Oscar surprise: 'Whiplash' deemed an adapted screenplay by Academy

Posted by · 9:27 pm · January 5th, 2015


If you had Damien Chazelle's “Whiplash” chalked up for a Best Original Screenplay nomination, hold your horses. Despite the demonstrable fact that Chazelle directed a short film of the same name that was merely a scene taken from the already-written feature in order to raise funds for said feature, the Academy has apparently deemed it an adapted screenplay.

The news comes from Grantland writer Mark Harris, who saw the film chalked up as an eligible contender in the adapted category on an e-ballot rather than original. “There are five slots,” Harris told me in a quick exchange. “You list them preferentially. In the blank next to each slot, there's a click-option to go to the 'reminder list' of eligible films for that category. And there was 'Whiplash' [in adapted].”

It's too late to reach out for any sort of comment from the Academy or WGA on this, alas. Though obviously the guild would simply tell me what we already know, that per their rubric, it's an original screenplay not “based on material previously published or produced.” Does AMPAS define “published or produced” differently? Does an original screenplay registered with the guild prior to production of a short not qualify as, well, original? Now that I think about it, was the script even registered prior to the production of the short? I don't have the answer right now. I'm literally thinking out loud.

It's interesting to see something like this rear its head this late in the game, but it's happened before. Nine years ago Stephen Gaghan's “Syriana” had been deemed an adaptation of Robert Baer's book “See No Evil.” It received a WGA nod in that category and was nominated for a USC Scripter Award (given to adapted screenplays and their source material). It also won the adapted screenplay prize from the National Society of Film Critics. But the Academy felt it deviated too much from the book and classified it as original. No one – not even Gaghan – had been made aware of the decision. Ultimately he was nominated in the original category after all, but there was a very real danger that voters would have voted for it in the adapted category, and every such vote would have been rendered null.

Harris reminds that that's not as much of a danger here, as with e-balloting at least, it's not possible to write in a nominee. Nevertheless, just like Gaghan nearly a decade ago, I'm told this all comes as news to Chazelle and company. But here's the good part of that news…

Best Adapted Screenplay is a desolate wasteland. The original category is far more competitive. So even if it probably won't sit well that Chazelle's original work has been dubiously categorized (and even if he would have likely been a sure thing in original anyway), it should be clear sailing to a nod in the adapted fold. That frees up some room in the other category (good news, Dan Gilroy), but the bummer on the adapted side is Paul Thomas Anderson might be the one who gets the scoot. Maybe.

Sony Pictures Classics did not immediately respond to request for a comment.

UPDATE: Deadline has added to the story with a few quotes from the “Whiplash” camp.

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