Oscars: 9 Writing Nominees on How Their Words Changed From Laptop to Big Screen

Screenwriting insights from Academy Award nominated writers.

Quick reminder as you prepare for today’s Oscar ceremony: None of the nominated movies would exist were it not for a writer telling a story.

As the Gospel of John says: “In the beginning was the word.”

A recent Hollywood Reporter article drives home that fact. Some excerpts:

“The moment that turned out to be far different from what I thought it’d be was the scene in the bathroom between Octavia Spencer and Kirsten Dunst. Our purpose in writing it was to show what happens when the bathrooms are desegregated. You’ve got a black woman and a white woman who have been at odds, meeting in that setting at NASA.
What I hadn’t expected was the line at the end of that scene, where Kirsten says, ‘You know, Dorothy, despite what you may think, I have nothing against y’all.’ Then Octavia says, ‘I know. I know you probably believe that.’ I didn’t realize how powerful that line was until the last take. We’d done it six times, and Octavia was playing it like she was one-upping Kirsten. For some reason, I said, ‘I don’t know … maybe she should forgive her with that line.’ We saw her try that on the seventh take, and suddenly, we knew that was the moment we needed to show, because most racist and sexist people don’t even know they are. I was jubilant. Octavia and Kirsten had tears in their eyes.” — Theodore Melfi (nominated with Allison Schroeder) for Hidden Figures.
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“I have occasional panic attacks in the middle of seeing movies I’ve written, where some voice in my head says, ‘They’re saying the words I wrote! I can’t believe what I’m hearing because I just made those words up.’ So I was surprised that after just the first few minutes of watching Arrival, I was able to relax and breathe easier because of the way Amy [Adams] made my words so much better, especially her character’s reaction when a nurse takes her newborn daughter away.
The line I’d written was, ‘Come back to me.’ Then, 15 years later, we see her say the same thing as her daughter is dying. She instantly seemed to wear this character like an old, comfortable sweater, I think because of her own experiences as a mother. I’d not had that particular experience before, where everything that happened on camera was so close to what I imagined, yet was also better.” — Eric Heisserer for Arrival.
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“A pivotal scene was when Nicole Kidman’s character says to her adopted son, Saroo [Dev Patel], ‘We could have had children. We chose you.’ That scene touches on universal love. I’d never been touched by adoption, so I saw Lion as a mythic tale of reunification with a long-lost mother. I wasn’t prepared for how emotionally submerged I’d get in the way Nicole delivered her dialogue. You can never picture how it’ll turn out as you write. Then your script goes to an actor with a rich tapestry of life like Nicole. Her history of adopting children transformed what I’d written into the beautiful thing that art is supposed to be.” — Luke Davies for Lion.

For the rest of the article, go here.