||February 16, 2002
The Memento Screenplay Category Controversy:
Memento is an Adapted Screenplay
By Judd Taylor
Christopher Nolan adapted
the screenplay for his film Memento from his brother Jonathan’s
short story “Memento Mori.” The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and
Sciences, i.e. the Oscars, doesn’t see it that way. They nominated
Best Original Screenplay.
Their official listing for
the category of Adapted Screenplay reads, “Best Writing, Screenplay Based
on Material Previously Produced or Published,” while the category of Original
Screenplay reads, “Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen.”
So why is Memento in the Original Screenplay category if it is adapted
from Jonathan Nolan’s short story “Memento Mori” and not written directly
for the screen?
I wrote the Academy
at firstname.lastname@example.org and asked if
they could explain this discrepancy. Fred Henderson, an Academy Committee
member, wrote back:
According to the Writers
Branch Executive Committee, there seems to be no discrepancy according
to the rules they have. So my next question is, are these rules valid?
The Memento script was based on
the J. Nolan short story, but that story wasn't published until after the
film was released. Our Writers Branch Executive Committee was fully
informed of the circumstances and ruled that this was more a collaborative
story/screenplay situation than a work "based on material previously
produced or published.
Henderson made a point
to underline material previously produced or published. So
does this mean if a screenplay is adapted from an unpublished source where
the author has a copyright, that it is not still adapted?
Adapting a screenplay
is a different medium than writing one from scratch. I’m not saying
that adaptation is any lesser an art form. Some of the best directors,
like Stanley Kubrick, adapt their films from other mediums. It can
be advantageous to get a different perspective on a piece from the original
author when adapting to film.
Look at Dr. Strangelove:
the original novel Red Alert was a serious piece about the Cold
War. Kubrick began writing it with a serious tone, but found certain
scenes very funny. So he brought it to Terry Southern and together
they turned it into the classic Cold War satire that it is today.
I still contend that
is an adapted Screenplay, whether it meets the Academy’s erroneous standards
or not. The Online Film Critics Society, which is composed of the
world's 96 premier Internet film critics, agrees. Memento won the
O.F.C.S. award for Best Adapted Screenplay.
It shouldn’t matter whether
the material was previously published or even copyrighted. These
are just legalities to protect artists from people stealing their work.
If a work is translated from another medium, then it is adapted, not original.
Read Jonathan Nolan's short story and see the similarities for yourself.
“Memento Mori”: http://www.esquire.com/features/articles/2001/001323_mfr_memento_1.html
O.F.C.S. 2001 Awards: http://ofcs.rottentomatoes.com/pages/awards/2001awards
|Best Dramatic Feature
Best Adapted Screenplay
|Best Supporting Actor
|Best Supporting Actress