RARA-AVIS: Memento

From: Mark Harris ( mark_r_harris@yahoo.com)
Date: 12 Feb 2002

Carrie asked:

<I'm thinking this is on topic, because I know this list has discussed the short story that the movie Memento was based on. And that's the question - how did the flick manage to get a "best original screenplay" Oscar nomination? I swear the credits said "based on the story by . . ." Was the story not published before the film came out, or did somebody at the Academy goof?>

The story had not been published. Alex Fung dealt with this issue on his excellent film awards page:


December 16

<I received a great letter from Mr. Norman Shetler, who picked up on a remark I made in Oscar Column #1:

I was under the impression that the short story by Chris Nolan's brother was actually published AFTER the film had been made, which would make it an Original Screenplay, at least if you go by the official full name for that category "...based on material previously produced or published". I did some investigation on this matter, and Mr. Shetler appears to be on the money. While Christopher Nolan's screenplay was based on the short story by his brother, Jonathan, and hence would generally be considered as an 'adapted' script, the original short story was not published until March 2001 (in Esquire magazine, apparently), the same month the film received its theatrical release, and (obviously) well after the picture had been shot and put in the can. As such, given that the official title of the Academy Awards category is "Best Screenplay Based On Material Previously Produced Or Published" (emphasis mine), it's difficult to see how the Memento screenplay could fall into this category; the script was indeed on based on other source material, but it hadn't been published at the time the screenplay was written. As such, it follows that Memento's screenplay should probably be under consideration in the "Best Screenplay Written Directly For The Screen" category.
(One should remember that the "Best Original Screenplay" and "Best Adapted Screenplay" terms bandied about are loose short-form [and occasionally inaccurate] versions of the aforementioned actual category titles, which ought to be interpreted literally.) As Mr. Shether pointed out later in his letter, this isn't an unprecedented scenario. In 1968, the screenplay for 2001: A Space Odyssey was penned by Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke before Clarke's novel hit the printing press, and as such the 2001 script wound up with a Best Original Screenplay nomination that year (eventually losing out to Mel Brooks' The Producers).

If I'm interpreting the Academy rules correctly, then, the Christopher Nolan screenplay ought to be a contender in the "Best Screenplay Written Directly For The Screen" category (a.k.a. "Best Original Screenplay"). Of course, it would be easy to confirm this if there were any For Your Consideration trade advertisements in support of the script -- they've touted Joe Pantoliano for Supporting Actor so far, but litle else as far as I know. Can anyone in the know confirm that Memento will be an Original Screenplay for the purposes of the Academy Awards?>

January 1

<In Oscar Column #3, I explored the confusion surrounding the potential AMPAS classification of Christopher Nolan's screenplay for his film Memento, which was based on a short story by his brother Jonathan that went unpublished until after the film was shot and released. Through some convoluted logic
(and referring to the 2001: A Space Odyssey precedence), I finally concluded that Nolan's screenplay ought to be under consideration in the
"Best Screenplay Written Directly For The Screen" Oscar category, rather than the "Best Screenplay Based On Material Previously Produced Or Published" category.

A few readers thinking along the same lines disagreed with my conclusion:

"I'm still confused by the reasoning for Memento being considered an Original Screenplay. As you said, the Adapted category is actually "Based on Material Previously Produced or Published". I understand that the short story was not previously published but it was previously produced, and the use of "or" instead of "and" in the category title seems to indicate that it doesnt need to be both. Now the Original Screenplay category is called "Written Directly For the Screen". How could Memento qualify here? It clearly was not written directly for the screen."
- Larry McGillicuddy

"As much sense as your logic makes, I've gotta disagree on the idea that Memento should be considered in the Original Screenplay (to use the convenient shorthand) category.

Yeah, the full name of the category is "...previously produced or published in another medium," but it seems to me that as soon as the story was written, it had been "produced in another medium." The category doesn't say "...previously PUBLICLY produced...in another medium," after all."

- Keith Chaffee

First of all, I'm grateful that my reader[s] are sharp-eyed enough to catch these nuances and aren't reluctant to call me on them -- thanks for keeping me on my toes, guys. Nevertheless, I think my assessment of the situation is still correct due to an understandable misinterpretation by Mssrs. McGillicuddy and Chaffee above. Any WGA or AMPAS members out there, correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure that in the AMPAS category title "Based on Material Previously Produced or Published" (emphasis mine), "produced" does not refer to the act of generating or formulating the idea or story; I believe it refers to the act of producing the material as per a stage production or a previous film production
(short or feature-length). This hence covers situations like stageplay adaptations and occurrences like Sling Blade (which was preceded by the short film Some Call It A Sling Blade), and as such the Jonathan Nolan short story for Memento was neither produced nor published.

Mr. McGillicuddy brings out a good point with his issue of Memento not being "written directly for the screen". In fact, literally speaking, the two sets represented by "Best Screenplay Written Directly For The Screen" and "Best Screenplay Based On Material Previously Produced Or Published" are by no means exclusive; if you think about it, most adapted screenplays could be accurately described as "Best Screenplay Written Directly For The Screen Based On Material Previously Produced Or Published" -- while it's based on existing material, the script itself is specifically written for the screen. In fact, in most cases "Best Screenplay Written Directly For The Screen" is rather redundant -- screenplays are written for the screen, teleplays are written for television, stageplays are written for the stage. (The only case this distinction would really be applicable is when, say, a teleplay is adapted into a screenplay.) Ouch, I'm starting to get a headache.

In any case, I've been kindly informed by a chap with dealings with the Memento publicists -- I'll withhold his name in case this turns out to be false so as not to put him on the spot -- that the plan is to indeed promote Christopher Nolan's script in the Original Screenplay category. I've yet to see any corroborating FYC ads; we'll have to see.>

As we have seen, AMPAS has indeed clarified the issue by its placement of the Memento nomination in the Original Screenplay category.

Mark Harris

===== Mark Harris Educational Consulting College Admissions Strategies 773-914-3472 http://admissionsplus.blogspot.com/

__________________________________________________ Do You Yahoo!? Send FREE Valentine eCards with Yahoo! Greetings! http://greetings.yahoo.com

# To unsubscribe from the regular list, say "unsubscribe rara-avis" to
# majordomo@icomm.ca.  This will not work for the digest version.
# The web pages for the list are at http://www.miskatonic.org/rara-avis/ .

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 12 Feb 2002 EST