WGA Awards: Nice for 'Imitation Game,' 'Budapest,' But Oscar Goes Its Own Way (Analysis)

THR's awards analyst explains why many Oscar-nominated scripts, such as this year's 'The Theory of Everything' and 'Birdman,' aren't even eligible for a WGA Award, resulting in spotty correlation between the winners of the two prizes.

The Imitation Game, Graham Moore's adaptation of Andrew Hodges’ book Alan Turing: The Enigma, and The Grand Budapest Hotel, an original screenplay by Wes Anderson and Hugo Guinness, were the winners of the two biggest prizes at the 67th Writers Guild of America (WGA) Awards: best adapted screenplay and best original screenplay, respectively. Both scripts are also nominated for Oscars in the same categories. So should one assume that these Valentine's Day results bode well for how those scripts will be received on Feb. 22?

Not so fast.

Read more WGA Awards: The Winners List

It's not that the WGA, which these days is comprised of about 12,000 members (split between WGA-West and WGA-East), has a statistically poor track record of predicting Oscar winners in the writing categories. Indeed, in the years since the WGA honored the films of 1985, when it began evaluating dramatic and comedic scripts in one category, like the Academy, it has anticipated 20 of the 29 winners in both the adapted and the original categories, respectively.

The problem is why it missed on those nine occasions on both sides — 3 of the misses on the adapted side (The Last Emperor, The Pianist and last year's 12 Years a Slave) and four of the misses on the original side (Pulp Fiction, Talk to Her, The King's Speech and Django Unchained) were because the script that ended up winning with the Academy wasn't even eligible for a WGA nomination.

See more Oscars: 'Boyhood'-ing the Acting Nominees

That's because the WGA, unlike the other guilds that dish out year-end awards, only considers for its awards work done by its members and/or under the terms of its Minimum Basic Agreement (a 400-page contract that governs all dealings between producers and screenwriters on films with budgets over $1.1 million) or its Low-Budget Agreement (which governs films with budgets at or under $1.1 million) in the U.S. or under comparable collective bargaining agreements in the U.K., Canada, Ireland or New Zealand.

But many independent films are produced by filmmakers who are either unaware of the guild contract or unwilling to spend any portion of a limited budget on it. Many foreign films also are produced outside of the jurisdiction of the WGA and its sister unions abroad and are therefore ineligible. And some filmmakers who work in the U.S. and with sizable budgets, such as Quentin Tarantino (see above re: Pulp Fiction and Django), have opted not to join the guild or work under its terms out of a desire to maintain complete independence (even while still being supportive of unions, in Tarantino's case).

Read more WGA Awards: What Happened at the Los Angeles Ceremony

As a result, Imitation Game, which previously won the USC Scripter Award for best adapted screenplay, did not have to compete at this year's WGA Awards with The Theory of Everything, for which Anthony McCarten won the best adapted screenplay BAFTA Award — though it will have to compete with it at the Oscars. As a matter of fact, the only other Oscar-nominated script that Imitation Game did have to beat to win the WGA Award was Jason Hall's American Sniper.

The other WGA nominees for adapted screenplay — Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl, James Gunn and Nicole Perlman's Guardians of the Galaxy and Nick Hornby's Wild — were not Oscar-nominated. The Academy filled out its category with Paul Thomas Anderson's Inherent Vice and Damien Chazelle's Whiplash (which the WGA classified as an original screenplay and nominated in that category).

Read more WGA Awards: What Happened at the New York Ceremony

Meanwhile, Budapest, which previously won the best original screenplay BAFTA Award and Los Angeles Film Critics Association and New York Film Critics Circle's screenplay awards, did not have to compete at this year's WGA Awards with Birdman, for which Alejandro G. Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. and Armando Bo won the best screenplay Golden Globe and best original screenplay Critics' Choice awards — though it will have to compete with it at the Oscars. It did have to beat three fellow best original screenplay Oscar nominees — Richard Linklater's Boyhood, E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman's Foxcatcher and Dan Gilroy's Nightcrawler — as well as Whiplash (see last paragraph).

So while WGA winners Imitation Game and Budapest may well go on to win screenplay Oscars, as well, the fact that they first won WGA Awards, in a year such as this, doesn't really enable a prognosticator to predict that outcome with a much greater degree of confidence, as most other guild awards do.

Twitter: @ScottFeinberg

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