New Categories to Highlight the "Writer" in "Writers Guild Awards"
Reimagining Hollywood's twelfth most glamorous night
Did you know that there’s an awards show without the pomp, vanity, and pretentiousness of other awards shows? And also without the star-power, glamor, prestige, or public interest? There is, and it’s called the Writers Guild Awards (happening tonight!)! Staged each year by the Writers Guild of America, of which I am a proud member, the WGAs honor outstanding achievement in the field of frantically cranking out a script in 48 Adderall-fueled hours to meet a deadline that you’ve been blowing off for six months.
I love the WGAs. But I don’t love the categories. The WGAs feature cookie-cutter categories that fail to delve into what it means to be a writer. Awards are handed out for humdrum categories like:
Best original screenplay
Best drama series
Best comedy series
These are the same categories that you’ll find at a dozen other awards shows. And they let actors vote for those awards, for Christ's sake. ACTORS!!!
I believe that the Writers Guild Awards should recognize triumphs and achievements that are unique to writing. Towards that end, I humbly propose six new categories that more suitably honor our noble craft.
Roughly 20 percent of the world has “smart person” as their identity. Unfortunately, only seven people on Earth are actually smart. Thus, there’s a large market for urbane-seeming content that merely flatters the prejudices of elite dullards. Top writers in this genre will infuse social commentary and Shakespearian dynamics into their dumb-as-dogshit rendering of the world as understood by someone whose main source of news is The Huffington Post. The key to this type of writing is preventing the dialogue from getting in the way of the wardrobe and set design, which are doing all the heavy lifting.
If Amy Adams comes to you and says that you're the perfect writer to pen the script for her dream project, in which she'll play a mute, turn-of-the-century African-American sharecropper who learns to express her love of math through the kazoo, what would you say? The question is hypothetical, but the answer is obvious: you say “Thanks for choosing me, Ms. Adams — sounds terrific!” And then you take the money, buy a boat, and write a script that will leave the smallest possible smoldering crater in your career and hers. Awards typically recognize peaks of achievement, but shouldn't they also recognize modest valleys that could have been canyons so deep that light can't reach the bottom? I think that they should.
A good writer draws on her experiences. But most writers’ experiences don't extend far beyond “being home schooled" and “booking their current gig". So, how do you write for a character who is, say, a nuclear physicist, or a rocket scientist? You could build relationships with real-life experts and study their language, but that would constitute a person-to-person interaction; a writer can’t be expected to suffer through that. Better to google “science stuff rocket people say” and string together a few words that will be received as authentic by your blessedly dumb audience. Writers who excel at this aspect of the craft use nouns as nouns and verbs as verbs as much as 70 percent of the time.
You've made the deck, pitched the show, and signed the contract. You're basically done. All that's left to do is address the small matter of what happens in the 85 percent of the show that wasn't part of your original movie idea, because your pitch got picked up as a series. The same studio that demanded tight storytelling and frequent action is now demanding enough filler to embarrass a 19th century sausage factory. So think fast: What adventures could your characters have? What changes could they undergo? But hold that thought, because all characters must end up right back where they started or your ending won't make sense. Writers who keep the audience from noticing that the lion’s share of the show is an Olympic-level wank fest deserve this award.
Have you seen Rope? Or The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant? What about the Breaking Bad “Fly” episode? These are all masterpieces, and they prove that engrossing storytelling is compatible with a confined setting. Therefore, it shouldn’t be a problem when the studio informs you that you blew your budget on the break-dancing CGI hippo, and therefore none of your characters can go anywhere or do anything for the rest of the series.
A skilled writer knows that a challenge can be an opportunity! And a master writer can turn that opportunity into a bunch of opaque, artsy horseshit that people will be afraid to question. To wit: What if your characters spent the rest of the season in prison cells because they can’t break free of their preconceptions (and also because Stage 23 has jail cells left over from the Andy Griffith Show reboot)? Or maybe your protagonist could spend the remainder of the season playing a high-stakes game of chess against Death, or better yet: against Ronald McDonald, because McDonald’s will pay for the tie-in. A good writer can turn lemons into lemonade, but a great writer can turn lemons into an inscrutable postmodern pastiche that can be filmed for the price of a local car commercial.
A talented producer can make a good idea even better. Unfortunately, that producer died in 1978. So, writers have to learn to negotiate uproariously dumb comments from people so brain dead that they make the Freedom Caucus seem like the Algonquin Round Table. Notes like “what if the mother was the son?” or “could the Nazi have a love interest?” must be received with cheerful aplomb, or you're off the project, asshole! YOU THINK YOU'RE THE ONLY WRITER WHO CAN GIVE ME THAT BARTON FINK FEELING??? You are not. So just smile and nod when the network asks if perhaps Susan B. Anthony could be Asian.
Of course, vanishingly few network notes point to a change that is logical, reasonable, or even technically possible. And therein lies an opportunity: A creative juggling of elements can allow you to say “I took your note!” when you didn’t actually do jack shit. This is aided by the fact that 99 percent of network notes are just an attempt to justify the note-giver’s existence, so if you can succeed in making the executive feel involved, they’ll shut up. Mastery of the art of rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic in a way that makes producers imagine that they’re important in contradiction of all evidence deserves the highest honor our field can bestow.
I thank the Guild for taking these categories under consideration! It might be too late to incorporate them into this year’s ceremony, but hopefully they’ll be on the slate in 2024, because I think they capture the essence of what it means to be a writer.
“Unfortunately, that producer died in 1978.”
Tried-and-true setup and punchline, but it still gets me every time
I wish that Substack would let me “love” this. LMAO; absolutely brilliant! 😂🤣