Monday, February 25, 2008

What's All the Fuss and Why Not For the Others?

A quiz: who are the following people: Nancy Oliver, Tony Gilroy, Brad Bird, Tamara Jenkins? (Dustin, this quiz is for normal people, not movie junkies/snobs.) Give up? These are the four other people nominated for the Writing (Original Screenplay) category at your 80th Annual Academy Awards along with the "it" girl, Diablo Cody.

Now everyone just take it easy. This is not going to be part of the "backlash" the City Pages (Ms. Cody's former employer) predicted would befall this indie film and the woman who penned it. I don't care if Juno is the greatest movie of the year. I don't care if people will look back at the centennial celebration of the Oscars and claim that the fact that Juno did not win Best Picture 20 years prior is akin to crimes against humanity, though somehow I doubt this will happen. I'm sure, when I get around to seeing it, that I will very much enjoy Juno. It's actually my type of movie, from what I can gather without actually seeing it yet. Quirky. Serious content, approached in a light-hearted manner, but still, ultimately serious. Good cast (Michael Cera and Jason Bateman...Pretty much anyone from Arrested Development is aces in my book. And by all accounts, Ellen Page is lovely in it). All these are aspects of film that I look for in my movies--my favorite movie is The Royal Tenenbaums, which I'd say holds all these qualities.

The fact is, I don't care if Juno's great and if Diablo Cody wrote a great screenplay. Good for her. I'm just wondering why, for the last couple of months now, we've heard exclusively about her and her movie. (And we are not just inundated here in Minnesota because she lived here for a little while. The New Yorker begins their review of Juno, "The terrific comedy writer Diablo Cody" (What track record are we basing that statement on by the way?) and she has appeared on Letterman and maybe others.) Why don't I know who Tamara Jenkins is? Who Nancy Oliver is? Why don't I know their back stories? Because they weren't strippers? They apparently wrote excellent scripts, yet they have, for the majority of the movie-going public, been completely overshadowed by the usual actors in the films, and then by one other screenwriter, whose movie cannot be considered so vastly superior to theirs that they are not even worth mentioning. Otherwise it would have won Best Picture, right?

For a long time I've questioned the lack of spotlight given the screenwriters in Hollywood. It seems like a drastically important part in the movie making process. After all, and here comes the obvious, no script, no movie. Still, I kind of took solace in the fact that many times in this world the most important jobs receive the least credit and praise, while those less important, but more glamorous jobs are adored by the masses (i.e. teachers vs. people who catch and throw balls for a living). Even in just the film world this is the case. Not that the roles the actors and directors play are not important cogs in the machine. To the contrary. But is the role of, say, cinematographer so greatly inferior that the people in that role garnish no mention until five of them are grouped together come award season, their names to be quickly forgotten as they walk into the shadows of the huge Oscar statue, one of them holding their own, smaller version glistening in the lights? Obviously there are too many important jobs on any given movie for everyone to be created, or seen as, equal. The actors and directors are the spokesmen, the mouthpieces, the faces of the films. And so, all the other pieces working to finish the puzzle can sit behind them and do their work and relish in just that--the work--and not the praise for the work. This gave me solace: the hardworking folks behind the scenes doing it for art's sake.

Still, I wouldn't mind screenwriters getting more credit. (Let me state here that this argument--if that's what this is--excludes the actor/writers (Damon/Affleck), director/writers who get praise because of the dual role they play.) Hell, some day I may want to take a crack at a screenplay, and I don't conjure up delusions that I would not want the recognition that Ms. Cody is receiving currently. But the question still remains: why only her? Why, in the midst of all of this praise, has someone--possibly a member of the media with a larger readership than this blog (20 people per month?)--not spoken up and said something to the extent of, "You know, Juno's a great movie, but so was The Savages...and damned well written, too. I think I might do a profile piece on Tamara Jenkins"? (Again, I'm speaking here of the vast majority of movie goers who do not visit sites dedicated to films on a regular basis; I'm sure there have been stories done on all of these writers somewhere.) Again, is it because she wasn't a stripper? I don't know, maybe she was. I'm fairly confident that she wasn't, though, as I'm sure I would have heard about it. The back story does not a work of art make. Should not a piece of work be able to stand on its own merits without the history of the artist who made it? Would Juno have? Who knows. The answer's really not important. What is important, and what is apparently of no concern to people, is that there are a lot of great scripts being written. If there were not, the Writer (Original Screenplay)category would have been a one-woman show with little suspense (which, actually, as this whole thing argues, it kind of was). And, while someone is writing those great scripts, you and I don't know who he or she is. But for whatever reason, not because of such a massive superiority that none other shall be mentioned in her presence, we hear about one writer. While all the others, toil on in obscurity, writing.

If we are going to give the screenwriter due credit, let's make it the whole field, is all I'm saying.



*To her credit Diablo Cody did acknowledge the others in this category with her in her acceptance speech saying, "I especially want to thank my fellow nominees because I worship you guys and I'm learning from you every day, so thank you very much."*

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About Me

David Luke Doody is a freelance writer and editor. He is a founding editor of InDigest Magazine (www.indigestmag.com), an online literary magazine and the blog editor for Guernica Magazine (www.guernicamag.com). His writing and interviews have appeared in those magazines as well as in The Huffington Post, mnartists.org, The Minnesota Twins Yearbook, and Intentionally Urban Magazine, among others.

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