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In this year's Oscar race, writer/director Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash is seen as a heavy contender. J.K Simmons is a safe bet to walk home with the Best Supporting Actor trophy for his terrifying performance, and a Best Picture nomination - at least - seems like a lock. Unfortunately, where the film might wind up having trouble is in the writing category, as a technicality has left the movie's script mislabeled for Best Adapted Screenplay instead of Best Original Screenplay on Oscar ballots.
Deadline first caught wind of this story, and goes as far as to suggest that the swapped categories could wind up hurting Whiplash's chances for nomination simply because people don't know where to find it listed on the ballot. The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences failed to contact distributor Sony Pictures Classics about the category placement before ballots went out on December 29th, and Damien Chazelle was not made aware of the decision either.
So why did this happen? According to Deadline, when Chazelle and Whiplash's producers were first trying to get financing to make the movie, they filmed an 18-minute scene from the script that they planned to use to try and get investors. This plan worked and the movie got money, but the short by itself was so effective that it was entered into the Sundance Film Festival in 2013 and won the Short Film Jury Prize. Because of this pre-existing "short," the Academy determined that the Whiplash feature film was an adaptation, which is why its script is categorized for Best Adapted Screenplay. Of course, this isn't really right, as the footage was always meant to be a part of a larger whole.
What makes this story even stranger and more complicated is that the Writers Guild of America has apparently declared that Whiplash is an original screenplay under their rules, which only makes the Academy Awards' decision more obtuse. What's more, Deadline says the 2008 drama Frozen River took a very similar financing path as Whiplash - producing a portion of the script to sell the movie to investors - and yet that movie was nominated for Best Original Screenplay. This whole situation feels like it could have been sorted out with a simple phone call and explanation, but obviously that communication never happened.
So what happens now? It's hard to say. It's possible that Whiplash winds up getting ignored on the Best Adapted Screenplay portion of the ballot - resulting in it missing out on a nomination it deserves - or the mistake could make it so that a script that was actually originally intended as an adapted screenplay doesn't get just credit. We'll have to wait and see how it all shakes out when the Oscar nominations are announced on January 15th.