Up in the Air author Walter Kirn and screenwriters Jason Reitman ’99 and Sheldon Turner took top honors at the 2010 USC Libraries Scripter Award ceremony on Feb. 6.
The film is based on Kirn’s 2001 tale about what he called “the spiritual distortions forced upon people by techno-capitalism.”
Crazy Heart, District 9, An Education and Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire rounded out the five Scripter finalists, which are also contending for Oscars in multiple categories. This year, four of the five Scripter finalists are competing for best picture and best adapted screenplay honors at the Academy Awards.
The ceremony drew an audience of more than 300 to Doheny Memorial Library. Catherine Quinlan, dean of the USC Libraries, served as emcee for the evening, as the literary, film and academic communities gathered to honor the winning writers.
Quinlan thanked the Friends of the USC Libraries and all attendees, saying that Scripter supports the development of the USC Libraries’ collections and the library’s role as a place of discovery. Just as screenwriters adapt literary works for the screen, she said, “A great library invites exploration, encourages invention and reveals a universe of knowledge that enriches us while broadening our perspectives on the world at large.
“This year’s field of 68 eligible adaptations was the largest in the history of Scripter,” Quinlan said. “Our authors and screenwriters have created written work and films that are diverse in subject matter and form … and bold in their imaginative destinations. Our five finalists embody many creative mysteries, explore broad intellectual and emotional territory, and invite us into worlds that are all the more entrancing for being so foreign to our everyday experience.”
Selection committee chair Naomi Foner spoke of the craft of film adaptation. “When done best,” she said, “it is more than a translation, but a new form. For film tells its stories in different ways. It engages its audience in a different kind of relationship.”
Kirn, Reitman and Turner accepted the award from Quinlan, Foner and Glenn Sonnenberg, president of the Friends of the USC Libraries.
Joking that writers usually only receive awards over the Internet, Kirn thanked Reitman and Turner for introducing his novel to new audiences. Reitman, who earned a degree in English from USC College, said, “Adaptation is an inherently collaborative act,” thanking Kirn for trusting him and Turner with his novel. “I’m thrilled that the USC Libraries have this award, since it speaks to how many writers work on films.”
Turner added that the Scripter ceremony encouraged conversations among Eric Roth, Steven Zaillian and other distinguished practitioners of his craft. “It’s so wonderful to be here with people who inspired me to be a screenwriter.”
Directed by Reitman, Up in the Air tells the story of Ryan Bingham — played by George Clooney — a “career transition counselor” who travels the country firing employees during corporate downsizings. Bingham’s quest to accumulate 10 million frequent-flier miles — seemingly the only thing of value in the anonymous landscapes of airports and business hotels — explores the moral and practical consequences of a life without ties.
The film so far has garnered a Golden Globe Award for best screenplay, six Oscar nominations and six BAFTA nominations. Reitman and Turner are in contention for best adapted screenplay honors at the Oscar, BAFTA and Writers Guild ceremonies.
Kirn’s novel, written at the peak of the dot-com bubble, found new audiences with Reitman and Turner’s successful adaptation. In a recent article for The Daily Beast, Kirn describes the unlikely series of events that led Reitman and Turner — and later Clooney — to “breathe big-screen life into Ryan Bingham’s cadaver.” Completing the film’s transition from page to screen, Kirn made a brief cameo in one of the film’s many airplane scenes.
Roth received the 2010 Scripter Literary Achievement Award from screenwriter Zaillian. The Oscar-winning screenwriter has earned critical acclaim for his adaptations of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Insider, Forrest Gump and Munich.
“The idea that words matter is what brings us all together here tonight,” said Roth, before recognizing the achievements of every finalist for this year’s Scripter Award. He spoke in particular about the inspiration he draws from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.
“Not only is it the greatest novel in our language, but it’s a philosophy book, a book of sorrow … and a cinematic book, the movie inside Melville’s head. I discovered Moby Dick in the library, which was my home away from home when I was a pimply teen. Every day I discovered another treasure.”
Sonnenberg, president of the Friends of the USC Libraries and a former USC trustee, co-founded the Scripter Award with Marjorie Lord Volk in 1988. Past Scripter winners include the authors and screenwriters of Slumdog Millionaire, No Country for Old Men, Million Dollar Baby, The Hours, A Beautiful Mind, L.A. Confidential, The English Patient and Schindler’s List.