Best adapted screenplay: And the Oscar goes to…

Best adapted screenplay: And the Oscar goes to…

The awards season is upon us, which means the internet is being swamped with thousands of red carpet snaps, YouTube clips of sarcastic ceremony hosts, and a lot of fuss surrounding which film will get the Oscar for best picture. But personally, being a rather bookish bunch, we’re actually getting pretty excited about the best adapted screenplay category.

It’s not often that you can honestly say that a film is better, or even as good as the book it’s been adapted from, but these five best adapted screenplay nominees have all done a pretty outstanding job of representing their source material on the big screen.

The Big Short

This biographical comedy-drama is based on Michael Lewis’ non-fiction book about the financial crisis of the late 2000s. The author, who has also written two other non-fiction books which were adapted in Oscar-nominated films, Moneyball and The Blind Side, was shocked over the success of this latest adaptation, and slightly dumbfounded as to why anyone would want to make a movie about credit-default swaps.

On writing the book, Lewis has said, “My job, as I saw it, was to make the reader badly want to know about credit-default swaps…My reader (so I hoped) would feel it was worth trying to understand credit-default swaps because these enthralling characters were also trying to understand them.”

The Big Short is nominated for four other Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director, so screenwriters Adam McKay and Charles Randolph must have done a pretty good job in engaging viewers with what could potentially be quite a complicated subject matter. Oh, and Ryan Gosling is in it. That probably helps.


Based on the novel by Colm Toibin, Brooklyn tells the story of Eilis Lacey, who immigrates to Brooklyn from her home in Ireland to find work. She finds love with an Italian-American, but when she must return to Ireland, she meets a boy from her home town and finds herself torn between two countries and the two men who love her.

The novel was adapted by author and screenwriter Nick Hornby, who also wrote the screenplay for Wild in 2014 and for An Education in 2009, the latter also gaining him an Oscar nomination. All three of his screenplays feature strong female characters in the lead roles, and he’s been recently regarded as one of the best writers for women in Hollywood.

On the Hollywood roles available to women, Hornby has said, “It’s probably not a coincidence that the last three screenplays have been about young women…An Education taught me that if you write a big, strong part for a young woman, you get the opportunity to work with the best actresses in the world, because there is, ridiculously, nothing else for them. It’s a sad fact that hasn’t gone unnoticed in the headlines, with many actresses strongly coming out and fighting for equal pay and others just not finding the amount of work necessary to sustain a career.”


Another fantastic, female-led nominee in the adapted screenplay category is Carol, adapted from the Patricia Highsmith novel, originally titled The Price of Salt. Although some books seem to sit on Waterstone’s shelves for just five minutes before the adaptation hits the cinemas (such as last year’s heavily nominated American Sniper), Carol’s journey from book to screen is the perfect example of just how long it can sometimes take. Screenwriter Phyllis Nagy first started adapting the story of Therese Belivet, a young New York Shop assistant who falls for a wealthy, older woman, almost twenty years ago.

After the first draft we had about 13 years of false starts and people coming and going. By that I mean producing partners, potential financiers, directors. Because it was so difficult to get financed people went on to other things…I thought Carol was dead and I was ready to move on…then (producer) Liz Karlsen called about a year later and said, “Guess what? I have the rights to the novel… it took them a year to convince me to jump back in with the promise that they would indeed this time get the film made. And they did, and I shouldn’t have worried so much.”

Carol is available for Listening Books members to borrow on MP3 CD, Listening Books number 13116CD

The Martian

Andy Weir, author of the bestselling science fiction novel The Martian, says he never imagined the book would be a mainstream success. After being rejected by literary agents when trying to publish previous books, he decided to post each chapter of the novel on his website. He has said; “I wasn’t writing for a mainstream audience…I was writing for this core group of extremely technical, science-minded dorks like me.”

When he finished the novel, which follows astronaut Mark Watney as tries to survive alone on Mars after being presumed dead by the rest of his crew, he made it available via a free ebook on his website. After a few requests, he put it on Amazon as a download for Kindle, and in just three months he had sold 35,000 copies. This caught the attention of the publishers and the book was published in print in February 2014, with the film rights being purchased almost a year before this in March 2013.

Not only has screenwriter Drew Goddard been Oscar nominated for his screenplay, The Martian has also been nominated for six other categories, including best picture and best actor for Matt Damon. So, if you have an idea for novel then you’d best get writing, as you never know what might happen!


Room is author Emma Donoghue’s seventh novel. Before she had even finished it, her agent predicted that it would be of interest to filmmakers. Once she’d completed her manuscript, she began working on the screenplay straight away, determined that if she were to sell the film rights, her story wouldn’t end up in the hands of a screenwriter.

I didn’t know much about the film world, but I did know that there’s a historic suspicion of the novelist doing her own adaptation… I had heard that quite often film companies will hire the novelist for the first draft only…I wasn’t looking for that. So I thought the most obvious way to proceed seemed to be to write the thing.”

Room is the story of a young woman who has been held in captivity in a small room for seven years. She has a five year old son, Jack, who’s spent his entire life in Room, just with his Ma. When they eventually break free, they have to adjust to a new life in the outside world, a world that Jack didn’t even know existed until a few days prior to their escape.

The director, Lenny Abrahamson, suggested the actors to improvise to encourage a realistic dialogue. This did not sit well with Donoghue at first, her need as an author to perfect the dialogue was a difficult urge to overcome.
I remember the moment Lenny first mentioned improvisation, because I was horrified… I’m grinning about that now, because I’ve come to realise that there’s no such thing as a finished screenplay: the document is only a blueprint, and so much will change in the building. You have to allow for – and be prepared to notice, and welcome – what happens on the day, when the cameras are rolling.”

Room is available for Listening Books members to borrow on MP3 CD, Listening Books number 12830CD

So now you know a bit more about the nominees, who are you backing to win?

This post was written by Amy Flinders.

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