Oscar History

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« Two Quickies: How Green Was Maleficent's Valley? | Main | Posterized: Angelina Jolie »

Oscar Quandaries: Original OR Adapted?

The Screenplay categories were not always as fluid as they are now and once adhered to very strict rules about a script's prior existence. Now, they let you get away with a little fudging which started in force a dozen years ago when Gangs of New York and My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which had spent all of their pre-release hype talking about being adapted from [insert fabulous thing here] were suddenly "originals" through complicated explanations once awards season was in sway and it became clear that the original category was infinitely less competitive. Since then much has changed and now previously established characters is a thing everyone does to fight for adapted (when it suits them) and the lines are really blurry.


So here are four plus movies that seem like they're balancing on a wire between original and adapted. Which way will they fall? 

Bruce Wagner's Maps to the Stars screenplay was a screenplay first, then it became a novel ("Dead Stars") when the movie plans fell through. It's now a screenplay again for a David Cronenberg movie. So if the movie picks up steam once it's released and not just as a curio given Julianne Moore's Cannes win, who knows? In ye olden times this would clearly be Adapted because the old hard line was once 'Previously Published or Produced Material'... but now I'm not sure.

Wes Anderson's Grand Budapest Hotel is "inspired by" the writings of Stefan Zweig ... which might mean adapted but "inspired by" is also the excuse Gangs of New York used to change its campaign from adapted to original. So I'm guessing this is up in the air until Fox Searchlight really starts campaigning (and they should).

Werner Herzog's Queen of the Desert is based on the life story of Gertrud Bell but so far there are no books credited on IMDb or in articles about the film. Several books have been written about her. Is this a Milk situation where it will claim "original" despite vast reams of information to draw from written by others? And if so, is there anything wrong with that? Perhaps we need a third screenplay category for true stories that are adapted from a wide variety of sources. Other True Story This Might Apply To: Pawn Sacrifice another film about chess prodigy Bobby Fischer)

Damien Chazelle's music drama Whiplash, which has been very well received in the festival circuit, seems like the type of indie that could make waves in Original Screenplay. Only problem is it's technically adapted. It's based on Chazelle's own short film of the same name. This same situation occurred last year with Short Term 12. To date I'm not aware of anyone who tried to argue that adapting yourself is not a thing -- even Nia Vardalos, when Greek Wedding changed course argued that she'd written her comedy hit as a screenplay first before adapting it into a play so therefore it was an original (Bruce Wagner could argue the same this year for Maps to the Stars if he wants).

Under the old clear rules of "previously published or produced" you couldn't get around this even if you absolutely wrote the thing as a screenplay first but for the past 12 years these categories are more fluid and I wouldn't put it past some savvy strategist to claim original and basically negate the hypothetical 'can you adapt your own movie into a new movie?' question when it comes to these categories. 


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Reader Comments (6)

totally out of place, but I had a masterclass with Angela Lansbury today at the Haymarket theatre. And I have things to share :)

- asked if some of the Golden Age of Hollywood Stars that she has worked with were also good actors?
-> Yes, Katharine Hepburn;
- about acting today:
-> we are blessed to have Cate Blanchett, she was phenomenal in the Woody Allen movie, she's a great actor of this generation;
- about Elvis:
-> He was a really nice southern chap;
- about acting auditions:
-> leave the person that you are at home, all of the anxiety, fear, and pre-conceptions clog your head and you cannot respond to what's asked of you.

May 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterYavor

whiplash isn't about a father and son- it's about a teacher and a student. but close enough.

May 30, 2014 | Unregistered Commenteralexander

Thanks for the Lansbury insight Yavor!

Also, I think Unbroken is based on the book by Laura Hillenbrand, not Michael Finkel as you've states.

May 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoe

alexander & joe - thanks for the corrections. that's what i get for not proofreading and running out the door. Michael Finkel is of course a different book which i had on that position of the chart and forgot to change.

yavor - cool

May 30, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Not the place for this comment - but Nathaniel, can you give your gold silver and bronze in director and actor already?? I'm on the edge of my seat.

May 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRyan

There's also the weird unnominatable case of The LEGO Movie. Yes it's "adapted" from LEGO, but LEGO is about freedom of imagination, so it'd be original if they used no outside licensed characters. But they do, so it's in this weird space where it's 70% original, 30% adapted and not honestly nominatable in either category.

May 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

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