The Road to the Oscars: Best Adapted Screenplay


How do you go from dreaming of being a screenwriter to one day waking up an Oscar nominee? Here are brief biographies of this year’s nominees for Best Adapted Screenplay to help answer that question.

Amy Adams faces the unknown in Arrival. Photo courtesy Paramount Pictures


This intellectual, sci-fi thriller was adapted by Eric Heisserer from Ted Chiang’s award-winning novella, “Story of Your Life.” Heisserer got his start when he sold his popular web series, The Dionae House to Warner Brothers. He then went on to make a name for himself in the horror genre with films like Final Destination 5, Lights Out and the Nightmare on Elm Street reboot. Even with his success, he had to write Arrival as a spec script before he could get the film made. In 2012 the spec landed on the Hollywood Black List (the yearly compilation of the best unproduced spec scripts). Check out his thoughts on writing Arrival at

Dev Patel searches for his roots in Lion. Photo courtesy The Weinstein Company


Luke Davies, an Australian poet, novelist and screenwriter, adapts Saroo Brierley’s memoir A Long Way Home. Davies is known for his film Candy, which he adapted from his own novel, and the period piece, Life about a photographer assigned to shoot James Dean for Life Magazine. Find out more about Lion in this Google Talk.

Oscar nominees Denzel Washington and Viola Davis in Fences. Photo courtesy Paramount Pictures


Noted playwright August Wilson adapted his own Pulitzer Prize-winning play. A self-educated, struggling poet, Wilson wrote his first play in 1978 and eventually wrote a cycle of ten Broadway plays, each set in a different decade of the twentieth century. Written in 1987 and set in the fifties, Fences is part of that cycle. Wilson wrote several screenplays for Fences before his death in 2005. However, the film’s twenty-nine-year journey to the screen began even earlier. There was almost immediate interest in the play, though by the late eighties it had stalled. The film’s early struggles are outlined in this 1991 New York Times article.

Moonlight nominated for eight Oscars. Photo courtesy Plan B Entertainment


Well known on the film festival circuit, writer/director Barry Jenkins adapted Tarell Alvin McCraney’s story “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue.” Jenkins attended Florida State University film school and collaborated with several of his classmates on Moonlight. His previous feature, Medicine for Melancholy was also a festival favorite. Read an interview about the making of Moonlight at the Los Angeles Times.

The women behind the astronauts, Hidden Figures. Photo courtesy Fox 2000 Pictures

Hidden Figures

Alison Schroeder graduated from USC and was a television writer (Mean Girls 2) when she heard about the Hidden Figures project. Having grown up in Cape Canaveral and working as a NASA intern she felt an affinity for the project and lobbied for the assignment. Take a look at her interview with The Hollywood Reporter. Schroeder’s co-writer, director Theodore Melfi has decades of experience making independent features but wasn’t truly noticed by Hollywood until he made St. Vincent with Bill Murray. He talks about the experience of making Hidden Figures at Hidden Figures is based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterly.

Have you seen this year’s Oscar crop? Which are your favorites?


Marshall Thornton has an MFA from UCLA in screenwriting. He spent ten years writing spec scripts and has been a semi-finalist or better in the Nicholl, Samuel Goldwyn, American Accolades, One-In-Ten and Austin Film Festival contests. As a novelist, he writes the Lambda Award-winning Boystown Mysteries. The eight book series follows the cases of a gay detective in turbulent 1980s Chicago. Marshall has also been known to write the occasional romantic comedy. You can find him online at You can follow him on Twitter: @mrshllthornton

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