The USC Libraries revealed the winners for the 34th annual USC Libraries Scripter Award on Saturday as a virtual event, which honors the year’s best film and television adaptations (along with the works on which they are based). This group of academics, industry professionals, and critics is often predictive of the Adapted Screenplay Oscar race. Maggie Gyllenhaal’s adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s “The Lost Daughter” (Netflix) won the film award, while the television prize went to author Beth Macy and screenwriter Danny Strong for the Hulu series “Dopesick.”
Of the five finalist writers for film adaptation, three are also Oscar nominees. Rebecca Hall (Nella Larsen’s “Passing”) and Joel Coen (William Shakespeare’s “The Tragedy of Macbeth”) did not make that cut. “The Lost Daughter,” therefore, advances in the Oscar race ahead of “Dune” (Warner Bros. Pictures/Legendary Pictures and Ace) screenwriters Eric Roth, Jon Spaihts, and Denis Villeneuve, who adapted the novel by Frank Herbert; and screenwriter Jane Campion and author Thomas Savage for “The Power of the Dog” (Netflix and Back Bay Books).
The Scripters panel left off Oscar contenders “CODA” and “Drive My Car.”
Last year’s Scripter film winners were “Nomadland” screenwriter Chloé Zhao and author Jessica Bruder (non-Scripter nominee “The Father” took home the Oscar); past winners include “Call Me By Your Name,” “Moonlight,” “The Big Short,” and “The Imitation Game,” which all won Oscars. In fact, before 2019, eight Scripter Award winners went on to win Oscars.
“This award means so much for me because it is chosen and voted for by writers,” said Gyllenhaal. “Thank you for welcoming me so generously into your community. I know you are honoring my work and Elena Ferrante.” Gyllenhaal admitted that she never met Italian author Ferrante, who remains anonymous. “She has been the North Star for me in my adaptation of the film from start to finish; she has been a truly wise and generous guide. Ferrante said the effort of adaptation requires not faithfulness but invention and often betrayal. In my betrayal, she and I have made something new together. It’s a love affair of the mind. It’s a cosmic, unconscious, dreamlike connection that I cherish.”
Ferrante sent the following statement: “I am very grateful for those who recognized Maggie Gyllenhaal’s great work. I was prepared for the idea that when faced with the raw material of the story that is not about the joy of motherhood but the weight of a mother’s life she would be scared of it. She conceived it with her experience, her culture, her feelings, and I very much like this garment she invented now. It’s fully hers.”
Antony Platt / Hulu
Last year’s television winner was “The Queen’s Gambit,” adapted by Scott Frank from the novel by the late Walter Tevis. This year Strong and Macy won for the episode “The People vs. Purdue Pharma,” from “Dopesick” (Hulu and Back Bay Books), based on Macy’s nonfiction book “Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America.”
They beat out television finalists Molly Smith Metzler for the episode “Dollar Store,” from “Maid” (Netflix and Hachette Books), based on the memoir “Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay and a Mother’s Will to Survive” by Stephanie Land; Patrick Somerville for the episode “Wheel of Fire,” from “Station Eleven” (HBO Max and Vintage Books), based on the novel by Emily St. John Mandel; Barry Jenkins for the episode “Indiana Winter” from “The Underground Railroad” (Amazon and Anchor Books), based on the novel by Colson Whitehead; and Jac Schaeffer for the episode “Filmed Before a Live Studio Audience,” from “WandaVision” (Disney+ and Marvel Comics), based on Marvel Comics characters created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.
Cr. Atsushi Nishijima/Amazon Prime Video
Barry Jenkins, a nominee for “The Underground Railroad,” accepted the USC Libraries Literary Achievement Award for his contributions to cinematic storytelling, including his work adapting the 2017 Scripter winner “Moonlight” and the 2019 finalist “If Beale Street Could Talk.”
The 2022 Scripter selection committee selected the finalists from a field of 69 film and 42 television adaptations. Howard Rodman, USC professor and past president of the Writers Guild of America, West, chaired the 2022 committee.
I also serve on the Scripter selection committee, which ranges from film critics Leonard Maltin and Kenneth Turan to authors Janet Fitch and Walter Mosley, screenwriters Mark Fergus, Wesley Strick, Larry Karaszewski, and Erin Cressida Wilson, producers Tony Ganz, Mike Medavoy, Gail Mutrux and Ron Yerxa, and USC deans Elizabeth Daley of the School of Cinematic Arts and Catherine Quinlan of the USC Libraries.
“People are watching more than they are reading,” said Jenkins in his acceptance speech. “Translating these works into the screenplay format and feature films and television is vital in continuing to spread these authors.” He added that he would continue “channeling and spreading and using empathy to hopefully bring us a little bit closer together… I wish we could have shared this in person but we live in a strange world right now.”
Episodic series winner Macy thanked Hulu, the only supporter of the project pitched by Strong to the major Hollywood players, who turned it down. She also thanked the cast and crew. “A month or so ago the CDC reported record breaking overdoses,” she said. Since the year 1996 when oxycontin was introduced, “more than 1 million Americans have died. It’s the number one destroyer of families in our time. Thanks to all the families who helped us tell this story, and to Danny Strong, who worked tirelessly and fearlessly, and took on a slow and simmering 25-year story that a lot of corporate and government entities would have liked to see hidden. The Sackler family blame the abusers, not their drug. He corrected the narrative.”
Strong, who is a USC alumnus, thanked Hulu, “who gave us an incredible budget and ad campaign,” he said, and “Dana Walden our champion.” The pilot was directed by Barry Levinson; the cast includes Michael Keaton, Peter Sarsgaard, Rosario Dawson, Kaitlyn Deaver, Michael Stuhlbarg, Roy McKinnon, and Mare Winningham. Strong asked the people of influence watching the awards “to try to do whatever you can to get the Sacklers’ evil name off the institutions, museums and universities and medical institutions. I know no family in the history of U.S. that have caused as much death and destruction as the Sackler family.”