I checked out the WGA's Beyond Words event this past thurs, which featured a panel of WGA nominated writers including; Zach Helm (Stranger than Fiction), Peter Baynham & Anthony "Ant" Hines (Borat), Aline Brosh McKenna (The Devil Wears Prada), Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine), Guillermo Arriaga (Babel) and Tom Perotta and Todd Field (Little Children). It was a cool sold out event and kinda funky as everyone on stage with the exception of Helm had been in the podcast or screening series (Granted Helm's film was CS's cover story in fall of 2006). I actually got about 8 mins with Helm before the event to chat about his new project, The Disassociate, for the podcast and hope to put that up soon. We had Baynham and Hines in the screening series, but for some odd reason the studio did not want us podcasting the Q&A - so it was just for the benefit of our voting WGA members in attendance that night.
If anything this panel was proof again as to how diverse and character driven this year was for screenwriting as ensembles like Babel, Little Miss Sunshine and Little Children have received noms along with strong character driven pieces like Borat, Devil Wears Prada and Stranger Than Fiction. Some of the more amusing banter occurred when Arndt and Arriaga shared differing opinons regarding their approach - Arndt a traditionalist who likes to outline vs. Arriaga someone with self-described A.D.D. who never outlines and actually writes non-linearly to the point that both Babel and 21 Grams (as he explained) which were written in a non-linear style that included Arriaga stopping one story and picking up the next as his attention shifted. As mentioned in my podcast he sits down to write his script not entirely sure what the ending for any of his multiple storylines would be. Of course, both screenwriters habits are legit as talent is the gift they obviously share.
Hines and Baynham explained how it was heavily debated as to what color bag Borat would bring downstairs from the bathroom - the bag as you'll recall was filled with feces and presented at a dinner party (real feces provided by a crew member) and the color ultimately agreed on was something translucent so the aud would know the goods were really in there and translucent was preferred to a clear bag as a clear bag would just be too harsh.
At one point it was debated how the Academy viewed comedy in referrence to Tootsie's loss against Ghandi and Zach Helm said that Dustin Hoffman told him a story about going to see Ghandi and then calling Sydney Pollack and explaining, "Yeah, we don't have a chance. It's a movie called Ghandi that really is about Ghandi. It's the guy who saved India and I'm just a cross-dressing actor. We don't have a chance at any award."
Another highlight included Arriaga explaining how a doctor told him he had a possibly fatal heart condition, which inspired the plot for 21 Grams and was of course a life changing moment that led to him putting more time into his craft.
The Writer's Guild Foundation will sell CDs of the 90 minute event for a reasonable rate and they should have them available on their website sometime soon. It was a solid event, with free drinks and cookies afterwards and was fun for all who attended.