Scripter Press Releases - February 19, 2004

Writers of Mystic River and Seabiscuit Honored at 16th Annual USC Scripter Award

February 19, 2004

Mystic River author Dennis Lehane and screenwriter Brian Helgeland, along with Seabiscuit author Laura Hillenbrand and screenwriter Gary Ross, were honored at the 16th-annual USC Libraries Scripter Award ceremony on Sunday, February 15. The soldout event, sponsored by the Friends of the USC Libraries, drew a crowd of 400 and benefited the Doheny Library Preservation Fund. The occasion marked the first time the writers of two films have tied for the Scripter award, which recognizes the best filmed adaptation of a book or novella.

On hand to fete the writers were a number of literary luminaries and Hollywood personalities. Gary Ross received his Scripter crystal book award from fellow screenwriters Paul Attanasio (an Academy Award® nominee for Donnie Brasco and Quiz Show) and Callie Khouri (Oscar winner for Thelma and Louise). Award-winning writer and historian Richard Reeves presented the Scripter award to Seabiscuit actors Elizabeth Banks and Gary Stevens, who accepted on behalf of author Laura Hillenbrand.

Actress and author Elaine Kagan presented the Scripter award to Kevin Chapman and Adam Nelson, who played the Savage brothers in Mystic River and accepted on behalf of Dennis Lehane. Actress and longtime selection committee member Anne Archer presented the Scripter to Alan Wertheimer, who accepted on behalf of Brian Helgeland.

Actress Sharon Gless emceed the evening, with comedy legend Hal Kanter serving as grand master of ceremonies.

Accepting his Scripter, Gary Ross said: "It is especially nice to receive this award from my friends Callie Khouri and Paul Attanasio and to be here in the company of so many writers.

"This is a wonderful award that honors the entire process. Laura Hillenbrand understood that this is a story about people, not about a horse. I had never written an adaptation before. By example, Laura pointed me in the right direction -- to stay true to her book, but to find something personal to serve as a compass. This is a story about healing and kindness, and you don't often get to make those kinds of movies in Hollywood."

In an acceptance letter read by Elizabeth Banks, Laura Hillenbrand wrote: "Working with Gary Ross as he crafted my sprawling manuscript into a magnificent screenplay turned out to be one of the most joyful experiences of my writerly life. My questions about how such a complicated story could be told in a movie's limited framework were answered by Gary's wondrous ability to shape the story to his medium.

"My fantasies about capturing the thrill of racing on film were exceeded by Gary's bountiful imagination." She added, "To be honored in the company of so many brilliant writers is a thrill comparable to few in my life."

Legendary jockey Gary Stevens -- who portrayed George "Ice Man" Woolf in the film and who has won more than 4,700 races including eight Triple Crown races -- related the story of when he first read Laura Hillenbrand's book. "I was on a red-eye flight between LAX and JFK for a million-dollar race. I usually sleep on the plane, but I started reading the book at midnight and closed it at 4:30 a.m., halfway through the book. I won the race, left at 6 p.m., and by the time I arrived at midnight, I had finished the book. It changed my life and, as they say in thoroughbred racing, the rest is turf history."

Kevin Chapman of Mystic River told the crowd that film is an expensive medium and that movies get made largely because of the inspiring work of writers. "Writers everywhere, I ask you to please continue to inspire [the making of films] so I can continue to do what I truly love," he said.

Also accepting on behalf of Mystic River author Dennis Lehane, Adam Nelson relayed Dennis Lehane's deep appreciation for receiving the award and expressed the author's "thanks to Scripter for having the guts to pick Mystic River."

Alan Werthheimer, a longtime friend and attorney of Brian Helgeland, read a letter from Helgeland and accepted the Scripter on his behalf. Helgeland was in London representing Mystic River at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts Awards.

"As a Scripter alum, I remember quite fondly my night there with Curtis Hanson and James Ellroy," Helgeland wrote, apologizing for his absence. "It's an unfortunate result of all the awards being pushed together." He applauded Laura Hillenbrand and Gary Ross for their work on Seabiscuit, and Clint Eastwood's fearlessness in directing Mystic River. He wrote effusively of Dennis Lehane's vision in writing Mystic River.

The evening also included a special tribute to the late John Ritter, an alumnus of the USC School of Theatre who served as master of ceremonies for the 15th Annual USC Scripter Awards last year. His widow, actress Amy Yasbeck, and daughter Carly Ritter attended the ceremony.

The University of Southern California's Scripter Award was created to recognize both the author and screenwriter behind the year's best film adaptation of a book while raising visibility and support for the USC Libraries. The black-tie dinner honoring the winning writers was held in the Edward L. Doheny Jr. Memorial Library on the USC campus.

Among those in attendance were trustees and senior administrators of the university, film industry executives and talent, and friends and supporters of USC. Provost Lloyd Armstrong Jr. spoke about the significance of the Scripter Award to the USC Libraries and the Edward L. Doheny Jr. Memorial Library, which is both home to the award and recipient of its proceeds. Opened in 1932, Doheny Library is one of the university's oldest buildings and a Los Angeles historical landmark.

"A great research library such as this one remains unrivaled in its ability to provide the knowledge and information resources that individuals need," said Armstrong, citing Laura Hillenbrand as one of those individuals. "In her book Seabiscuit: An American Legend , Hillenbrand thanks one of our librarians, Dace Taube, for working late to sift through our archives in search of photos that grace her book."

The evening concluded with a musical celebration by the USC Thornton Jazz Ensemble featuring the theme songs from both winning films, which was arranged and conducted by Jason Goldman.