Nic Pizzolatto made something very clear during his two trips to the podium at the WGA Awards. The writer of HBO’s “True Detective ”– honored for both outstanding drama series and new series – is still worried about keeping his job.
Both of Pizzolatto’s acceptance speeches were part of a thread of self-deprecating humor that ran through the West Coast edition of the 2015 Writers Guild Awards, which honor outstanding achievement in writing for film, television, news, radio, promotion, new media, graphic animation and videogames.
The WGA West’s cocktail and dinner gala took place Saturday, February 14 at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Los Angeles, while an East Coast kudofest for WGA East members and guests was held concurrently at New York City’s Edison Ballroom.
Actress and writer Lisa Kudrow emceed the LA ceremony, setting the tone right away with this crack: “It’s very liberating for this not to be televised. There’s no one at home watching – kind of like network TV. I don’t know what you do when you’re not on TV, but for me it probably involves hookers and some blow.”
The star of HBO’s “The Comeback,” now in its second incarnation, went on to joke about loaning screeners to relatives, the Sony hack pretty much leaving writers unscathed and how the WGA trophy looks like half a heart – with the rest of it apparently ripped out. That was especially resonant, coming on Valentine’s Day.
“This is the most important awards show, because it’s for television and film, so it’s kind of like the Emmys and the Oscars, so twice as important. But maybe you have to divide that by four because no one here is famous, except for Keira Knightley,” she said calling out the costar of “The Imitation Game,” who was seated at the Weinstein Co. table with other key players from the film.
Later in the evening, they all had cause to celebrate. Graham Moore’s script for the drama about brilliant British mathematician Alan Turing, who cracked the Nazi Enigma code during World War II and was later persecuted as a gay man, went on to win the coveted adapted screenplay award.
There was stiff competition in the category, in which nominees also included Jason Hall’s “American Sniper” Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl,” “Guardians of the Galaxy,” written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman and “Wild,” whose screenplay was written by Nick Hornby based on the book by Cheryl Strayed.
The original screenplay trophy was awarded to Wes Anderson for his “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” Anderson, who shares story credit with Hugo Guiness, is also up for a slew of Oscars including producing, directing and writing the film, spent much of his acceptance speech joking about the location.
“We’re on hallowed ground, near the home of 20th Century Fox and a large community of entertainment attorneys,” he said. “I even lived around here – with Owen Wilson– at a place that’s now the Holiday Inn Express, so I can think of no better neighborhood in which to accept this award.”
The 2:45-long ceremony featured many funny moments, including what at first appeared to be a traditional “in memoriam” segment called “In Loving Memory” that actually mourned television shows we lost in 2014 in a video scored with schmaltzy music—and greeted with loud laughter. So long to “Bad Judge,” “A to Z,” “Friends with Better Lives” and “Jennifer Falls.” In a bad sign for its loyal but small audience on Fox, on the bubble “Mulaney” was also included in the mix.
There were also live bits of anecdotal humor from various writers seated in the ballroom who ended their well-received spiels with “I’m ____________, and I’m a writer.” Among the participants were Steve Levitan and Daniel Petrie, Jr. And there were some on tape, including one nominee who intercut his formulaic thank you with clips from J.K. Simmons as the music teacher from hell in “Whiplash” urging him to do better.
In the actual comedy categories, FX’s “Louie” won outstanding comedy series from a field that included other cable and streaming laffers “Orange Is the New Black,” “Veep,” “Transparent” and “Silicon Valley.” It also took the trophy for outstanding episodic comedy over nominated eps from ”Modern Family,” “New Girl” and “Orange Is the New Black.”
Network television was not entirely left out of the top honors. CBS’s “The Good Wife,” with an episode written by its creators Michelle and Robert King, took the trophy for episodic drama over competition that included “Mad Men,” “Boardwalk Empire,” “Rectify” and “Game of Thrones.”
The honorary awards were especially high profile. Shonda Rhimes, who pretty much runs Thursday nights on ABC, received the WGAW’s Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award for Television Writing Achievement, which was presented to her by “Scandal” costar Scott Foley.
“I feel that being powerful and bad ass is my right,” she said, before thanking the actors, the crew and everyone that’s part of Shondaland, her production company. “But the best thing is the dark and twisty writers’ room, with people I’ll be begging for jobs from in the future.”
WGAW President Chris Keyser presented the Guild’s Valentine Davies Award to Academy Award-winning filmmaker/advocate Ben Affleck (“Argo”) for his humanitarian efforts in the Congo, where production of chocolate and coffee is creating better lives for thousands of farmers and their families.
Affleck went on to make a lengthy but entertaining speech which he joked was 150 pages long but could maybe be cut down to 120. One of his themes was that celebrities are put under a microscope but when they actually have something to say about humanitarian issues there is a general cynicism in hearing about it.
“Actors, writers and directors have an ability to contribute to these causes,” he said. “Being labeled as ‘Hollywood’ is unfair. Why should these sorts of contributions be limited to CEOs and scientists? And by the way, you have less of a chance of getting a screenplay made than of becoming a CEO.”
Affleck discussed his upbringing, calling his parents left-wing intellectuals and noting that his father was a bartender. He talked about learning about other religions and cultures while growing up and in college and later, as he traveled in his film career. “Once I understood human bonds and saw people in communities who wanted lives free of oppression, the best force for change is people being connected. The simple and small measures of kindness and grace enable you to find empathy and to relate.”
“Cougartown” cocreator Bill Lawrence presented the WGAW’s Morgan Cox Award to TV writer/producer and WGAW Showrunner Training Program co-founder Jeff Melvoin (“Army Wives”) for Guild service.
“Rescue Me” Co-Creator Peter Tolan presented the WGAW’s Screen Laurel Award for Screenwriting Achievement to the late screenwriter/director Harold Ramis (“Animal House,” “Ghostbusters,” “Groundhog Day”), which was accepted by the Ramis family on his behalf after a clip reel of some of his blockbusters that have become iconic.
TV writer/playwright Winnie Holzman (“My So-Called Life,” “Wicked”) presented the WGAW’s Paul Selvin Award to screenwriter Margaret Nagle for her screenplay, “The Good Lie,” a drama about Sudanese orphans known as “The Lost Boys” rebuilding their lives in the United States.
Via video, iconic Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar accepted the WGAW’s Jean Renoir Award for Screenwriting Achievement.
The East Coast also had special honorees including Edward Zwick (“Thirtysomething,” “Shakespeare In Love”), who was presented with the Ian McLellan Hunter Award for Career Achievement in Writing by noted screenwriter Paul Haggis.
Journalist Bill Moyers presented legendary television writer/producer Norman Lear (“All In The Family,” “The Jeffersons”) with the Evelyn F. Burkey Award for Bringing Honor and Dignity to Writers.
And we all know writers would never make jokes about that.