart of the book–and the spine of his adaptation, set like the book in Sweden–will be Stieg Larsson’s riveting punk hacker Salander. This adaptation is in good hands. Then Zaillian plans to tackle another three-parter, which may get folded into one: IFC’s must-see new release, The Red Riding Trilogy.