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By Kevin Nelson · February 21, 2022
The Oscars offer a storied tradition of honoring the year’s most outstanding performances and achievements in the cinematic arts.
The first Academy Awards ceremony was held on May 16th, 1929 at a private dinner at The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel with around 250-300 guests. The only award for writing at the time was the Academy Award for Best Story. Most screenplays in those days were no more than treatments or beat sheets. Most studios were just beginning to convert their theaters to outfit their new sound technology so musicals carried the weight in the early days of sound.
As films began to allow for more dialogue, actors brought the slick and quick delivery of radio plays. Often a writer was hired to write the story or treatment and another writer was brought on to flesh out the dialogue and write the actual script.
The nature of the studio model that dominated the industry began to change in the thirties as writers and independent producers had enough money to fund their own productions. In order to change with the times, two new writing categories were introduced at the 13th Academy Awards in 1940. The Academy Awards for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Screenplay. The Best Story Award was last given out in 1956 before being eliminated.
Without further ado, here are the nominees of the 94th Academy Awards for Best Original and Best Adapted Screenplays.
An original screenplay is a script based wholly on the screenwriter’s own unique imagination and has not been adapted from previously published source material.
Let’s take a look at this year’s nominations for Best Original Screenplay.
Written and directed by Kenneth Branagh, Belfast tells the story of a young boy growing up in a Protestant family during The Troubles in Northern Ireland. Branagh does a great job of presenting the narrative through Buddy’s point of view. He’s caught between the innocence and naivety of youth and the harsh realities of his world.
The central decision facing Buddy and his community at large is highlighted in a fire and brimstone speech delivered by their minister. They’re at a fork in the road and have to choose. They can either choose heaven or hell on this earth. Keep fighting or choose peace. In line with traditional Irish humor, the Minister punctuates the scene by demanding money from the parishioners.Download the script
When speaking with Script Mag’s Sadie Dean, screenwriter Zach Baylin spoke about writing a biopic that featured real-life people. He had a lot of material at his disposal, as just about everyone involved with the Williams Sisters’ rise wrote a book about it. There were also plenty of tapes that Baylin could view to get Richard’s dialogue right. From that trove of research material, framing the script during a specific time in the young phenoms’ lives, and with the boost of landing on the Black List, Baylin and his producers knew they had a strong calling card to pitch to the Williams Family.
Ultimately, they got the family’s blessing, which is a rare feat. Perhaps that’s because Baylin was open to taking notes from the sources of his story. It would be the Williams sisters themselves who provided some of the more nuanced details that really helped make this screenplay come alive.
“…we also know had them saying, ‘Well, here’s what it was like actually – what we were like, five girls in a van with our father going to the courts every morning, here are the conversations that we had in the van, Tunde did homework and Lyn hated going to practice most mornings,’ and all those little things of what those interactions were that we’re going to flesh out so that it was about the specific people and not just like a family that went through this, but this family.”Download the script
After McKay completed Vice, journalist and author David Sirota challenged him to use his humor and writing skills to combat climate change, but in a way unlike most post-apocalyptic fare like Mad Max or Terminator.
Don’t Look Up was written and directed by Adam McKay and seemed to have been prophetic in its inception and release. They saw an issue that most people were too afraid to confront and McKay added his trademark satirical wit to broach the topic. He found the climate change crisis to be both utterly horrifying and “preposterously funny.”
During an Around the Table conversation on Entertainment Weekly, McKay spoke about how he and Sirota came up with the idea. They were discussing how climate change wasn’t a larger concern in the media and how it’s pushed down for less important puff pieces when Sirota said, “it’s like a comet is heading to Earth and it’s going to destroy us all and no one cars.”
Mckay replied, “That’s the idea!”
They could have never predicted how their film could have so accurately depicted the polarized response to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Adam McKay delivers some of the sharpest satire of his career in these pages with masterful execution.
If a comet is coming, make sure reading this is the last thing you do.
At least you can laugh uneasily about it.Download the script
Usually, when Paul Thomas Anderson is working on a screenplay, he’s drawing from some sort of personal experience that electrified him with inspiration. For Licorice Pizza, it was a return to his childhood in The Valley where he saw a school kid hassling an older photographer on picture day. He was interested in telling the story of a teenage boy getting into an adult relationship with an older woman.
The relationship of the film is a little problematic and received some criticism. Honestly, it’ll either leave you squirming or you’ll be receptive to it. Paul Thomas Anderson seems to be aware of the boundaries being crossed and respectful of his characters. You be the judge.This script isn't currently available
Parasite seems to have opened up the Academy’s consideration for foreign films. Thank goodness because there are some really great foreign language scripts out there. Hopefully, that leads to more translations.
Written by Eskil Vogt & writer and director Joachim Trier, The Worst Person in the World is the third film of Trier’s Oslo Trilogy.
The structure of the plot starts with a prologue and the film has twelve chapters, each with its own title, and ends with an epilogue. It’s a dark romantic dramedy with a great setup and karmic ending that strikes a resounding chord.This script isn't currently available
Adapted screenplays are scripts that are based on other written works such as a novel, memoir, stage play, musical, article, autobiography, etc. Basically any intellectual property outside of the public domain.
All works in the public domain can be adapted without penalty of copyright infringement and offer screenwriters a plethora of ideas, many of which find their way to the top of the box office and awards contention every year. If you’re struggling to find your next great idea, think of ways to rework an old story with a contemporary twist.
Here are this year’s nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay.
CODA is a coming-of-age dramedy based on a teenager who is the only hearing member in an otherwise deaf family. She juggles between breaking free and pursuing her dream of singing or staying to help her family, who are dependent on her for their fishing business.
Writer and director Sian Heder learned American Sign Language and worked with local fishermen to ensure the film authentically portrayed the communities it represented.
As an American remake of the French film La Famille Bélier, Heder decided to set the film in Gloucester, Massachusetts because she felt it represented both the struggle of the working class, as well as the classic imagery of rustic Americana.
Written by director Ryusuke Hamaguchi & Takamasa Oe, Drive My Car is an adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s short story of the same name. The short story is confined to a single conversation between two characters during a car ride. Here’s another case of a foreign screenplay, this one from Japan, being nominated for a screenwriting award.
In order to expand the short story to fit into a feature-length film and still stay true to the source material, Hamaguchi and Oe took elements of other stories within the same collection, Men Without Women, which is centered around a singular theme: men who have lost women in their lives.
Hamaguchi told Box Office Pro:
“As I reflect upon it, my process was to read these stories many times over and over before I started to write the screenplay. Once I began writing, the elements that I wound up incorporating appeared naturally to me, likely because Murakami has a world that is quite uniquely his and very built-up. When I was writing the script, I found myself writing something that I usually wouldn’t find myself writing—and that really speaks to the power of Murakami’s work.”
Written by Jon Spaihts and Denis Villeneuve and Eric Roth, Dune remarkably exceeded most people’s expectations for the remake of the beloved classic Sci-Fi film, which was in itself an adaptation of the equally heralded novel by Frank Herbert. It was in good hands with director Denis Villeneuve though, whose passion and commitment to the project helped defeat the naysayers.
The writers do a great job of describing the world in a way that immediately drops the reader into the action. They don’t need to have read the book or seen David Lynch’s 1984 version to be swept up in the universe this takes place in and still know what the heck is going on. There’s a fine line between writing too many world descriptions that slow the reader down and not including enough details whereas your reader gets lost.
Worldbuilding is a very hard thing to do in sci-fi fantasies and Dune does it extremely well.Download the script
Written and directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal, The Lost Daughter marks Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut. The screenplay is based on Elena Ferrante’s 2006 novel of the same name. It’s a psychological drama and Gyllenhaal considered that the movie lives in the world of the character’s mind. Specifically, a woman named Leda whose ambivalence toward other vacationers touches on the complicated nature of parenthood and her rejection of it.
She got the blessing of Ferrante to explore the world and make some changes to fit her own vision and felt relative freedom while working on the project. The pace of the screenplay reads slowly because it’s a slow psychological dive into this character and the reasons for her strange and sometimes abhorrent behavior. Gyllenhaal liked the idea of leaving the characters’ intentions up for audience interpretation to create more engagement. Sometimes you aren’t sure whether the character is being cruel or genuine.
Creating scenarios that get readers thinking like this will only make them eager to get to the next page. Aim for intrigue.Download the script
Written and directed by Jane Campion and based on the 1967 novel by Thomas Savage, The Power of the Dog is a powerful screenplay that spares no small detail. That’s part of its charm. It’s got a classical Hollywood writing style to it. The kind that you’d find in old westerns. The first page starts with two giant blocks of action that tell the reader, settle in doggy — we’re in for the long haul.
Again we see a psychological drama that allows plenty of time for the story to develop and the reader to get into the characters’ heads. The characters are conflicted by their emotional connections because of their expected role within the household. It’s an exploration of masculinity and crossing societal boundaries in the great expansive west.
The novel was often regarded as an inspiration to Brokeback Mountain. Campion received the novel from her stepmother and it sparked a passion inside her. She attained the rights and worked with relatives of Savage (he died in 2003) as well as the author who wrote the afterword to the novel and was also inspired by Savage to write her short story Brokeback Mountain.Download the script
There were some great screenplays that didn’t get nominated this year but still deserve recognition, so I’d like to show some love to some scripts that set the bar extremely high for next year’s Oscar contenders.
The Tender Bar is a coming-of-age drama written by William Monahan and is based on the memoir by JR Moehringer. Monahan has his own writing process. He doesn’t write outlines and avoids rewrites at all costs (I envy the guy), but he felt like he could relate with Moehringer’s turbulent upbringing in 1970s Long Island.
Monahan spoke with ScreenCraft’s Shanee Edwards about adapting material based on a real person:
“You want to get the essence of what you’re adapting, especially with such a popular book. You want to make sure it transfers. You want the movie to enter a kind of symbiosis with the book, that one will lead people to the other.”Download the script
Just like the main character of the script, Jockey, written by Clint Bentley & Greg Kwedar, packs a lot of heart into a little package. Most of the action takes place off the racetrack and in the stables, allowing ample character development. The script also sits at a tight 76 pages.
It’s about an aging jockey facing the mortality of his life’s passion. Co-writer and director Clint Bentley delivers an authentic take on life on the track being the son of a jockey. Based in Dallas, Texas, he shot the film outside of the industry’s influence with a small team of rugged filmmakers. He sought to capture a documentary-style within the framework of, “a high narrative.”
“It doesn’t matter if you’re a young filmmaker in Topeka, Kansas, or some small town in Colombia, anywhere else, you can tell stories and make something that can be very specific—and so specific that it can be universal.”Download the script
John Lasseter and co-directors Byron Howard and Jared Bush approached Lin Manuel Miranda about developing a musical after they made Zootopia. They would meet and discuss their large extended families and found their “true north” in each character’s perspective within that greater family pride.
The writing style at Disney and Pixar works to bring the greatest creative minds together to work by committee. They work in an idea factory and just crank out and rework ideas. The development of the film took five years. No wonder it’s so perfect. They scrutinize every aspect of their stories in order to make them as perfect as possible.
Charise Castro Smith was hired for her strength in writing magical realism as well as her deep cultural connection to the story. The screenplay is a beautiful bilingual tapestry that speaks to everyone. It’s a great script for writers who want to work in the collaborative atmosphere of animation or write musicals.Download the script
Written by Steven Levenson and based on Jonathan Larson’s stage play of the same name, I’m just gonna go ahead and say this one was robbed. The combination of Larson’s music with Levenson’s visual ingenuity dances off the page. His action lines are so creatively written yet so clear. My favorite script of the year. If you want to write a musical grounded in reality, check out this masterpiece.Download the script
Whether your favorite screenplay wins or not, there’s a lot you can learn from all of the artists being honored at the Oscars. Making a film is a tremendous achievement, let alone being honored with the industry’s most coveted award. So whether your favorite writer or screenplay wins or loses — clap for the winner.
It will be the crowning achievement of their lives.
They will be honored by their peers — other writers, directors, producers, and Academy Members.
It’s our championship, after all.
And everyone’s a winner.