WGAW Special Awards
This year’s Writers Guild Award honorees reflect on writing for screen and television, service to the Guild and the enduring mystery of Abraham Lincoln. 

(February 6, 2013) 

Each year the Writers Guild of America, West presents special awards to individuals who exemplify the highest standards of excellence in their respective fields (film, television and animation), service to the Guild and community-at-large and/or whose work champions the constitutional and civil liberties that are essential for the freedom of writers everywhere.

With the February 17 Writers Guild Awards show approaching, WriteNow queried this year’s recipients about writing and how they do what they do:

Photo: Matt Humphrey 
Tom Stoppard, Screenwriter-Playwright
Screen Laurel Award honoree, on adapting screenplays versus writing for the theater:

“I’ve never written an original film script, but have always worked from a novel or existing screenplay. What I like is turning one thing into another thing. I’m a playwright, and the plays I’ve written are mine and I have had to invent them. I have not had to invent a movie from scratch, which I enjoy very much because in the way I work someone else has done the hard part of inventing the stories and characters. I enjoy dialogue more than anything. I’ve been gifted somehow to write dialogue but not to invent plots . . . I have had a foot in both worlds, and in a way they have been different worlds. Even the psychology of being a screenwriter as opposed to being a playwright is quite different. A screenwriter very often is there to serve the director, and that’s pretty much the other way around in theater which, for historical reasons, is much more a text-based art form than cinema . . . The whole tradition in movies for many years has been that the director is the filmmaker. I’ve always believed strongly that directing and writing a movie ought to be the same job.”

Joshua Brand & John Falsey, Co-Creators of St. Elsewhere, Northern Exposure and I’ll Fly Away
Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award for Television honorees, on working in TV in the 1970s and 80s:

Photo: Katherine Finkelstein 
Brand: “It was a great time to be working in network television. The same shows today would be difficult to get on the broadcast networks . . . The shows we did were character driven. They had melodramatic elements but we didn’t do cop shows or legal dramas. Even if they had a franchise like a hospital, it wasn’t a potboiler or a procedural or crime of the week. Today these shows might be called soft.”

Photo: Courtney Falsey  
Falsey: “When we came into the business in the late 70s the executive producer (on a show) really didn’t get involved with the writing, not until the executive producer was Bruce Paltrow, then Steve Bochco. They changed everything. And Grant Tinker (television producer and former Chairman and CEO of NBC) was one was of the earliest ones to say the writer must have the power, not only over writing but also running the show. They backed us up and let us run our own shows . . . We got lucky. We had reached a niche where the networks trusted us and were always willing to set aside an hour each week for our shows, numbers be damned.”

Photo: Joan Marcus  
Tony Kushner, Screenwriter-Playwright, 2013 WGA Adapted Screenplay nominee
Paul Selvin Award honoree, on getting to know Abraham Lincoln:

“Growing up in the South I learned a lot about Lincoln at an early age. My parents were very progressive people, and my father was a great admirer of Lincoln as a politician and statesman. . . The thing that is most astonishing to me about Lincoln is his inexhaustibility as a subject. He was elected to two terms but only served the first before he was assassinated. He had no giant staff. The size of the federal government was infinitely smaller in 1865 than it is today, so he didn’t leave Presidential papers or archives. And he was actually an assiduous burner of what he didn’t want others to see. No diaries. He was closemouthed about his past. The amount of information we have is not infinite. But there always seems to be something new to be said about him and new to look at in him, something mysterious. . . I wound up more deeply aware of Lincoln and more in love with him by the end of my work than when I began.”

Photo: Lori Dorn  
Daniel Petrie Jr., Screenwriter-Director-Producer
Morgan Cox Award honoree, on the rewards of service to the Guild:

“What the Guild does is important to writers and it behooves everyone to get involved and to help make the Guild the most effective organization it can be . . . I hope I was able to bring a level of calm and some resolution during times of turmoil . . . My Guild service has been of tremendous benefit to me because it allowed me to work with and to get to know closely many individuals who I admire deeply as people and as screen and television writers.”

Photo: CBS Television  
Phil Rosenthal, Writer-Executive Producer, Everybody Loves Raymond Creator
Valentine Davies Award honoree, on why he works diligently to bring arts to inner city children:

“Gratitude, a feeling - led by the example of my parents - that if you’re lucky enough to do well in life it’s your responsibility to help those around you. Seems like part of being a human being. It doesn’t feel like an obligation, and it’s not a form of charity. If you have, you share. . . . We live in a town where every single person owes their livelihood to their arts. You don’t go into movies, TV or theater without some kind of appreciation for the arts. It all requires some kind of education. It’s our duty, good common sense even, to invest back into the community that provides for future generations of artists or like-minded people, or else our business will die.”

Howard A. Rodman, Screenwriter, WGAW Vice President on the Jean Renoir Award honorees (Japanese writers Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto, Ryuzo Kikushima and Hideo Oguni) and their impact on American cinema:

“We are trying to honor screenwriters whose work we look at and say ‘Wow.’ This is the kind of work we aspire to, this is the reason we wanted to be screenwriters in the first place. They have careers we gaze upon with admiration and only hope to emulate. Kurosawa, Oguni, Hashimoto, Kikushima individually and in combination have given us so many films, so many masterpieces. Their work has such quiet power. Their work haunts. Their voices get stronger and more distinctive over decades, and you say, “That’s where the bar is set. Now let’s all get back to work.”

Matt Groening, who is this year’s recipient of the WGAW Animation Writers Caucus Animation Writing Award was profiled in the December issue of WriteNow 

Read all about this year’s Writers Guild Awards, nominees and history