âSome producers would say that thereâs a benefit in taking a proven piece of material. You know it worked once, so it gives you some assurance that it will work again,â said respected film critic Leonard Maltin, who also teaches at the School of Cinematic Arts. âBut I donât think there are any rules [to adaptations], and there are just as many bad movies adapted from books and plays as there are good ones.â
Yet last Friday, writers, producers and library patrons placed the âbadâ aside for a night and celebrated the âgoodâ at the 23rd annual Scripter Award. Hosted by the USC Libraries among the seemingly endless bookshelves of Doheny Libraryâs Great Hall, the Scripters recognize excellence in adapting a literary work while also fostering a discussion of collaboration between the publishing and film industries.
The Scripters have long been a rarity among the ceremonies held for filmmakers during award season. Unlike the Oscars, Golden Globes and WGA Awards, the Scripter Award, which is voted on by a selection committee composed of writers, actors and USC professors, not only recognizes the screenwriter of a filmic adaptation, but also the novelist, journalist or playwright of the original work on which the film was based.
According to Catherine Quinlan, Dean of the USC Libraries, there was a record-breaking 73 literary-to-film adaptations eligible in the 2010 calendar year, besetting 2009âs then-unprecedented 68 adaptations.
âPeople are looking more and more to the printed word as a source for inspiration. Theyâre realizing that jumping off from something like a poem or graphic novel or book gives you freedom in a constructed environment,â Dean Quinlan said. âGoing back and looking at the source material gives you a chance to re-interpret the film.â
âIâm fond of the people who create things out of nothing, but adaptation is an art onto itself because you have to respect and keep the integrity of the original,â added Nancy Sinatra, who served as the master of ceremonies that evening. âI would imagine itâs even more difficult than thinking up your own, original idea.â
The 2011 Scripter Award was presented to The Social Network scribe Aaron Sorkin and novelist Ben Mizrech, who penned Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, a Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal, on which The Social Network was based.
Among the finalists for the award were 127 Hours, written by Simon Beaufoy and Danny Boyle, adapted from Aron Ralstonâs memoir Between a Rock and a Hard Place; The Ghost Writer, which Roman Polanski based on Robert Harrisâs novel The Ghost; the Coen Brothersâ True Grit, adapted from the novel by Charles Portis; and Winterâs Bone, written by Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini and based on Daniel Woodrellâs novel of the same name.
For Sorkin, seamlessly moving from one art form to another is second nature for the former playwright who initially set out to be an actor.
âIt turned out that at all the classes at Syracuse [University], I wasnât learning how to act but what a play was. And when I wrote dialogue for the first time, I was struck with a confidence that I never had as an actor,â Sorkin said.
Sorkin also credits his sharp ear for rapid-fire dialogue, which has become his signature in his films to his parents, who frequently took him to see plays in New York as a child.
âSometimes, I didnât know what the play was about but I loved the sound of dialogue. It sounded like music to me â the rhythm, the words crashing into each other. I wanted to imitate that sound,â he said.
Although The Social Network is something of a âtalking headâ film, heavily relying on language rather than weighty plot twists or big-budget explosions to engage the audience, Sorkin insists he had faith in director David Fincher to make his characteristically long dialogue sequences work.
âHeâs an incredibly patient director who didnât worry about, âWhat am I going to point the camera at for nine pages?â He really believed that a scene was going to live on its own without any pyrotechnics … and that a story could be told through language,â Sorkin said.
Academy Award-winning screenwriter Simon Beaufoy â who returned to this yearâs Scripter Award with 127 Hours, two years after winning for Slumdog Millionaire â also echoed Sorkin when discussing the trust writers must place within the hands of their directors and producers with Fox Searchlightâs president of production, Claudia Lewis.
â[127 Hours] must have been the least attractive pitch to a studio. You can imagine having these people who won eight Oscars and they come into the studio with whatâs going to be next, and itâs a very difficult story,â Beaufoy said.
âBut we were willing because itâs an extraordinary story,â Lewis added.
Beaufoy admitted he was hesitant when writer-director Danny Boyle first approached him with the idea to adapt Aron Ralstonâs incredible true story of being trapped in a canyon, unable to move, for five days. Although he initially didnât think the film could be done, Beaufoy claimed it was the power of Ralstonâs fight for survival that intrigued him.
âThere are very few studios backing stories that donât fit into a genre and donât do what everyone expects,â Beaufoy said. âBut you have to be bold and go for what you think is fascinating.â