Oscar Derby Update: Writers Guild Awards

Writers Guild of America: Only Approved Writers Allowed

Saturday was the 68th Writers Guild Awards, held by the Writers Guild of America, and the top prizes went to Tom McCarthy & Josh Singer for Spotlight in Original Screenplay, and Adam McKay & Charles Randolph for The Big Short in Adapted Screenplay.

The nominees in each category consisted of:

Original Screenplay

Bridge of Spies (Written by Matt Charman, Ethan Coen & Joel Coen)

Sicario (Written by Taylor Sheridan)

Spotlight (Written by Josh Singer & Tom McCarthy)

Straight Outta Compton (Screenplay by Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff; Story by S. Leigh Savidge & Alan Wenkus and Andrea Berloff)

Trainwreck (Written by Amy Schumer)


Adapted Screenplay

The Big Short (Screenplay by Charles Randolph & Adam McKay) (Based on the book by Michael Lewis)

Carol (Screenplay by Phyllis Nagy) (Based on the novel The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith)

The Martian (Screenplay by Drew Goddard) (Based on the novel by Andy Weir)

Steve Jobs (Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin) (Based on the book by Walter Isaacson)

Trumbo (Written by John McNamara) (Based on the biography by Bruce Cook)


In my last post I mentioned that the WGA has a weaker track record of correctly predicting Oscars. Perhaps you are wondering why/how does that happen?

Short answer: Because too many scripts are rendered “ineligible” each year.

Ok but what does that mean?


There are two reasons that film screenplays are rendered ineligible for award by the Writers Guild:

  1. The writer who wrote the script is not a Writers Guild of America member.
  2. The film production itself is not a ‘signatory’ with the guild. (In simplest terms: the Writers Guild of America as an organization never officially ‘signed off on’ or oversaw the project.)

You may be able to guess how those two rules may prevent stacks of scripts from being considered for awards each year.

For one, it means that many international films (or films by non-American writers) do not qualify. For many internationals, the process of becoming a guild signatory production is a pain in the ass. Many just forgo it. This is how Ex Machina (for Original Screenplay) and Brooklyn (for Adapted Screenplay) are missing in the WGA list.

And even in the case of American writers, obviously not every screenwriter belongs to the Writers Guild of America. For example: this is how Room is not eligible for Adapted Screenplay — Emma Donoghue is not a guild member. And further consider this fun fact: a Quentin Tarantino script has never been nominated for a WGA simply due to the fact that Quentin Tarantino does not belong to the Writers Guild of America.

Rule #2 above also means that many animated films do not qualify for WGAs. Most animated production companies are not guild signatory. Since Pixar is no different, Inside Out is the excluded example this year.

So this is part of why the WGAs have a wobblier track record at predicting Oscar wins (and specifically Original Screenplay). There is simply not enough crossover. Too many films get left out of contention year to year for it to be an accurate barometer.

Voila. Disparity from the WGA —> Academy Awards.

Numerous scripts are disqualified from WGA consideration every year.

Now I’m going to counteract everything I just said and venture that despite all that explanation I just gave, these two awards actually will crossover to Oscar night.

In the Original Screenplay category, Ex Machina / Inside Out replace Sicario / Trainwreck, and I don’t think either Ex Machina or Inside Out has quite enough broad support to trounce Spotlight. An oft-cited detail has been that last year the Original Screenplay WGA went to Grand Budapest Hotel while the Oscar to Birdman. But that was a different scenario — Birdman was a frontrunner that was WGA-ineligible. That is not the case this year. Spotlight is a frontrunner this year, and it was eligible. So expect it to carry over. (Although I would heartily endorse a last minute Ex Machina upset!)

In the Adapted Screenplay category Room / Brooklyn replace Steve Jobs / Trumbo. I honestly believe that Emma Donoghue’s harrowing and lovely Room could be a threat to The Big Short, but considering The Big Short has proven to have the Producers Guild support, it still seems the safest bet. Speaking personally, however, I would rather see any of the other Adapted Screenplay nominees win ahead of The Big Short. Literally. Any of them. Room… Brooklyn… The Martian… Carol… (In that order too.) 


There are 12,000 members in Writers Guild of America, and the writers branch represents about 6% of voting Academy members.

You can view a full list of winners here.

(I throw my congratulations behind many of the television wins. Fargo, Mad Men, Veep, Inside Amy Schumer all won series awards, and there were episode wins for Better Caul Saul and Silicon Valley!)


And that’s it, folks! That was our last guild award! Next is the Academy Awards!

I will see you again late next week to go through one final rundown of all our nominees before the grand finale on Sunday, February 28th. In the process I’ll also be letting you know how many films in each category I’ve personally seen, and share how I would be voting if I had such power.

Until then, keep watching movies!