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SWANZ: writers awards take flight

On Wednesday evening, the New Zealand Writers Guild held its inaugural Scriptwriters Awards NZ 2010 (SWANZ). Twenty-one nominations competed for the seven awards on offer, ranging from the new (Best New Writer) to the more mature (Industry Mentorship Award). Over a hundred people turned up to enjoy, applaud, laugh and cheer their way through what will possibly be the shortest awards bash. But that’s screenwriters for you, pared back and succinct.

Oscar Kightley proved a perfect choice of MC, setting a light-hearted tone for the evening by offering a series of quotes about writers and writing. “’Writers are like ladies of easy virtue. They write first for love, then for the love of others, and finally for money.’ Whatever stage of your career you’re at, welcome.”

Outlining one of very few notes of a serious nature for the evening, he explained that the judges had made their assessments off the scripts alone, not watching clips or taking into account production budgets or values.

Getting down to the business of opening envelopes, Kightley offered, “We’re going to start this evening the Pacific way … with a hiding. No, with a prayer.” But it was a celebration, from top to toe.

Five writers had two shots at the cherries going into the evening: Mike Riddell for Best Feature Film Script (The Insatiable Moon); Sam Peacocke for Best Short Film Script (Manurewa); and Natalie Medlock and Dan Musgrove for Best Play (Christ Almighty!). All were also nominated in the New Writer category. Rachel Lang also did double duty, nominated for the Industry Mentor award and for the Best TV Drama Script (Outrageous Fortune: s5, e17).

In the end, only one came away a winner at all, Sam Peacocke winning two very attractive gongs. Ironically, he was the one winner of the evening not present, so his awards were collected by Manurewa producer Kristian Eek. “Sam is in London, but would appreciate this after the huge snub at the Qantas awards,” he offered, collecting the Best Short Film Script award. Collecting the second award, he added, “Sam’s still in London.”

Gerard Johnstone, having spoken graciously and elegantly at the announcement of the Escalator greenlights, managed the shortest acceptance acceptance speech of an evening that was never destined to be long. Collecting the first award, for Best TV Comedy Script, he was asked if he’d like to say a few words. “No,” he said, “but thanks.”

Donna Malane and Paula Boock took out the Best TV Drama Script with Bloodlines, beating off James Griffin and Rachel Lang, both nominated for Outrageous Fortune episodes.

Writer’s Guild president Peter Cox made a brief speech about the importance of all members of the industry looking out for each other and how the world would be a lonelier and sadder place without stories, before cracking back into “what awards ceremonies are all about … free drinks.”

One could surmise that writers are not always well-recompensed for their efforts by the number of winners who made their way to the stage still clutching their drinks.

Fiona Samuel took out the Best Play award with Ghost Train. “Now I hope there’ll be a theatre with the balls to put it on,” she said, accepting her award.

NZWG Board Member Briar Grace-Smith took home the Best Film Script Award for The Strength of Water, thanking Armaghan Ballantyne and Fiona Copland for their support. “I’m normally a kakapo at night,” she said. “If I come out it’s to squawk at my kids.”

Other NZWG board members Athina Tsoulis and Linda Niccol also lent a hand, Linda doling out the awards and Athina trying and failing to keep secret the winner of the mentorship award.

The winner, Roger Horrocks, briefly lent some gravitas to the proceedings in his acceptance speech, but then it was back to the fun.

Steven Gannaway, with whose prayer Oscar Kightley had opened the proceedings, closed out the formal part of the evening with thanks to all who had helped make the event happen. He could easily have said “made it a success”.

Holding the event the night before the SPADA conference kicked off was good timing, drawing people already in town for other business. It was a cracker of an evening, and was – as Kightley said – making history. “In a hundred years, when they look back at this first ceremony …”

When they do look back, they’ll see that in 2010, there were 7 worthy winners from 21 high calibre nominations, and that the art and craft of writing, for stage and screen, were being well practised by people who – even if they spend a lot of time alone – knew how to celebrate.

The winners were (marked with an asterisk) are:

Best TV Comedy Script
Kate McDermott – Go Girls: Series 2, Episode 9
*Gerard Johnstone – The Jaquie Brown Diaries: Episode 4

Best TV Drama Script
Rachel Lang – Outrageous Fortune: series 5, episode 17
James Griffin – Outrageous Fortune: series 5, Episode 16
*Donna Malane and Paula Boock – Bloodlines

Best Short Film Script
*Sam Peacocke – Manurewa
James Blick – Roof Rattling
Paul Stanley Ward – Choice Night

Best Play
Pip Hall – The 53rd Victim
Natalie Medlock and Dan Musgrove – Christ Almighty!
*Fiona Samuel – Ghost Train

Best Feature Film Script
Gaylene Preston – Home By Christmas
Mike Riddell – The Insatiable Moon
*Briar Grace-Smith – The Strength of Water
Taika Waititi – Boy

New Writer Award
*Sam Peacocke – Manurewa
Natalie Medlock and Dan Musgrove – Christ Almighty!
Mike Riddell – The Insatiable Moon

Industry Mentorship Award
Rachel Lang
*Roger Horrocks
Glenis Giles

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