Welcome to our ongoing Learning from the Masters and Industry Insiders series where we seek out and feature excellent videos, interviews, and discussions of the art, craft, and business of screenwriting and pull the best words of wisdom, writing tips, and screenwriting advice.
Here we turn to some of the most inspiring and entertaining Academy Award acceptance speeches (in no particular order) from Oscar-winning screenwriters.
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1. David Seidler for The King’s Speech
This was his first Oscar and his first Oscar nomination as well, at the age of 73. He would go on to be known in Oscar history as the oldest to ever be honored in this category.
His best line was, “My father always said to me I would be a late bloomer.”
This speech proves that patience and perseverance are two characteristics that all screenwriters should have.
2. Diablo Cody for Juno
Born as Brook Busey-Maurio, her pen name derived from listening to the song “El Diablo” by Arcadia while driving through Cody, Wyoming.
Diablo’s writing career began with her blog Secretary, which detailed the fictional exploits of a secretary, based on her own experiences. She later started the blog Darling Girl after a move to Minneapolis, Minnesota.
She worked as an exotic dancer, which led to her memoir — Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper — that she wrote when she was 27. Her manager suggested she write a screenplay, and within a few months, she wrote the acclaimed Juno. Her first screenplay was later nominated for an Oscar, which she won.
3. Dustin Lance Black for Milk
Black was a gay man raised as a Mormon, which allowed him the opportunity to become a staff writer, executive story editor, and co-producer for the complete run of the celebrated HBO series Big Love, about a polygamous Mormon family.
He wrote the screenplay for Milk on spec and showed a draft to Harvey Milk’s former aide Cleve Jones. Jones passed the script to Gus Van Sant, who went on to direct the film.
Black’s Oscar speech was a timely and welcome one for the Gay Rights Movement.
4. S.J. Perlman for Around the World in 80 Days
Hermione Gingold, known for her eccentric persona, had appeared in the film and was sent to accept the award on Perlman’s behalf — leading to one of the most unusual and hilarious acceptance speeches for the category.
5. Callie Khouri for Thelma & Louise
Khouri was working as a commercial and music video production assistant when she wrote the Thelma & Louise script on spec, which would go on to become her first produced screenplay. And yes, she won an Oscar for it.
6. Spike Lee for BlacKkKlansman
Spike Lee had been nominated for four prior Oscars and was famously shut out from many more deserved nominations and wins. He finally received his Oscar at the 2019 Academy Awards and gave an exciting and moving speech.
7. Michael Blake for Dances with Wolves
The late Michael Blake won the Oscar for adaptation of his own novel. After he was announced as the winner, Doris Leader Charge accompanied him onstage. She played Pretty Shield, the wife of the Sioux chief Ten Bears, in the film and went on to translate some of Blake’s speech.
8. Jordan Peele for Get Out
Peele became the first African-American to win the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and offered an inspiring speech.
9. John Ridley for 12 Years a Slave
Ridley was just the second African-American to win the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay (after Geoffrey S. Fletcher for Precious). His Oscar speech is full of touching emotion.
10. Graham Moore for The Imitation Game
Moore delivered a very emotional speech that touched on the message of hope for those suffering from depression in their teens and beyond. He also opened up about his own struggle with depression and a suicide attempt that he survived during his youth.
11. Geoffrey Fletcher for Precious
Fletcher became the first African-American to win the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. During his speech, he is soft-spoken and can barely find the words — clearly shocked by his dream coming true in a history-making win.
12. John Patrick Shanley for Moonstruck
Shanley’s speech represents what most screenwriters would feel after winning an Oscar — utter elation. His reaction is a breath of fresh air amidst more subdued speeches. (Shanley’s speech starts at about 4:40)
13. Taika Waititi for JoJo Rabbit
Waititi is a master of subtle and funny quips, and his Oscar speech was full of them — and he ends it with a strong and inspiring message to indigenous children around the world.
14. Ben Affleck and Matt Damon for Good Will Hunting
Never has there been a greater moment of pure joy in acceptance of the Best Original Screenplay Oscar. Two lifelong friends that grew up in the business together as actors and, inspired by Sylvester Stallone and Rocky, decided to write a screenplay that they could star in together.
15. Bong Joon Ho and Han Jin Won for Parasite
The first Asian to win the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Bong Joon Ho would also win that night for Best Director, Best International Film, and Best Picture. His acceptance speeches are filled with humility, joy, and humor.
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