Saturday, March 6, 2010

Live Blog: 82nd Annual Academy Awards®

Thursday, February 25, 2010

2010 Writers Guild Award Winners

compiled by Ray Morton

On February 20, 2010, The Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE) and the Writers Guild of America, West (WGAW) announced the winners of the 2010 Writers Guild Awards for outstanding achievement in writing for screen, television, radio, news, promotional, and videogame writing at simultaneous ceremonies at the Hudson Theatre at the Millennium Broadway Hotel in New York City and the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles. Susie Essman of Curb Your Enthusiasm hosted the East Coast show, and Seth MacFarlane, creator and star of Family Guy, hosted the West Coast show.



The Hurt Locker, Written by Mark Boal; Summit Entertainment


Up in the Air, Screenplay by Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner; Based upon the novel by Walter Kirn; Paramount Pictures


The Cove, Written by Mark Monroe; Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions



Mad Men, Written by Lisa Albert, Andrew Colville, Kater Gordon, Cathryn Humphris, Andre Jacquemetton, Maria Jacquemetton, Brett Johnson, Erin Levy, Marti Noxon, Frank Pierson, Robin Veith, Dahvi Waller, Matthew Weiner; AMC


30 Rock, Written by Jack Burditt, Kay Cannon, Robert Carlock, Tom Ceraulo, Vali Chandrasekaran, Tina Fey, Donald Glover, Steve Hely, Matt Hubbard, Dylan Morgan, Paula Pell, Jon Pollack, John Riggi, Tami Sagher, Josh Siegal, Ron Weiner, Tracey Wigfield; NBC


Modern Family, Written by Paul Corrigan, Sameer Gardezi, Joe Lawson, Steven Levitan, Christopher Lloyd, Dan O'Shannon, Brad Walsh, Caroline Williams, Bill Wrubel, Danny Zuker; ABC

EPISODIC DRAMA – any length – one airing time

“Broken, Part 1 and Part 2” (House), Written by Russel Friend & Garrett Lerner & David Foster & David Shore; Fox

EPISODIC COMEDY – any length – one airing time (**TIE**)

“Apollo, Apollo” (30 Rock), Written by Robert Carlock; NBC

“Pilot” (Modern Family), Written by Steven Levitan & Christopher Lloyd; ABC

LONG FORM – ORIGINAL – over one hour – one or two parts, one or two airing times

Georgia O’Keeffe, Written by Michael Cristofer; Lifetime

LONG FORM – ADAPTATION – over one hour – one or two parts, one or two airing times

Taking Chance, Teleplay by Lieutenant Colonel Michael R. Strobl, USMC (Ret.) and Ross Katz, Based on the short story by Lieutenant Colonel Michael R. Strobl, USMC (Ret.); HBO

ANIMATION – any length – one airing time

“Wedding for Disaster” (The Simpsons), Written by Joel H. Cohen; Fox


Saturday Night Live, Head Writer: Seth Meyers, Writers Doug Abeles, James Anderson, Alex Baze, Jessica Conrad, James Downey, Steve Higgins, Colin Jost, Erik Kenward, Rob Klein, John Lutz, Lorne Michaels, John Mulaney, Paula Pell, Simon Rich, Marika Sawyer, Akiva Schaffer, John Solomon, Emily Spivey, Kent Sublette, Jorma Taccone, Bryan Tucker, Additional Sketch by Adam McKay, Andrew Steele; NBC

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Head Writer: Steve Bodow, Writers Rory Albanese, Kevin Bleyer, Rich Blomquist, Tim Carvell, Wyatt Cenac, Hallie Haglund, JR Havlan, David Javerbaum, Elliott Kalan, Josh Lieb, Sam Means, Jo Miller, John Oliver, Daniel Radosh, Jason Ross, Jon Stewart; Comedy Central


Film Independent’s 2009 Spirit Awards, Written by Billy Kimball, Neil MacLennan; IFC/AMC


The Young and the Restless, Written by Amanda L. Beall, Tom Casiello, Lisa Connor, Janice Ferri Esser, Eric Freiwald, Jay Gibson, Scott Hamner, Marla Kanelos, Beth Milstein, Natalie Minardi Slater, Melissa Salmons, Linda Schreiber, James Stanley, Sandra Weintraub, Teresa Zimmerman; CBS


“Welcome to the Jungle” (The Troop), Written by Max Burnett; Nickelodeon


Another Cinderella Story, Written by Erik Patterson, Jessica Scott; ABC Family


“The Madoff Affair” (Frontline), Written by Marcela Gaviria, Martin Smith; PBS


“The Trials of J. Robert Oppenheimer” (American Experience), Written by David Grubin; PBS


World News with Charles Gibson, Written by Lee Kamlet, Julia Kathan, Joel Siegel; ABC


“A Private War: Expose: America’s Investigative Reports” (Bill Moyers Journal), Written by Thomas M. Jennings; PBS



2008 Year in Review, Written by Gail Lee; CBS


World News This Week − July 11, 2009, Written by Darren Reynolds; ABC Radio


Paul Harvey: An American Life, Written by Stu Chamberlain; ABC Radio



“Vegas” (Dateline), “The Wanted” Promo, NBC Nightly News Promo, “Iran” (Dateline), “Cheat” (Dateline), Written by Barry Fitzsimmons; NBC


“Hudson Splashdown” (CBS Evening News with Katie Couric), David M. Rosen, Shannon L. Toma; CBS


Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, Written by Amy Hennig; Sony Computer Entertainment


The Writers Guild of America, East presented special honors to: Alan Zweibel - Ian McLellan Hunter Lifetime Achievement Award; Gary David Goldberg – Herb Sargent Award for Comedy Excellence; Edward Albee – Evelyn F. Burkey Award for contributions bringing honor and dignity to writers everywhere; David Steven Cohen - Jablow Award for devoted service to the Guild, and Philippa Leverman - John Merriman Award for Study of Broadcast Journalism at American University. In addition, the Writers Guild of America, East Foundation presented the Michael Collyer Memorial Fellowship in Screenwriting to Antal Zambo of Wayne State University.

The Writers Guild of America, West presented special honors to: Larry David – Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award for Television for lifetime achievement; Barry Levinson – Screen Laurel Award for lifetime achievement; Anthony Peckham (Invictus) – Paul Selvin Award, recognizing written work which spotlights constitutional rights and civil liberties; Carl Gottlieb – Morgan Cox Award, honoring longtime Guild service.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

WGA News - Jan/Feb 2010

by Ray Morton

In December 2009, the writers of iLarious became the first writers of content for an iPhone app to be represented by a labor union, the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE). Under this agreement, writers for apps such as This Just In (which delivers 10-15 jokes a day to the iPhone) will get to count their jokes written for the app towards WGAE health insurance and other benefits. Comedy writers covered by this new agreement hail from The Daily Show, The Onion, Human Giant and Saturday Night Live among other famous comedy programs.

iLarious went union because company founder and comedy writer Fred Graver is himself a member of the WGAE and knows how important union representation is to writers. “iLarious was founded to be the leading entertainment and comedy brand on mobile, by a group of writers, producers and performers - many of whom are members of the WGA, ” said Graver. “In a couple of years, mobile will be one of the dominant forces in our industry. It's important to the founders of iLarious that we bring the best talent to the table, and that we put a stake in the ground in this newly developing territory. The new means of producing content allows us to be owners and creators at the same time - and in the future, we look forward to being able to picket ourselves every few years.”

“Whatever the technology, writers will always benefit from membership in a creative community which is organized to advance their interests,” said WGAE Executive Director Lowell Peterson. “The job standards enjoyed by writers in film and broadcast TV were built over the years by creative people working together. Signing on with the WGAE is a very important step for creators of digital media to gain the standing and strength they deserve.”

In the past six months, the WGAE has signed 20 new companies creating content for digital media. These digital media companies who are covered by Writers Guild agreements have produced more than twenty-five web series currently available online and have additional series in development. Writers at these companies will become WGAE members. These writers were organized as part of the WGAE’s Writers Guild 2.0 initiative and demonstrate that writers working in digital media are interested in union membership.

Writers Guild of America, East, AFL-CIO (WGAE) added twenty-two digital media companies as signatories in 2009. Thirty writers have become guild members as a result of digital media work covered by guild contracts this year. The exponential increase in digital media projects covered by the WGAE is the result of the union’s focus on new organizing.

"The business models, distribution structures, and creative opportunities in digital media are still being developed. The fundamental goal of the Writers Guild 2.0 initiative is to ensure that creators are at the table as decisions are made about these basic issues,” said WGAE Executive Director Lowell Peterson. “The enormous potential of digital media won't mean much if writers and other creators can't make a living, or if they must cede creative control."

Rapid growth in signatories shows that digital media creators feel a strong need for guild representation. Digital media producers say they seek the same benefits in guild membership as any other writer, such as healthcare, credit for their work and a community willing to fight for their rights. New WGAE signatories announced in the last quarter of 2009 include: the original animated web series 9am Meeting, Confirmed Bachelors, Undead New York, and The Bear, the Cloud and God; the live action series The Battery’s Down, Downsized, Duder, Gavin Lance, and Alex Bloom and Ben Zelevansky; and production companies AGBK, Guy and Cut Films, Jamtown Films, and Respect Films.

On January 5, 2009 the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE) responded to a request from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for comments on net neutrality and an open Internet in response to its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Net Neutrality with the following comments:
  • The Writers Guild of America, East, AFL-CIO, supports the proposed codification of the six principles described in the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking adopted October 22, 2009. We think it is critical that the extraordinary potential of the Internet not be stifled by corporate conglomerates that restrict access for their own commercial gain.
  • The WGAE represents people who write, edit, produce, and create graphics for television, film, radio, and digital media. Our members write television drama, comedy, news, and public interest programs; they write movies for major studios and for independents; they create original content for web television, for mobile applications, and for other digital platforms. Our members know first-hand how an open Internet permits them to create more innovative, informative content and to distribute it directly to the public.
  • While we support all six principles, the first (forbidding providers from blocking users’ access to lawful content of their choice) and fifth (requiring providers to treat lawful content, applications, and services in a nondiscriminatory manner) most directly address the interest of creators in maintaining meaningful access to the public.
  • The Internet and other digital media offer an unprecedented opportunity for creators to reach consumers and for people to watch and read what they want, when they want. This is very different from traditional media in which major studios, distributors, and television networks control the flow of movies and programs. We believe people would benefit from an Internet that offers a greater variety of options than what is currently available on television, radio, and the movie theater. Digital technology presents a vast range of possibilities to content creators and consumers alike, and it would be a tragedy to squeeze all of that into a narrow commercial band. Unless the Commission codifies the six principles, a relatively small number of major institutions might also come to control access to content on the Internet – big studios, network providers, or application and service providers.
  • The importance of the non-discrimination principle is highlighted by the proposed merger of NBC Universal into Comcast. One of the central purposes of the merger is to give Comcast better access to and control over the production of content. At the same time, Comcast will continue to expand its digital distribution business. Comcast will have a powerful incentive to use pricing to favor its own content [1].
  • This is not the only type of discrimination that threatens a robust, diverse Internet. As a practical matter, major entities can easily outbid independent creators of digital content for preferred access to audiences. This would be addressed by the Commission’s understanding of the term “nondiscriminatory” to preclude service access providers from charging for enhanced or prioritized access. Otherwise it is almost certain that most of the content consumers view will be produced by a relative handful of major entities – just as it is now in television and film. The enormous creative potential of a distribution system without mega-gatekeepers will be squandered.
  • Of course, it is possible that the biggest, best-funded content producers (e.g., major studios) will attract the most viewers because of superior content. Nothing in the Internet principles would impede this. Instead, the fourth principle endorses competition of this nature. The Commission should, however, preclude providers from interposing their own limitations on what people can watch and read, or post. It is simply inappropriate to stifle the flow of content – whether for ideological or commercial reasons.
  • We recognize that some people believe an open Internet encourages digital piracy. The WGAE strongly opposes piracy; our members lose when their work is unlawfully copied and distributed. However, we do not think permitting major commercial entities to control the flow of data and to restrict access to certain programming is an appropriate or effective method of controlling piracy. Everyone opposes car theft but no one proposes that we restrict access to the highways. Fighting piracy is an important task for law enforcement agencies. It is not grounds for restricting content creators’ access to the Internet. For this reason we urge the Commission not to adopt a definition of “managed or specialized services” which ignores the very real possibility that many or most consumers will get their Internet access and their “television”, and perhaps telephone, services from a single provider.
The fifth edition of The Writers Guild of America, West’s annual Showrunner Training Program got underway in January 2010. The six-week industry training program, a partnership between the WGAW and television networks and studios, is designed for senior-level writer-producers to develop the essential skills necessary to become successful showrunners.

Each year’s program features high-profile speakers from various areas of the industry. This year’s 45 speakers include Steve Levitan, Shawn Ryan, Joss Whedon, Bill Lawrence, Phil Rosenthal, David Shore, Jason Katims, Paris Barclay, Ian Maxtone-Graham, Matt Nix, Yvette Lee Bowser, Glen Mazzara, Lifetime Television President JoAnn Alfano, and actor Blair Underwood. Additional sessions include other industry professionals such as actors, directors, and teamsters, as well as a visit to a post production facility with presentations from editors and Alicia Hirsch, Senior VP of Post Production at Fox Television Studios.

SRTP sessions are all-day seminars on four Saturdays, running through February 20. Employing lecture and interactive test-case scenarios, as well as large and small group discussions, the program gives participants an intimate setting to interact with some of Hollywood’s most successful and experienced showrunners. The innovative program’s core curriculum includes the following topics:
  • Session #1: From Writer to Manager (held January 9th)
  • Session #2: Managing Writers & the Script Process (held January 16th)
  • Session #3: Managing Production & Directors (held January 23rd)
  • Session #4: Managing Executives & Actors (to be held January 30th)
  • Session #5: Managing Post-Production (to be held February 6th)
  • Session #6: Managing Your Career (to be held February 20th)
The program also includes two half-day “break-out” sessions with WGA,West President and SRTP co-founder John Wells (ER, The West Wing) talking about “Budget & Scheduling,” and Stephen J. Cannell (The Rockford Files, Wiseguy) on “The Pilot Process.”

To select participants, writers on the Showrunner Training Program Committee considered more than 60 eligible applicants and accepted 21 writers and/or writing teams, all of whom were recommended by television showrunners and/or network and studio creative executives for the in-demand seminar slots covering both comedy and dramatic series. Participants in the WGAW’s 2010 Showrunner Training Program are: Jonathan Abrahams, Sally Bradford, Jill Cargerman, Chris Collins, Matt Corman, Adam Giaudrone, Jessica Goldstein, Peter Gould, Holly Henderson, Davey Holmes, Andre Jacquemetton, Maria Jacquemetton, David Lampson, Andrew Leeds, Amanda Lasher, Scott Marder, George Mastras, Bryan Oh, Chris Ord, Christine Pietrosh, Ron Rappaport, Rob Rosell, Far Shariat, Ben Watkins, Sarah Watson, Don Whitehead, and Alexander Woo.

Ray Morton is a writer and script consultant. His books Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The Making of Steven Spielberg's Classic Film and King Kong: The History of a Movie Icon from Fay Wray to Peter Jackson are available in stores and online. He analyzes screenplays for production companies, producers, and individual writers. Morton is available for consultation and can be reached at

Before the Oscars®: Looking Back at '09

by Ray Morton

With one year ending, another one beginning, and awards season starting to ramp up, this is the time when those of us that write about movies present our lists of the Best and Worst cinematic achievements of the previous twelve months. Since my purview is screenwriting, I’m going to focus my attention on what I consider to be the best and the most dubious screenplays of 2009.

For me, hands down the best script -- and the best film -- of 2009 is Up (screenplay by Bob Peterson, Pete Docter, and Thomas McCarthy). In this time of remakes and recycling, when originality and imagination are at a premium and movies have lost much of their sense of wonder, every frame of this gem from Pixar was terrifically fresh, clever, and bedazzling. The story is jam-packed with inventive concepts – so many that it is almost impossible to synopsize the narrative in any way that makes it sound coherent (“Y’see, it’s about this boy that meets a girl. They fall in love and spend fifty years together. Then she dies and he is sad and then he’s going to lose his house, so he hooks it up to a bunch of balloons and sails it away with an annoying Boy Scout in tow. The two travel to South America, where they befriend a goofy flightless bird and encounter a crazy explorer whose henchmen are a pack of squirrel-obsessed talking dogs…” Huh?) and yet the material is so impeccably structured and emotionally true that all of the outlandish ideas make complete sense and so are totally believable in context.

I was also very impressed with The Hurt Locker (screenplay by Mark Boal) which I felt was Hemingway-esqe in the best sense of the term – marvelously spare and simple on the surface, rich and complex underneath – and District 9 (screenplay by Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell), which took an idea we’d seen before (in the film and television series Alien Nation) and by treating it with depth and intelligence and by peopling it with relatable three-dimensional characters (both human and alien), transformed it into a fresh and exciting sci-fi adventure, as well as a really good movie. In addition, I was a fan of a film that, for reasons I don’t really understand, was cited by many critics as being one of the worst of the year -- The Men Who Stare at Goats. I thought screenwriter Peter Straughan did a marvelous job of adapting some truly bizarre and seemingly improbable real-life material into a really smart and interesting fictional narrative that was both biting (in its savage view of the insanity of the military intelligence community) and sweet (in its depiction of the goofy-but-sincere higher-consciousness aspirations of the characters played by George Clooney and Jeff Bridges).

These qualities aside, the main reason that I liked all of these films is that they made me feel something – Up made me laugh and cry (continuously and often concurrently); The Hurt Locker terrified me and I found the war between a desire for normality and the excitement of living on the edge that raged inside of Jeremy Renner’s Sergeant First Class William James to be both disturbing and compelling; District 9 was exciting, funny, and in the end quite moving (the site of Sharto Copely’s transformed protagonist crafting a metal flower on a garbage dump was both heartbreaking and uplifting); The Men Who Stare at Goats found enormous heart and soul in the blackest of black comedy. I’ve said a number of times in this column that the primary factor that prompts me to recommend a script is if it provokes some sort of genuine emotional reaction in me. To put some words down on paper that move another human being is the hardest and rarest thing to do in writing and something that the authors of these scripts manage to accomplish in impressive ways. Bravo to them all.

As for the year’s other notable releases:

On the positive side, I feel about Inglorious Basterds the way I feel about everything Quentin Tarantino does – I can’t help but admire its bold and furious inventiveness, while at the same time wishing that it was actually about something other than all of that bold and furious inventiveness. I enjoyed Star Trek and Sherlock Holmes, although I would have preferred if both of them had been less frenetic and had the courage to be as smart as they were clever. Likewise, I wish both Up in the Air and (500) Days of Summer had been as deep as they were smart (although I definitely enjoyed the smart). Despite claims to the contrary, I didn’t think The Hangover was the funniest movie ever, but I laughed a lot and really admired its commitment to going as far as necessary for a joke. Where the Wild Things Are was a bit raggedy as a story, but I was impressed by its effortless fantasy and its willingness to embrace the darker sides of childhood without making a big deal out of it. There were things to like in Away We Go, Sunshine Cleaning, and Everybody’s Fine that helped to balance out the more annoying and cloying elements in each.

On the negative side, I thought that, while Avatar had some appeal as a viewing experience, as a script it was a dud – ham-fisted, derivative, and silly. The same goes for 2012 and Transformers 2. The most disappointing film of the year for me was Pirate Radio (The Boat that Rocked in the U.K.) – I am a big, big fan of screenwriter Richard Curtis’s work and while none of his scripts have been perfect, they have all been smart, witty, peopled with well-realized characters that are easy to care about, and full of heart. Pirate Radio has none of these qualities – it is long, unfocused, not particularly funny, filled with frustratingly one-dimensional characters, and missing the sweet soul that has been at the center of the rest of Curtis’s oeuvre. Everyone’s entitled to a bad day, though, so I’m hoping that Pirate Radio will turn out to be just a curious misfire in an otherwise stellar career. My vote for worst script of 2009 (or of mid-1970s, when it was allegedly written) is Woody Allen’s Whatever Works – a bitter, mean-spirited, and terribly unfunny script about miserable characters (or, in most cases, caricatures) behaving horribly to one another for ninety minutes before finally arriving at insights and resolutions that were probably just as stale thirty-five years ago as they are today. It’s hard to believe that the man that once wrote that “You have to have a little faith in people,” could produce something so excruciatingly misanthropic, but the result is frustrating and sad not just because of that, but also because it is yet another sign of the decline of a once magnificent writer.

In the end, 2009 was a mixed time for screenwriting and for movies. Still, any year that produce one great script, a few pretty good ones, and a number of okay ones has to be considered a pretty decent one. Let’s hope 2010 is even better.

Ray Morton is a writer and script consultant. His books Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The Making of Steven Spielberg's Classic Film and King Kong: The History of a Movie Icon from Fay Wray to Peter Jackson are available in stores and online. He analyzes screenplays for production companies, producers, and individual writers. Morton is available for consultation and can be reached at

Friday, February 5, 2010

Discussing January/February 2010 Issue with Andrew Shearer, Pt. 2

Wow, talk about contrary advice… I’m the kind of screenwriter, like most of my writer friends, who sits in a room or a coffee shop all day and writes, only speaking to humans to order caffeine or talk to my writing partner when I want to tell him how bad his stuff is (to make myself feel better about my own crap.) I’m always working on “the one.”

So when I read Marvin Acuna’s article, “The Three Pillars,” which suggests that I better man up and get out there and start networking if I’m going to make it in this biz… I figured, I’m going to man up and get out there and start networking and make it in this biz. I can be likeable in real life. There is one friend of mine who seems to get projects off the ground in big part because he’s excellent at networking (and a great writer, which is the combo Acuna suggests).

Acuna also says you should focus on market intelligence. I actually read Variety every Sunday, but honestly, I forget most of it every time I sit back down to work on my “art” (except the part about the films that made a hundred million – man I’m broke!).

Then I turned the page in Script and read Wesley Rowe’s column, “Hitting the Boards.” He basically said screw that, don’t network, just tell people you have an award-winning script and they need to read it. Be the guy who doesn’t have to have the winning personality, believes in your script as art, and waits for it to speak for itself. Bold. It makes me feel good that sometimes a whole day goes by, and I literally never step outside. My feeling is, I think there’s good advice in both the Acuna and Rowe articles, but it really depends on your personality.

I know I’ll never be the networker my buddy is because I’m just not the producing type – I think that’s part of understanding what you’re good at and what you’re not. I’m praying my reps can sell “the one” once I write it. But I also know you absolutely have to have a likeable personality once you get in the room with executives. Nobody wants to work with a pretentious asshole who considers his script a work of art that can’t be modified.

Rowe says one can be satisfied that one’s script was better than the movie it was made into. I will admit that he’s right when he says you should really enjoy the script you’re writing. I’m having a hell of a good time writing the script I’m working on now. But I can’t agree that it will ever stand as a piece of art on its own. The finished movie is the art. If the movie turns out bad, the disappointment I would feel, would far outweigh the fun I’m having now while writing it. (I imagine anyway – I’ve never had a movie made.) So what do you think?

Click here for Pt. 1


A redneck from Small Town, North Carolina (population 8,000, high school drop-out rate 40%), one day decided to tackle the film industry. Andrew’s film-school short, Son Up, based off his experience teaching at a juvenile hall, ended up winning seven festival awards and made the regionals for the Student Academy Awards. Andrew’s feature script version of Son Up, co-written with Nick Sherman, went on to win first prize at Cinequest. Then one day, the screenwriting gods shined their rarely shown light down from the Heavens and awarded the Nicholl Screenwriting Fellowship to Andrew and Nick for their feature script, Holy Irresistible. The duo is now repped by Endeavor and Brillstein Entertainment. They have two projects in development and are lucky enough to be co-writing a spec with another writer they’ve admired for years.