Sunday, May 26, 2024

Writers Guild East: Lena Dunham, Off Color Jokes, and a Nora Ephron Tribute


PAULA SCHWARTZ reports from New York: “This is such a low profile event,” Mike Birbiglia said Sunday night of the Writers Guild Awards, “I’m not sure it’s even happening.”

The WGAs’ picks for best original and best adapted screenplays are also harbingers of golden statuettes, so Oscar prognosticators pay attention. Last year the WGA’s awarded “Midnight in Paris” by Woody Allen, and “The Descendants” by Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash as their choices for best adapted and original screenplays respectively, and both went on to win Oscars.

Last night at the WGAs the big winner was “Argo” for adapted screenplay. Richard Kind, who has a cameo in “Argo,” accepted the award on behalf of screenwriter Chris Terrio. “It’s a special movie that honors America, Hollywood. It’s taut. It’s beautifully directed,” Kind said of the Ben Affleck CIA hostage thriller, which is now the Oscar frontrunner.

The other big prize went to Mark Boal for his original screenplay for Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty.” The win was a surprise; the Osama bin Laden thriller had fallen off of the Oscar bandwagon since all the torture controversy, but has now gotten a new boost. (Boal received a WGA award in 2010 for best original screenplay for Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker,” and he later went on to win the Oscar.)

The WGAs, since their inception in 1949, have honored writing for film, television, and radio annually and in more recent years they’ve added the categories of new media and video games.

Held simultaneously in New York and Los Angeles, they are the only awards show that celebrates the achievements of writers.

The Writers Guild Awards are not televised. The writers typically vent amusingly about their lonely and underpaid professions and how they’re struggling to find their next gig. The event is light on food, but there’s plenty of booze, so guests get really drunk. The winners and presenters also drop F-bombs, tell raunchy jokes and trade insults, so that the WGAs resemble a celebrity roast as much as an awards show.

Actor Richard Kind hosted the New York event at B.B. King’s, a run down club in Times Square. Guests included Gina Gershon, Louis C.K, Lucy Alibar, Bobby Cannavale, insult comic Lisa Lampanelli, Fred Armisen, Mike Birbiglia, John McLaughlin (“Black Swan”), and Terry George (“Hotel Rwanda”).

“Castle” star Nathan Fillion hosted the Los Angeles counterpart at the JW Marriott, a five-star hotel, with high-profile celebrity wattage Jessica Chastain, Julie Bowen, Jane Lynch, Steven Spielberg, James Gandolfini, Francis Ford Coppola, Amy Poehler and Tobey Maguire.

But New York had “Girls” creator Lena Dunham, who was the center of attention. “Girls” also received a WGA for best new series. Dunham’s show – with writers Judd Apatow, Lesley Arfin, Dunham, Sarah Heyward, Bruce Eric Kaplan, Jenni Konner, Deborah Schoeneman and Dan Sterling – beat “The Mindy Project,” “Nashville,” “The Newsroom” and “Veep.”

Dunham, whose back is covered with tattoos, has learned how to pose for the photographers; on the red carpet she jutted out her hip and lowered her chin seductively. Her hair’s in a pixie haircut, and she wore a strapless black-and-white animal print dress and strappy stilettos and looked nothing like her “Girls” character Hannah.

Jonathan Ames, who presented the award to Dunham, chugged from an “I Love New York “coffee mug, which he claimed was “loaded with vodka and club soda.” As he did last year, he whined about the cancellation of his HBO show, “Bored to Death.” “A terrible title right from the start,” he lamented. For more than 20 minutes, the self-absorbed writer riffed on everything from pubic hair to his youthful stint in rehab.

By the time he got around to giving Dunham the new series award, she joked, “I’m so anxious accepting this award, from you particularly.”

She went on to say, “There are a lot of parts of the television making process that interests me, but it all comes from writing for me, and I feel it’s such a gift to do this as a job. It’s a gift to be in a room with so many people I admire.”

Dunham also told a hysterical story about meeting Lisa Lampanelli. “I spent New Year’s Eve when I was 15 watching Lisa Lampanelli at Caroline’s Comedy Club with my mother,” Dunham said. “And we went up to her afterwards, and my mother said, ‘She wants to be you,'” and “Lisa went, ‘What? A c…t.”

Later Ames presented Louis C.K. with the best comedy series award for “Louie,” which bested Dunham’s “Girls,” along with “30 Rock,” “Modern Family” and “Parks and Recreation.” Before he gave his acceptance speech, Louis C.K. told Ames, “Please, just shut up.” He added, “I still regret coming here.”

Louis C.K. praised his co-writers Pamela Adlon and Vernon Chatman, who joined him on stage, “I say I do everything on my own but I really don’t. I take all the money and the credit,” but “they come up with beautiful ideas.”

The WGA documentary prize went to the Sony Pictures Classics movie “Searching for Sugar Man,” by Malik Bendjellou. The feel-good doc about singer-songwriter Rodriguez, a rock icon to South Africans, is a lock for an Oscar.

The WGA East coast also honored Nora Ephron with a tribute given by writer Meg Wolitzer, who spoke of Ephron’s friendship and support of young women writers. She also quoted some of Ephron’s witty observations: “If pregnancy were a book, they would cut off the last two chapters.” Also, “When your children are teenagers, it’s important to have a dog so that somebody in the house is happy to see you.”

Other winners included the writing for “Breaking Bad” (Drama Series), “Hatfields & McCoys,” Nights Two and Three (Long form – original) and “Game Change” (Long form-adapted)

The Writers Guild of America, East, present special honors to David Koepp (“Jurassic Park”) – Ian McClellan Hunter Award for Career Achievement in Writing, and Bob Schneider – Richard E. Jablow Award for devoted service to the Guild.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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