Humanitas Prize luncheon


Over the past three decades, the Humanitas Prize has given $2.8 million to screenwriters for work that has explored the human experience in a positive way. Wednesday, at the Humanitas Prize luncheon at the Beverly Hills Hotel, the 34-year-old organization will unveil a new twist in its plot to encourage inspiring entertainment: a development fund that will take writers' humanistic visions from rough idea to polished product.

"When we started giving money for the prize, the whole idea was that it would help sustain a writer so they could do a spec script," Humanitas chairman Frank Desiderio says. "This is a way to go back to that original vision."

"We will not have a development executive, since our role is to simply fund a script," adds Humanitas Prize executive director Cathleen Young. "We have a deep bench of dedicated trustees, all gifted writers, who will then 'godfather' projects internally. And as we expand, we will partner with different studios and networks to take Humanitas to the next level." That means creating a Humanitas Presents franchise, in the spirit of the long-running series of Hallmark Hall of Fame TV movies.

The development fund is just one of a series of initiatives being rolled out by new Humanitas president John Wells, writer-producer of such TV shows as NBC's "ER" and "The West Wing," who takes over the presidency from Desiderio. Another is a program of philanthropic partnerships with like-minded organizations, the first of which will be with 826 Valencia, an after-school tutoring program for aspiring writers founded by author Dave Eggers. This year, Humanitas also adds a new documentary category funded by The Hollywood Reporter.

According to Young, submissions for the prize were down this year because of the writers strike, from 400 to approximately 300. But that hasn't affected the quality of the finalists.

"The nominations this year are all films that have asked important questions, even if they're important small questions," says writer-director Paul Haggis, two-time Humanitas Prize winner for 2005's "Crash" and the TV series "thirtysomething." "Many of the questions we ask are not the grand questions of humanity, but just: 'How does one deal with being pregnant as a teenager?' and things like that."

Haggis is referring to Diablo Cody's Oscar-winning screenplay for "Juno," one of the finalists in the feature film category. The others are Ronald Harwood's "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" and Nancy Oliver's "Lars and the Real Girl."

In the 30- and 60-minute categories, the finalists include the HBO miniseries "John Adams"; the cable TV series "The Wire" (HBO), "The Bill Engvall Show" (TBS) and "In Treatment" (HBO); and the network series "Scrubs" (NBC), a previous Humanitas winner, and "Boston Legal" (ABC), co-written and executive produced by three-time Humanitas winner David E. Kelley.

"It's incredibly meaningful to screenwriters" says Daniel Petrie Jr. (CBS' "Pictures of Hollis Woods," which is up against HBO's "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee," Lifetime's "A Life Interrupted" and the Hallmark Channel's "Charlie & Me" in the 90-minute category."), "because it honors the writer as the early force behind projects."

This year, winners in all categories will receive $10,000, save those in the new documentary category, who will receive $5,000.

David Milch reportedly bought a racehorse with the prize money he received for "Hill Street Blues" in 1983, but many winners are likely to donate the money.

"The glam dream, the selfish one, is to go to Paris and hang out and go to movies," says "Lars" scribe Oliver. "But the reality is that I would probably give half to my mother and half to Barack Obama."

Click the next page to see this year's Humanitas Prize finalists

The 2008 Humanitas Prize finalists

Feature Film Category ($10,000)

The Diving Bell And The Butterfly -- Written by: Ronald Harwood
Juno -- Written by: Diablo Cody
Lars And The Real Girl -- Written by: Nancy Oliver

90 Minute Category ($10,000)

Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee -- Written by: Daniel Giat
Charlie & Me -- Written by: Karen Lagasse Struck
A Life Interrupted -- Written by: John Wierick
Pictures Of Hollis Woods -- Written by: Ann Peacock, Daniel Petrie, Jr. & Camille Thomasson

60 Minute Category ($10,000)

Boston Legal: "Roe V. Wade, The Musical" -- Written by: David E. Kelly & Susan
Dickes (teleplay); David E. Kelly, Susan Dickes & Jill Goldsmith (story)
John Adams: "Part 1" Written by: Kirk Ellis
The Wire: "Late Editions" Written by: George Pelecanos (teleplay); David Simon & George Pelecanos (story)

30 Minute Category ($10,000)

The Bill Engvall Show: "Aloha Raffles" Written by: Kathy Ann Stumpe
In Treatment: "Sophie Week 2" Written by: Sarah Treem
Scrubs: "My Long Goodbye" Written by: Dave Tennant

Children's Animation Category ($10,000)

My Friends Tigger & Pooh: "Eeyore's Sad Day" Written by: Brian Hohlfeld
Sweet Blackberry Presents: "The Journey Of Henry Box Brown" Written by: Karyn Parsons
Toddworld: "Come Out Of Your Shell" Written by: Don Gillies

Children's Live Action Category ($10,000)

Johnny Kapahala: "Back On Board" Written by: Ann Austen, Douglas Sloan,
Max Enscoe & Annie DeYoung (teleplay); Ann Austen & Douglas Sloan (story)
Minutemen: Written by John Killoran (teleplay); David Diamond & David Weissman
Sheira & Loli's Dittydoodle Works: "Sacrifice" Written by David Lawrence, Bill Rodman & Cory Rosenberg

Sundance Feature Film Category ($10,000)

Henry Poole Is Here: Written by: Albert Torres
A Raisin In The Sun: Written by: Paris Qualles
The Visitor: Written by: Tom McCarthy

The David & Lynn Angell Fellowship in Comedy Writing ($10,000)

Fair: Written by: Cameron Porsandeh
Mckellar Hall: Written by: Nik Blahunka & Marcy Holland

The Humanitas Student Drama Fellowship ($10,000)

Heroes: "The Cure" Written by: Marla DuMont
House: "Witch Is It" Written by: Katherine F. Lovejoy