The Bikeriders to Campaign for Best Original Screenplay Oscar

Writer-director Jeff Nichols‘ “The Bikeriders,” with Austin Butler, Jodie Comer and Tom Hardy, made a splash with festival-goers at the recent Telluride Film Festival. 20th Century Studios has revealed to Variety exclusively that the film will be campaigned for best original screenplay for the upcoming awards season, despite being inspired by the 1968 photo and interview book of the same name.

“The Bikeriders” movie tells a fictional story inspired by the Midwestern motorcycle club in the book’s photos, seen through its members’ lives over a decade. First published in 1968, the book by Danny Lyon explores his firsthand accounts of the Chicago Outlaws Motorcycle Club. Featuring black-and-white photographs and transcribed interviews conducted by Lyon from 1963 to 1967, the WGA has classified it as an original work rather than adapted.

Read: Variety’s Awards Circuit for the latest Oscars predictions in all categories.

“This is the most complex script I’ve ever written,” says Nichols during an interview for an upcoming Variety Awards Circuit Podcast episode. “What I love is narrative structure. It’s a book of photographs, and it has these interviews with these anecdotes. I placed those throughout [the script]. If that falls into one category or another, so be it. I’m proud that I took a thing that didn’t have a full narrative structure and made one. To be able to take words and images and somehow add them together, to give you a feeling of nostalgia — to give you a feeling of a time and place — it’s hard to do.”

“West Side Story” star Mike Faist portrays Danny, the writer and photographer interviewing Kathy (Jodie Comer) regarding the rise and fall of a motorcycle gang, the Vandals. Nichols says Danny is based on the author, a Chicago law student turned photojournalist who inspired the fictionalized script.

When voting for the crucial WGA Awards in January, WGA members will find him listed among the original screenplay candidates. Still, when it comes to the Academy, we won’t know the official answer until ballots are open to members.

Jodie Comer Jeff Nichols, and Austin Butler on the set of “The Bikeriders.”
Kyle Kaplan

Within the Writer’s Branch, a committee determines the eligibility of movies in their submitted categorizations and isn’t bound by the WGA. In years past, films including “Moonlight” (2016) were campaigned and labeled as “original” by the WGA — in the case of “Moonlight,” due to the play it was based on never being published, so it was moved to adapted by the committee. This has happened with one of Nichols’ previous awards contenders. His 2016 biographical drama “Loving,” depicting the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving (played by Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga) and their historic case that allowed interracial marriages, was also campaigned and labeled as an original work. And although Nichols credited the documentary “The Loving Story” by Nancy Buirski as the foundation for his script, the Academy deemed it an adapted work, although he was ultimately snubbed.

As most people know, an original work creates an entirely new narrative, while an adapted one transforms pre-existing material into a screenplay. The news comes after Variety exclusively reported Greta Gerwig’s smash hit “Barbie,” which she co-wrote with Noah Baumbach, is also being campaigned for original screenplay despite the official writing credit citing “based on ‘Barbie’ by Mattel” — a doll and toy company, rather than a published work.

The decision has been debated on social media on what constitutes an original or adapted work. Nonetheless, if the Academy decides to keep the original designation, Nichols may find an easier pathway to achieving his first career nom after worthy entries like “Take Shelter” (2011) and “Mud” (2012).

Nichols has carved out a special lane as one of the most vibrant American filmmakers. Though most of his six previous films have garnered critical acclaim, only a single Oscar nom has come for any of them: best actress for “Loving” star Negga.

“The Bikeriders” opens in U.S. theaters on Dec. 1.

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