Author Kaui Hart Hemmings and screenwriters Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash won the 24th annual USC Libraries Scripter Award for their creative contributions to The Descendants. Selection committee co-chair Naomi Foner announced the winners at the black-tie ceremony on Feb. 18.
The Scripter gala, presented by the Friends of the USC Libraries, honors each year’s best cinematic adaptation of the written word. Scripter is the only award of its kind that honors screenwriters, as well as the author of the work upon which the adaptation is based.
“This is such a wonderful honor and to be part of something that celebrates and puts books on a pedestal. None of this would have been possible without Kaui’s wonderful book,” Rash said. “It was such a wonderful journey for us to fall in love with the book and have the opportunity to turn it into the film.”
Hemmings noted that the collaboration has been a positive experience for her.
“An adaptation can sometimes bring so many more readers that I never would have had and to have those readers say that they love both the book and the film and that they work so well together is such a blessing,” she said.
Payne, who directed The Descendants but was unable to attend the ceremony, has been a Scripter finalist twice before for his work on the adaptations of About Schmidt and Sideways. Faxon acknowledged Payne’s critical decision-making skills in his acceptance speech.
“I am thankful to Alexander Payne for directing such a beautiful film, and I think he was right in the end – it was a good call casting George Clooney and not me,” Faxon joked. “That ended up being a benefit.”
The Scripter win for The Descendants was another of its many recent accolades. The film has been named the American Film Institute’s Movie of the Year and the best film of the year by the Los Angeles, Dallas, Florida, Kansas City and Southeastern film critics associations, among others. It was named the best drama of the year at the Golden Globes and was nominated for five Academy Awards, including best adapted screenplay.
With filmmaker Taylor Hackford ’67 and Academy Award-winning actress Helen Mirren serving as honorary dinner chairs, USC Libraries dean Catherine Quinlan welcomed the attendees to USC’s Doheny Memorial Library.
“The authors and screenwriters of these books, plays, stories and screenplays embody the stellar, transformative accomplishments our libraries inspire and make possible,” Quinlan said.
By supporting the libraries, all who attended were “supporting the academic and artistic excellence of the entire university,” she added.
The other finalists for this year’s Scripter Award, in alphabetical order by film title, were: screenwriter Christopher Hampton for A Dangerous Method, adapted from the nonfiction book A Most Dangerous Method: The Story of Jung, Freud, and Sabina Spielrein by John Kerr and the 2002 stage play The Talking Cure by Hampton; screenwriter Moira Buffini for Jane Eyre, adapted from the 1847 book by Charlotte Brontë; screenwriters Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin and Stan Chervin for Moneyball, based on the book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis; and screenwriters Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan and author John le Carré for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
Co-chaired by Golden Globe-winning screenwriter Foner and USC screenwriting professor and vice president of the Writers Guild of America, West, Howard Rodman, the Scripter selection committee chose The Descendants as the year’s best adaptation from a field of 109 eligible films.
The 32-member committee included film critics Kenneth Turan and Leonard Maltin; Fox Filmed Entertainment co-chairman and chief executive officer Tom Rothman; screenwriters Eric Roth, Geoffrey Fletcher and Gale Anne Hurd; author Michael Chabon; and USC deans Quinlan, Elizabeth M. Daley and Madeline Puzo.
Academy Award-winning screenwriter Paul Haggis accepted the fifth annual USC Libraries Scripter Literary Achievement Award. Haggis’ credits include the screenplays for Crash, Million Dollar Baby and the two James Bond films starring Daniel Craig, Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace.
During his acceptance speech, Haggis spoke about the influence his parents had on his writing career.
“They encouraged me from a young age largely because they saw I wasn’t good at much else,” Haggis joked. “You have to be a little emotionally unstable to be in this kind of profession – it’s a ridiculous profession, writing.”
“I’m very proud to be here with my daughters tonight – all three of whom grew up to choose ridiculous and difficult careers, in writing, in art and in music,” Haggis said. “I’m trying to learn the lesson my parents taught me – to encourage your children to be ridiculous to take on ridiculous challenges, choose ridiculous careers. Only by doing that do they really have a chance to be great.”
Haggis, along with author F. X. Toole, won a Scripter Award for Million Dollar Baby in 2005.
This year’s in-kind sponsors included Esquire Bar & Lounge; the Wine of the Month Club; John and Dana Agamalian and Blue Ice Vodka; Barry Eggleston II of the Exotic Car Collection by Enterprise; Final Draft Inc., Movie Magic: Screenwriter; Paperblanks; and thinkThin.
For more information on the Scripter, including additional images from the ceremony, visit scripter.usc.edu