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Writers Guild makes benefit `Borat'

The raw, irreverent mockumentary is the most surprising of the 10 screenplay nods.

January 12, 2007|Susan King | Times Staff Writer

As Borat might say, "Niiiiiiice!"

The raucous mockumentary with a mouthful for a title -- "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan" -- was one of the 10 screenplays nominated Thursday by the Writers Guild of America awards.

In all, five of the 10 films nominated were comedies, including "Thank You for Smoking," "Little Miss Sunshine," "Stranger Than Fiction" and "The Devil Wears Prada." There was also much more dramatic fare such as "Babel," "The Queen," "United 93," "The Departed" and "Little Children."

But perhaps the biggest surprise was the nomination for "Borat," written by Sacha Baron Cohen & Anthony Hines & Peter Baynham & Dan Mazer. The lead character, a clueless, sex-obsessed Kazakh journalist, had been introduced on Cohen's TV series, "Da Ali G Show." Because he is a preexisting character, the film was nominated in the adapted screenplay category.

The screenplay for the box office hit is less than conventional because it is partially written but mainly improvised, with Borat, a fictional character intermingling with real people who believed they were participating in a serious documentary about life in America. (Many of those people have since claimed they were duped, and some have resorted to legal action.)

"This is a very new and innovative way of writing a script in that we created a story and then we tried to make it happen in the real world," a rather serious-sounding said Cohen on Thursday. "To my knowledge that has never been done before. I think it's quite brave" of the WGA.

"I'm unbelievably delighted and totally thrilled," said Hines. "It's great that the WGA has recognized what is a fairly unconventional type of screenplay and work," Baynham added.

Many of the nominees noted the unusual number of comedies chosen.

"We are in serious times and people need a laugh," explained Jason Reitman, a nominee for best adapted screenplay for the satire "Thank You for Smoking." "All the comedies nominated approached real ideas and it's wonderful they resonated with people. It's a nice little break."

Reitman, the son of writer-producer Ivan Reitman, said receiving the WGA nomination was "beyond comparison. I really didn't expect it. I wrote this movie seven years ago. I didn't expect it to get made."

Michael Arndt, whose dark comedy "Little Miss Sunshine" is one of five films nominated in the best original screenplay category, added that he was pleased the guild recognized that comedies can examine the "human condition" as well as dramas.

It's not that the Writers Guild has ignored comedies over the years -- "The 40 Year-Old Virgin" was nominated for original screenplay last year and "Sideways" and "Lost in Translation" won the WGA awards in 2005 and 2004, respectively -- but just as with acting and directing, the guilds and the Oscars tend to favor more dramatic fare.

Other screenwriters nominated for their comedies Thursday morning were Zach Helm for his original screenplay for the quirky "Stranger Than Fiction" and Aline Brosh McKenna for adapted screenplay for "The Devil Wears Prada."

"Writers have a very specific viewpoint on what was challenging to write," McKenna said. "So to be nominated by your peers.... The most gratifying feedback I have gotten is from other writers."

Rounding out the original screenplay nominees are Guillermo Arriaga for the complex international drama "Babel," Peter Morgan for the Elizabeth II drama "The Queen" and Paul Greengrass for the 9/11 drama "United 93."

"You can't fool your own," said Morgan on receiving the nomination from his peers. "It takes [a writer] to know one. It sort of counts for double really. It is one [nomination] I was especially nervous about. It's really good to get the critics. It is nice to have their approval. But the writers ... it's like being judged by your own family. They know the truth."

William Monahan's gangster thriller "The Departed" and Todd Field & Tom Perrotta's intimate drama "Little Children" were also nominated in the adapted screenplay category.

In a statement, Monahan said: "The nomination is an honor. Many thanks to the WGA membership."

"It's always a terrific thing when somebody notices," Field added Thursday.

Winning a WGA award doesn't necessarily translate into Oscar gold, with the guild and the academy often disagreeing. However, WGA winners "Sideways" and "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" in 2005 and "Brokeback Mountain" and "Crash" in 2006 went on to win Oscars.

The WGA awards will be handed out Feb. 11 in Los Angeles at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel and simultaneously in New York at the Hudson Theatre.

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