What's most surprising about today's announcement that the Writer's Guild will bestow the Laurel Award, its highest honor, on Steve Zaillian is that they haven't done so already. After all, we are talking about the best literary screenwriter in Hollywood's bullpen. We're talking about someone who received his first Oscar nomination over twenty years ago for his adaptation of Awakenings, Dr. Oliver Sacks' non-fiction account of working with a patient who emerges from a coma. Then, three years later, in 1994, Zaillian won the Academy Award for writing "Schindler's List," based Thomas Keneally's bestseller about a German factory owner who risks his life to save over 1100 of his Jewish employees from Auschwitz.
Turns out Zaillian was just getting started. Over the years, he's carved a coveted niche for himself as Hollywood's go-to scribe for its most prestigious and/or pricey projects. Basically, Zaillian is the first call studio heads make when they have a project that's too big to fail. He's proven himself especially adept nailing such high-profile literary adaptations as Tom Clancy's Clear and Present Danger , Thomas Harris' Hannibal, and Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men (which Zaillian also directed).
In some ways, Zaillian's instincts have proven themselves to be too good to fail. He recently dipped his toe into the documentary world and executive-produced a couple of documentaries. The result: Two of the most successful non-fiction films in recent memory, "The Cove" and "Anvil!: The Story of Anvil," both of which debuted to great acclaim at the Sundance Film Festival. And Zaillian's streak doesn't look like it's going to end anytime soon, given that his lineup screenwriting gigs include adaptations of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl who Played with Fire.
So, we rest our case: Zaillian long ago proved himself a virtuoso talent, especially when it comes to literary adaptation. What took you so long, WGA?
Photo: © 2006 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc.