Scripter Award Nominees Include ’12 Years a Slave,’ ‘Captain Phillips’

USC Libraries award honors both screenwriters and the authors of original material adapted for movies

A former slave who’s been dead for 150 years will be competing for a Hollywood prize against a merchant marine captain at the 2014 USC Libraries Scripter Award, the nominees for which were announced on Thursday morning.

Nominees for the award were “12 Years a Slave,” “Captain Phillips,” “Philomena,” “The Spectacular Now” and “What Maisie Knew” – and because the Scripter is an honor that goes both to the author of an original literary work and the screenwriter who adapts that material for film, former slave Solomon Northup and Captain Richard Phillips are in the running for the award this year.

“What Maisie Knew,” an adaptation of the Henry James novel, is the surprise among the five finalists, with an extremely low profile in the awards race this year.

In a year light on strong candidates in the adapted screenplay category, other adaptations eligible for the award included “August: Osage County,” “The Book Thief,” “Blue Is the Warmest Color,” “Labor Day,” “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” “Lone Survivor,” “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” and “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

By not nominating the final film, the Scripter Award judges avoided the perhaps unseemly outcome of having convicted stock swindler Jordan Belfort becoming a finalist for a film that has been accused of celebrating his exploits and excesses (and staunchly defended for doing nothing of the sort).

Also read: Writers Guild Nominations: ‘Her,’ ‘Nebraska,’ ‘August: Osage County’ Have the Write Stuff

Scripter nominations typically match about three of the five Oscar choices in the Best Adapted Screenplay category, with the winners matching about half the time. But the Scripter and the Oscars are getting closer: In five of the last six years, the winner of the Scripter has gone on to win the Academy Award.

That string consists of “Argo,” “The Descendants,” “The Social Network,” “Slumdog Millionaire” and “No Country for Old Men,” while previous Scripter winners include “Schindler’s List,” “L.A. Confidential,” “The English Patient,” “Sense and Sensibility” and “The Shawshank Redemption.”

Scripter nominations are chosen by a committee of 33 writers, producers, critics and academics. The Scripter ceremony, a black-tie dinner in the USC Library, will take place on Feb. 8.

The finalists:

> Richard Phillips with Stephan Talty, authors of “A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea,” and screenwriter Billy Ray, for “Captain Phillips”

> For “Philomena,” author Martin Sixsmith, who wrote the book “The Lost Child of Philomena Lee,” and screenwriters Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope

> Novelist Tim Tharp and screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber for “The Spectacular Now”

> Solomon Northup, author of “Twelve Years a Slave,” and screenwriter John Ridley for “12 Years a Slave”

> Screenwriters Carroll Cartwright and Nancy Doyne for “What Maisie Knew,” adapted from the novel by Henry James