The writers behind the feature film “Nomadland” and limited series “The Queen’s Gambit” won the 33rd-annual USC Libraries Scripter Awards at an online ceremony on the evening of March 13, 2021.
The Scripter Awards honor each year’s most accomplished adaptations of the written word for the screen and, uniquely, recognize the screenwriters and the authors of the source material.
This year, screenwriter Chloé Zhao and author Jessica Bruder won in the feature film category for Searchlight Pictures’ “Nomadland,” based on the book “Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century.” All films are collaborative works, but even more so in the case of adaptations—a fact that Zhao, who also directed and edited “Nomadland,” acknowledged in her acceptance.
“Jessica, your love for the people in your book and your love for the road and for the American West is the reason why we’re here today,” Zhao said. “And I really look forward to the day when I can sit around a campfire and listen to you rock out on your guitar again.”
Jessica Bruder thanked Zhao for adapting her “poetic meditation about life on the road” and all the people who gave her “the time of day when I showed up with a tent and a notepad.”
The other finalist films were “Bad Education” (distributed by HBO Films), “First Cow” (A24), “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (Netflix), and “One Night in Miami” (Amazon).
In the episodic series category, writer/director Scott Frank and the late Walter Tevis (1928-84) won for “The Queen’s Gambit,” based on Tevis’ novel of the same name. Julia Tevis McGory and Will Tevis accepted on their father’s behalf, sharing remembrances of their father as a storyteller.
Frank, who also directed the seven episodes in the Netflix limited series, thanked Tevis in his acceptance speech. “I could have never, ever done this without that novel. The gift of that novel was tremendous. My mission was to realize it in a way that, if Walter were still with us, he would be incredibly proud of it and still recognize himself in it as well.”
The other finalists were the writers behind episodes of “The Good Lord Bird” (distributed by Showtime), “Normal People” (Hulu), “The Plot Against America” (HBO), and “Unorthodox” (Netflix).
In most years the Scripter Awards are presented at a black-tie gala in USC’s Doheny Memorial Library. This year, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the ceremony was streamed online. USC Libraries Dean Catherine Quinlan alluded to the change.
“When we honor adaptation at Scripter, we also celebrate the original written word,” Quinlan said. “Adapting while remaining true to our foundations—that’s something that libraries do and have always done. This year, our ability to adapt has been more vital than ever.”
A selection committee comprising 52 writers, producers, journalists, and other distinguished members—including several past winners—determined this year’s awards.
Howard Rodman, a professor at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and a former president of the Writers Guild of America West, chairs the committee. In his remarks, Rodman noted that the art of adaptation requires the screenwriter to strike a delicate balance.
“How to apportion what you owe, backward, to the book; what you owe, forward, to the audience?” Rodman said. “All of the adaptations we honor tonight have answered that questions in ways that are honest, unique, at once heartfelt and full of the very highest craft.”
Earlier in the evening, Quinlan presented California State Librarian Greg Lucas with the Ex Libris Award.
“Being the State Librarian is my dream job,” Lucas said. Also speaking of the adaptability of libraries, he praised “their ability to adapt and reflect the communities that they serve. That’s an extraordinary thing to see happening through the state of California.”
The 2021 Scripter Award was presented by the USC Libraries Board of Councilors, with sponsorship support from HBO, Netflix, and Searchlight Pictures.
For more information about Scripter, visit scripter.usc.edu.