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Thursday, 6 February 2014

The Coolest Event on the Planet

The Scripter Awards. Until two weeks ago I had no idea such a thing even existed. It's USC's "kick-off to the Oscars," and through the extreme generosity of friends, my husband and I are going.

A couple of things. First, it's black tie. The only time I've worn long gowns is to friends' weddings (and my own), but none of those were black tie events. My friend Dawn informed us in no uncertain terms that black tie meant a to-the-floor dress and a tie-your-own-tie bow tie/tuxedo combo. Strangely, the thing I was most daunted by was learning to tie the tie.

So, black tie we could do. Then we got the invitation with the RSVP card. And the intimidation factor went straight through the roof.

"This is a big fu*&ing deal." My husband has a way of stating the obvious in a tone that makes me giggle. Maybe it was nerves, but I don't usually giggle when I'm nervous. I get internal flutters that I'm certain are as visible as an earthquake. And I start to sweat.

And just like that I started sweating the black tie thing. None of my long gowns (yes, I actually have a collection of several) exactly hit the floor. Maybe because I'm a thousand feet tall and the only clothes they make long enough for me are designed for models, of which variety I'm emphatically not. My husband, perhaps enjoying the fashion shows as I wavered back and forth between the red one and the black one, did a wonderful job of making me feel like I'd be beautiful in whichever dress I chose, so the black tie nerves receded into background noise. And thank God, because insecurity is such an unfortunate color choice, and I don't wear it well at all.

And then today I looked up what the Scripter Awards were really all about. Yes, it's a fundraiser for the USC library, and yes, it's an awards show for best adapted screenplay. What I didn't know, and what has suddenly turned this black tie event into the COOLEST EVENT ON THE PLANET is that the Scripter Award is shared by the Author of the original work, and the Screenwriter(s) who adapted it.

Now that is seriously cool. Novelists and authors have their own things, books get their own awards, even genres do their thing. And of course the screenwriters of both original and adapted screenplays get their recognition. But the partnership, whether an actual, in-person exchange of ideas, or the purely adaptive thing of "you wrote a fascinating story with interesting characters and I'm going to transform them into something people can see on screen;" that partnership is being honored on Saturday.

As far as I can tell, the Scripter Awards may only be for feature films, which is kind of a bummer because there are some amazing things being done with books on TV. Game of Thrones, this summer's Outlander event, and my personal favorite, the as-yet-uncast The Name of the Wind, come immediately to mind. But the 2014 Scripter Award nominees are pretty amazing: (in alphabetical order by film title:)

12 Years A Slave (author Solomon Northup and screenwriterJohn Ridley); Captain Phillips (Richard Phillips with Stephan Talty, authors of A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs and Dangerous Days at Sea, and screenwriter Billy Ray); Philomena (Martin Sixsmith, author of The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, and screenwriters Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope); The Spectacular Now (novelist Tim Tharp and screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber); andWhat Maisie Knew (novelist Henry James and screenwriters Carroll Cartwright and NancyDoyne).

Add to that a shockingly cool panel of judges, co-chaired by screenwriter Naomi Foner and USC professor and Writers Guild of America West vice president Howard Rodman, and including film critics Leonard Maltin and Kenneth Turan; screenwriters Geoffrey Fletcher, Lawrence Kasdan, Callie Khouri and Steve Zaillian; authors Michael Chabon and Michael Ondaatje; producers Albert Berger, Gale Anne Hurd and Mike Medavoy; and USC deans Elizabeth Daley of the School of Cinematic Arts, Madeline Puzo of the School of Dramatic Arts and Catherine Quinlan of the USC Libraries.

(I may or may not have had a serious writer-crush on Michael Ondaatje after I read The English Patient, and the film is definitely on my top-five-of-all-time list.)

There's a reason all of this has made me giddy with excitement, and it's not just the writer-crushes I get, or the fact that I'm an author who hopes one day to see my books onscreen.

I used to be a screenwriter, and my husband and I wrote together. About fifteen years ago, we optioned the rights to a novel called Three Hunters, which kicked around Kevin Costner's offices for a bit back in the days when Ed worked there. We tracked down Bill Harrison, who had written the story of an aging big game hunter and his two adult sons, and he graciously granted us the rights to turn his book into a screenplay. Apart from a couple of meetings with Bill, wherein he asked us not to embarrass him by making a bad movie, Ed and I worked alone on the script. We took Bill's amazingly visual story and converted it into something translatable to film.

But the actual history of the Three Hunters project, from Robert Duvall's interest, through financier pull-backs isn't the story. The story is about the intense, incredible, meaningful partnership we had with Bill, his words, the world he created, and the characters he gave life to in his novel. When Bill died this year both Ed and I felt we had lost a dear friend whose imagination and creative inspiration had touched our own very deeply.

So now the whole black tie drama has slipped way into the background. Because at this particular awards ceremony it's not about the dress. Or the tie.

It's about the book. And the movie.

And as I toast the winners of the 2014 Scripter Awards, I'll be raising my glass to Bill Harrison for giving me a taste of the experience those authors and screenwriters have shared on their journey to this black tie night.