Screenwriter Naomi Foner Gyllenhaal will bring her entertainment-industry acumen and her talent for intimate observation of family life to her role as chair of the selection committee for the coveted 20th-annual USC (University of Southern California) Libraries Scripter Award.
Scripter is the only award that fetes a film's screenwriter alongside the author of the book, short story or novella upon which it is based. The winners are honored at a black-tie event in USC's Edward L. Doheny Jr. Memorial Library each spring.
In January, all eyes will be on Gyllenhaal and the selection committee -- which includes Writers Guild of America members, fiction and nonfiction authors, film-industry executives, USC faculty and members of the Friends of the USC Libraries -- as they choose the year's most accomplished book-to-film adaptation.
Scripter producer Toni Miller said that nearly four dozen films -- ranging from the highly anticipated cinematic versions of The Golden Compass and Love in the Time of Cholera to recent hits 300 and 1408 -- are in contention for the award. To be eligible, films must be adapted from an English-language book and be exhibited in theaters on or before Dec. 31.
Scripter 2008 marks an important milestone for the award. USC Libraries staff already preparing for the February event feel that Gyllenhaal is the ideal person to take the reins for its platinum anniversary.
"Naomi is an experienced screenwriter of adapted material, and she brings the stories to life with great creative skill and an authentic voice and sensibility," said Miller. "We are thrilled to work with her as selection-committee chair for this special twentieth-anniversary celebration of literature and film."
Gyllenhaal is intimately familiar with the adaptation process. She has adapted several novels for the big screen, including Mary McGarry Morris' A Dangerous Woman, Seth Margolis' Losing Isaiah and Myla Goldberg's Bee Season.
Gyllenhaal described the book-to-film process as more than simply creating a screenplay from an author's manuscript. Often it means finding an interesting angle to a story and fleshing it out.
"When I read a book I want to adapt, I ask myself 'Why is there a movie around these characters that would make the rest of us want to watch it?'" explained Gyllenhaal of her creative process. "If you are doing your job, you are creating something new. There can be another story within a book that needs to be explored."
Although Gyllenhaal has had tremendous success with her adapted scripts, her original screenplay for the 1988 Sidney Lumet film Running on Empty scored her an Academy Award nomination and a Golden Globe victory. She also served as executive producer on the film.
Gyllenhaal's next project is an adaptation of Marijane Meaker's Shockproof Sydney Skate for Fox 2000.
"It's a story about an unusual relationship between a boy, his mother and what real love is," said Gyllenhaal.
Gyllenhaal's first writing credit was for the TV miniseries The Best of Families, and her first feature film was the Sissy Spacek-Kevin Kline romantic drama Violets are Blue.
"Observing family allows you to use a small intimate palette to comment on the greater culture," explained Gyllenhaal. "Family contains the best of us and the worst. And we can all relate to it, as we're all part of some kind of family.
"If our job as writers is to affect the culture in a larger way -- to disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed -- it's the way in."