As the nominations for the Writers Guild of America’s annual awards were announced today, there was one name surprisingly missing from those nominated in the Guild award’s Best original Motion Picture Screenplay category – Quentin Tarantino for his critically acclaimed film Once Upon A Time In Hollywood.
The omission seems exceedingly egregious considering that he just won a Golden Globe last evening. Well, there turns out to be a very simple reason as to why he wasn’t nominated – Tarantino is not a Guild member and therefor ineligible for their award. And the reason he is not a member all comes down to the credit arbitration for the screenplay he wrote that eventually became the Oliver Stone film Natural Born Killers.
Tarantino’s original screenplay for Natural Born Killers – in which a young married couple go on a murder spree – was a much more straightforward action film than what eventually reached the screen. He sold the script to action producer Don Murphy and his producing partner Jane Hamsher, who in turn sold it off to Warner Brothers. Warners then matched it up with provocateur director Oliver Stone, who along with David Veloz and associate producer Richard Rutowski, rewrote the script. As it was the early 1990s, Stone was observing how the burgeoning 24-hour news cycle was actually impacting how news stories such as the OJ Simpson murder trial, the Rodney King incident and others played out. Stone’s rewrites somewhat moved the film’s focus off of the protagonists Mickey and Mallory and to the stories journalist who tracks the murderous couple across the country.
Although the rewrites reportedly retained much of Tarantino’s dialogue, when the Guild performed the standard credits arbitration to determine who would get on screen credit, they only gave him a “Story By” credit. Incensed at what he felt was a poor adjudication of what he contributed to the final project, the still-relatively-new-to-the-film-business Tarantino refused to join the Guild when he became eligible.
Later, Tarantino attempted to publish his version of the screenplay, much like he had with the scripts to his own films Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, and the script he wrote for Tony Scott’s True Romance. He was however, blocked by Natural Born Killers‘s producers who claimed in a lawsuit that Tarantino sold them all rights and did retain the right to publish his original version. Eventually, they relented and allowed the publication.
But Tarantino’s selective withdrawal from the competition is good fortune of whatever nominee made it into the selected group of five in his place had he been nominated. It should be noted though, that Tarantino’s non-involvement with the WGA should be seen as harming his chances at the Academy Awards considering that he has won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar twice now.
The Writers Guild Awards will be announced on February 1.