There were two big surprises on the film side of the 71st annual Writers Guild Awards, which were handed out tonight during simultaneous ceremonies in Los Angeles and New York. The respective winners of the marquee Original Screenplay and Adapted Screenplay prizes were movies that often have for the most part been overlooked this awards season: Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade and Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty’s Can You Ever Forgive Me?
As if the Oscar screenplay races weren’t wide-open before.
Eighth Grade, for which Burnham did win a DGA Award for First-Time Feature Director, is the first film to win Original Screenplay at the WGA Awards but not be up for the Oscar since Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine in 2003.
“To the other nominees in the category, have fun at the Oscars, losers!” Burnham (above) joked from the stage. “No, I prepared nothing. This all belongs to Elsie Fisher who performed the script. No one would care about the script if she hadn’t done it. I joined the guild when I was 18 and my mother did the paperwork, so thank you for that – and my father who did nothing. I believe in love.”
Said Holofcener in accepting the award: “I loved working on this movie. It’s been a very long road.” She thanked the guild, her peers and the cast and crew of the movie and then gave a shout-out to Lee Israel, the subject of the film played by Melissa McCarthy. “She’s probably be here siting in this room judging all of us. She thought she was the smartest person in the room, and she probably was. I wish she was here.”
Speaking of Moore, in a perhaps less dramatic big-screen win, Bathtubs Over Broadway shoved aside his Fahrenheit 11/9 for Documentary Screenplay.
There even were a couple of surprises on the TV side, though many of the usual suspects prevailed. Sure, The Americans, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Barry (twice) and The Assassination of Gianni Versace picked up more 2019 hardware, but among the left-field triumphs were Nathan for You, which beat the likes of Saturday Night Live, Portlandia and I Love You, America for Comedy/Variety Sketch Series, and The Fake News with Ted Nelms, topping the 2018 Oscars and Rose Parade for Comedy/Variety Special.
Tonight’s honorees on the left coast included Adam McKay, the Paul Selvin Award for Vice; Jenji Kohan, the Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award for Television Writing Achievement; Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, the Laurel Award for Screenwriting Achievement; Agnès Varda, the Jean Renoir Award; and Joan Meyerson, the Morgan Cox Award for Guild Service.
Back East the WGAE honored Ariella Carmell, the Michael Collyer Memorial Fellowship in Screenwriting; the Black List creator Franklin Leonard, the Evelyn F. Burkey Award; and Randall Jansta, the Richard B. Jablow Award.
Said McKay of the man who introduced him, MSNBC’s Chris Hayes: “This guy, day in and day out, is working on this show which is not a lot of fun to help us understand this behemoth we call American democracy. Hearing him talk about Vice, we should pay a moment of recognition to the buried…the [millions] that died from the United States invading Iraq. … It’s not each and every one of our fault’s. Many of us said it was wrong, but it happened.”
Said Ganz from the podium about being offered the chance to pitch Garry Marshall: “One afternoon Garry Marshall, God bless him, came up to us and said, ‘I think maybe you guys aren’t doing so well.’ We chose not to disagree with him. We stole an idea from The Honeymooners. That’s some advice for you kids.
Kohan was not in attendance but sent along a video message: “I’m so sorry I couldn’t be there in person, but sadly due to circumstances beyond my control, I didn’t want to,” she quipped. “I’m a writer, not a performer, which means that I have many things to say, but prefer other people to say them.”
Fontana, creator of shows including Oz, St. Elsewhere and Homicide: Life on the Street, offered brief but stirring remarks in accepting his career honor. He dedicated it to Sagan Lewis, an actress from the St. Elsewhere whom he married, divorced in 1993 and then remarried in 2015, a year before she died of cancer at 63.
“The list of those to whom I am forever grateful is too long to enumerate,” he said. “But there is one person that I must thank for her wisdom, her respect, her understanding and her loving heart. She taught me not only how to live, but how to die. I stand here today because of Sagan Lewis… I wish you all endless love, thunderous joy, and a really large residual check.”
The New York ceremony was subdued compared with past editions, with the three-hour-plus running time draining some energy out of the room over time.
Moore made some of the night’s few political comments before presenting multiple documentary statuettes. “It’s Day 3 of the national emergency,” he quipped, alluding to President Donald Trump’s border-wall declaration. “How’s everyone holding up?”
Here is the complete list of winners:
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Screenplay by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty, Based on the book by Lee Israel; Fox Searchlight
Written by Bo Burnham; A24
Bathtubs Over Broadway
Written by Ozzy Inguanzo & Dava Whisenant; Focus Features
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Written by Kate Fodor, Noah Gardenswartz, Jen Kirkman, Sheila Lawrence, Daniel Palladino, Amy Sherman Palladino; Prime Video
The Americans, Written by Peter Ackerman, Hilary Bettis, Joshua Brand, Joel Fields, Sarah Nolen, Stephen Schiff, Justin Weinberger, Joe Weisberg, Tracey Scott Wilson; FX Networks
Barry, Written by Alec Berg, Duffy Boudreau, Bill Hader, Emily Heller, Liz Sarnoff, Ben Smith, Sarah Solemani; HBO
“Paean To The People” (Homeland), Written by Alex Gansa; Showtime
“Chapter One: Make Your Mark” (Barry), Written by Alec Berg & Bill Hader; HBO
LONG FORM ADAPTED
The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, Writers: Maggie Cohn, Tom Rob Smith, Based on the book Vulgar Favors by Maureen Orth; FX Networks
LONG FORM ORIGINAL
Castle Rock, Writers: Marc Bernardin, Scott Brown, Lila Byock, Mark Lafferty, Sam Shaw, Dustin Thomason, Gina Welch, Vinnie Wilhelm; Hulu
COMEDY/VARIETY TALK SERIES
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver; Writers: Tim Carvell, Raquel D’Apice, Josh Gondelman, Dan Gurewitch, Jeff Maurer, Daniel O’Brien, John Oliver, Brian Parise, Owen Parsons, Ben Silva, Will Tracy, Jill Twiss, Seena Vali, Juli Weiner; HBO
COMEDY/VARIETY SKETCH SERIES
Nathan For You, Writers: Leo Allen, Nathan Fielder, Carrie Kemper, Michael Koman, Adam Locke-Norton, Eric Notarnicola; Comedy Central
The Fake News with Ted Nelms, Written by John Aboud, Andrew Blitz, Michael Colton, Ed Helms, Elliott Kalan, Joseph Randazzo, Sara Schaefer; Comedy Central
“Bart’s Not Dead” (The Simpsons), Written by Stephanie Gillis; Fox
General Hospital, Head Writers: Shelly Altman, Christopher Van Etten; Writers: Barbara Bloom, Anna Theresa Cascio, Suzanne Flynn, Charlotte Gibson, Lucky Gold, Kate Hall, Elizabeth Korte, Daniel James O’Connor, Donny Sheldon, Scott Sickles; ABC
QUIZ AND AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION
Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, Head Writer: Stephen A. Melcher, Jr.; Writers: Kyle Beakley, Tom Cohen, Patricia A. Cotter, Ryan Hopak, Gary Lucy, James Rowley, Ann Slichter, Dylan Snowden; Disney/ABC Syndication
CHILDREN’S EPISODIC AND SPECIALS
“The Ersatz Elevator: Part One” (A Series of Unfortunate Events), Teleplay by Daniel Handler; Netflix
SHORT FORM NEW MEDIA ORIGINAL
Class of Lies, Written by Tessa Leigh Williams; Snapchat
DOCUMENTARY SCRIPT – CURRENT EVENTS
“Trump’s Takeover” (Frontline), Written by Michael Kirk & Mike Wiser; PBS
DOCUMENTARY SCRIPT – OTHER THAN CURRENT EVENTS
“The Eugenics Crusade” (American Experience), Written by Michelle Ferrari; PBS
NEWS SCRIPT – REGULARLY SCHEDULED, BULLETIN, OR BREAKING REPORT
“Catastrophe” (60 Minutes), Written by Scott Pelley, Katie Kerbstat, Nicole Young; CBS News
NEWS SCRIPT – ANALYSIS, FEATURE, OR COMMENTARY
“Wounds of War” (60 Minutes), Written by Scott Pelley, Katie Kerbstat, Nicole Young; CBS News
God of War
Written by Matt Sophos, Richard Zangrande Gaubert, Cory Barlog; Story and Narrative Design Lead Matt Sophos; Story and Narrative Design Richard Zangrande Gaubert; Narrative Design Orion Walker, Adam Dolin; Sony Interactive Entertainment
SHORT FORM NEW MEDIA ADAPTED
The Walking Dead: Red Machete, Written by Nick Bernardone; AMC.com
“Inside The Culture Of Sexism At Riot Games,” Written by Cecilia D’Anastasio; Kotaku.com
RADIO/AUDIO NEWS SCRIPT—REGULARLY SCHEDULED, BULLETIN, OR BREAKING REPORT
“Remembering The Good, The Bad and the Brilliant,” Written by Gail Lee; CBS News Radio
RADIO/AUDIO NEWS SCRIPT – ANALYSIS, FEATURE, OR COMMENTARY
“John McCain: A Life of Service,” Written by Gail Lee; CBS News Radio
“RFK: 50 Years After Shots Rang Out at The Ambassador Hotel,” Written by Andrew Evans; ABC News Radio
ON-AIR PROMOTION (RADIO OR TELEVISION)
“Tribute to Star Trek for the 2019 Creative Arts Emmys,” Written by Sean Brogan; CBS