By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood February 18, 2013 at 3:06AM
The East Coast WGA Awards show got under way at New York's BB Kings a good hour before the pokey West Coast, and attendees tweeted up a storm. Soon the trades ran with the news that the key film awards had gone to the adapted screenplay for "Argo" and original script for "Zero Dark Thirty." WGA West was still running clips from nominated screenplays like "Silver Linings Playbook" after the winners had been announced ("Argo"'s clip was the WGA joke, natch.)
"Lincoln" writer Tony Kushner accepted his Paul Selvin award from Steven Spielberg as "Argo"'s win was revealed in NYC. Lena Dunham had already tweeted her "Girls" win from New York, to her accepting producer in LA, Jenni Konner. (Full list of film and television winners is here and below.)
At evening's end, Jessica Chastain gave out the adapted screenplay, finally; "Argo" earned the most applause, and won. A jittery Chris Terrio said that when he began work on "Argo" in 2008, he couldn't pay his rent in New York and defaulted on his student loans. He thanked his director Ben Affleck, who was watching on the WGA live stream.
When original script winner Mark Boal went up to accept his award, he made a point of saying that his director, at least, was supporting him in person. "I want to celebrate Kathryn Bigelow, who came here." She got a big round of applause. "Kathryn, you took this script and made it live, breathe and fly." Boal beat out "Flight," "Looper," "The Master" and "Moonrise Kingdom." As for the Oscars, the WGA did not include Boal's main competitors Michael Haneke ("Amour") or Quentin Tarantino ("Django Unchained").
Documentary screenplay went yet again to Malik Bendjelloul's "Searching for Sugar Man," which is expected to also win the doc Oscar.
The high points of the night were Spielberg presenting an honorary award to Kushner --"Having the writer on set with me is a luxury...nothing gives me more security," said the director, who was surprised to get scribbled notes every day from Kushner--like the theater. This movie was a hybrid, Spielberg observed. In his elegantly literate acceptance speech, Kushner said: "Whatever we write about, we write about freedom...we are among those who insist on the untrammeled imagination."
Alfred Molina presented to Brit playwright/screenwriter Tom Stoppard ("Anna Karenina"), who got a standing ovation. Stoppard said that when he used to come to Hollywood decades ago he was terrified, but now it only makes him nervous. He expressed his admiration for the simple lines in movies that derive their detonation from settings, like Harrison Ford to Tommy Lee Jones in "The Fugitive": "I don't care."
Matt Weiner, who later accepted an episodic win for "Mad Men," gave a lovely tribute to the late great Frank Pierson, who preferred the grind of "Mad Men" to retirement.
Nathan Fillion of "The Castle" hosted the packed ballroom event at the JW Marriott downtown; "I will land this awards show upside down if I have to," he said.
12,000 WGA members voted for these awards. WGA winners often predict the Oscar screenplay winners. The winners have matched up 13 out of the last 18 years.