Traditionally mounted by the USC Libraries as an elegant black-tie, sit-down dinner at the historic Edward L. Doheny Jr. Memorial Library at the University of Southern California, this year the Scripter Awards went global. On Saturday, March 13, the USC Libraries opened up their exclusive awards show to honor the year’s best film and television adaptations, as well as the works on which they are based, as a virtual event.
This diverse group of academics, industry professionals, and critics (for which I vote) is often predictive of the Adapted Screenplay Oscar race. Last year’s Scripter winners on the film and TV side were Oscar and Emmy nominees Greta Gerwig (“Little Women”) and Phoebe Waller-Bridge (“Fleabag”), respectively. Past winners of both the Scripter and the Oscar include “Call Me by Your Name,” “Moonlight,” “The Big Short,” and “The Imitation Game.” In fact, before 2019, eight Scripter Award winners went on to win Oscars.
This year, streaming giant Netflix dominated the nominations (as it did last year) with three nominees (one film, two series), including “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” “Unorthodox,” and “The Queen’s Gambit,” which took home the 2021 episodic series Scripter Award. Scott Frank adapted from the novel by Walter Tevis, who also wrote books-to-films “The Hustler” and “The Man Who Fell to Earth.”
“The one person I have to thank is Walter Tevis,” said Frank. “I could never have done it without that gift of a novel, it was a tremendous and huge leg up, it was everything for me. This novel was beautiful. My mission was to protect it and realize it in away that if Walter was still with us, he would be proud of it and recognize himself in it as well.”
Tevis’ son William pointed out that “Queen’s Gambit” has “no bad guys — even the people she beats like her,” he said. “My dad was a great storyteller.”
“He was the funniest person I have ever known,” said his daughter Julie. “He recreates the story of his life in ‘The Queen’s Gambit.’ He started writing in the 60s, in his early 20s, and didn’t write again until 20 years later, one year before his death 37 years ago. ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ is Walter Tevis’ win. He and Beth Harmon both won. Scott Frank bought Walter Tevis back to life, and embodies his character in Beth Harmon, their struggles with drugs, alcoholism, awkwardness, and genius.”
“Queen’s Gambit” beat out “The Good Lord Bird,” “Normal People,” “The Plot Against America,” and “Unorthodox.”
The winners of the 2021 Scripter for film adaptation were Chloé Zhao and Jessica Bruder for “Nomadland,” which is the frontrunner for multiple Oscars, including Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Director, and Best Picture. Zhao thanked Bruder for her “love for the people in her book and the road and the American West,” as well as the cast “for sharing your stories with us, your deep sense of dignity. You inspire me so much to live my own life.”
Bruder first wrote a magazine article in 2014, reporting in the Sonoran desert, and published “Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century” in 2017. She could never have imagined that in 2020, Linda May, Bob Wells, and Charlene Swankie would be co-starring in a movie with Frances McDormand, she said: “Thanks for sharing your stories. It’s been one hell of a ride.”
Zhao and Bruder beat out adaptations “One Night in Miami,” “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” “First Cow,” and “Bad Education.”
Chaired by screenwriter and USC professor Howard Rodman, the 2021 Scripter selection committee selected the finalists from a field of 87 film and 65 episodic series adaptations; serving on the selection committee, among many others, are film critics Leonard Maltin and Kenneth Turan; authors Lisa Belkin, Michael Chabon, and Janet Fitch; screenwriters Mark Fergus, Greta Gerwig, Larry Karaszewski, Wesley Strick, and Erin Cressida Wilson; producers Tony Ganz, Gail Mutrux, Jennifer Todd, and Paula Wagner; and USC deans Elizabeth Daley of the School of Cinematic Arts and Catherine Quinlan of the USC Libraries.
“We’re celebrating 33 years of Scripter Awards,” said host Dean Quinlan, “but this has been a year like no other.” Marking a full year since students left campus, she is welcoming their return to libraries that reopen on Monday after swiftly moving toward digitalization during the pandemic, building digital labs and preserving data. Digitization of library content increased 2000 percent over last year. “The ability to adapt is more vital than ever. We recognize artistic transformation.”
The winner of this year’s Ex Libris Award, California State Librarian Greg Lucas, on Zoom from Sacramento, touted California’s 1128 libraries’ move online during the pandemic, creating hotspot laptop lending programs, turning 100,000 enrichment programs offered in libraries into Zoom calls, and feeding hungry kids. 300,000 meals with enrichment kits were served via drive-through systems. “That’s 10,000 more than 2019 when doors were open,” he said.