February 20, 2018

Oscars: Who Wrote This Year's Best Picture?

by Gary Fearon, Creative Director, Southern Writers Magazine

Every year as the Academy Awards near, it's interesting to look at the origins of those movies nominated for Best Picture. Obviously, the screenwriters did something right, and sometimes their job was made easier by a good book that preceded it. So how did this year's nominees stack up?

This drama about an unsolved murder, expected to do very well on Oscar night, was an original screenplay written by its director Martin McDonagh, He came up with the idea after seeing similar billboards about a crime "somewhere down in the Georgia, Florida, Alabama corner".

Another film written by its director (Greta Gerwig), this light drama focuses on the stormy relationship between a high school senior and her well-meaning but demanding mother. Gerwig admits that although it's fiction from start to finish, its inspiration comes from her own experience.

This drama involving a mute spinster and the man-like amphibian she bonds with was also written by its director (Guillermo del Toro). It has its origins in del Toro's childhood viewing of Creature from the Black Lagoon. He had pondered what would happen if, instead of abducting a girl, the creature became friendly with her.

Yet another screenplay written by its director (Paul Thomas Anderson, whose There Will Be Blood, also starring Daniel Day-Lewis, was a 2007 Best Picture nominee), Anderson loosely based this 1950s story about a quirky but revered dressmaker on late fashion designer Charles James, labeled "America's First Couturier".

Here's one that actually began as a novel by André Aciman, published in 2007. This drama centers around a teenage boy and the male graduate student he begins a summer romance with. Not for the kids.

TV comedian Jordan Peele (Key & Peele) wrote and directed this horror movie about a black man who encounters strange circumstances when he meets the family of his white girlfriend. Peele says comedy and horror have much in common and that the story was vaguely inspired by the classic satirical film The Stepford Wives.

Written by Anthony McCarten, who previously wrote The Theory of Everything (about the life of Stephen Hawking), Darkest Hour focuses on another famous figure, Winston Churchill. Through drama and humor it chronicles Churchill's first days in office against the backdrop of WWII.

Speaking of war, Dunkirk tells another tale from troubled 1940s Europe. Director Christopher Nolan was inspired to write the film after he and his future wife sailed across the English Channel and followed the path of boats in the Dunkirk evacuation. Nolan's 76-page screenplay was half the length of a typical script, as he chose to focus on visuals and music to tell the story rather than rely on dialogue.

Still speaking of war, this historical political drama depicts the Washington Post's pursuit to publish classified documents about America's involvement in Vietnam.  It was co-written by first-timer Liz Hannah and by Josh Singer, who also wrote the 2015 fact-based nominee Spotlight.

So, there you go. Three films were based on actual events, while most of the rest were inspired by something based on real life or by reimagining an existing story. As you cheer on your favorites on Sunday, March 4th, let it serve as a reminder that truth is stranger than fiction and is always a ready source of writing inspiration worth its weight in gold.

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