By JAKE COYLE
NEW YORK — Wa Wa Wee Wah? Borat Sagdiyev himself might have exclaimed that catch phrase upon hearing that the largely improvised ‘‘Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan’’ had been nominated today for a best adapted screenplay Oscar.
The majority of the movie, starring Sacha Baron Cohen as Borat, is fueled by Cohen’s interactions with real people — most of whom weren’t reading from a script. Needless to say, if they had been supplied dialogue, many of the unwitting actors wouldn’t have sued (as they have) over their inclusion in the film. ...
And still a team of four writers was nominated for the Oscar: Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Peter Baynham and Dan Mazer. The same four, plus Todd Phillips, were credited with the story.
What in the name of Kazakhstan is going on here?
When ‘‘Borat’’ was introduced to the press last fall, the production notes from studio 20th Century Fox said ‘‘there was no script’’ for the film, which it explained was ‘‘a new form of filmmaking for an age in which reality and entertainment have become increasingly intertwined.’’
Does a film need a screenplay to be considered for best screenplay? Can anyone beside Yogi Berra answer such a question?
Bruce Davis, executive director of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, says the academy defers to the Writers Guild when it comes to writing credit. (‘‘Borat’’ is nominated in the adapted category because it’s based on a pre-existing character — in this case, Baron Cohen’s TV show ‘‘Da Ali G Show.’’)
Jody Frisch, a spokeswoman for the Writers Guild, says there is, in fact, a script for ‘‘Borat.’’ The WGA earlier nominated ‘‘Borat’’ for best adapted screenplay.
‘‘They turned in a script,’’ Frisch said today. ‘‘There was a script. The Writers Guild basically recognizes the creative process of writing, whether it’s traditional drama or comedy, whether it’s reality or documentary or animation. It’s all writing.’’
The WGA raised eyebrows in 2003 when it honored Michael Moore’s ‘‘screenplay’’ for his documentary ‘‘Bowling for Columbine.’’ Like ‘‘Borat,’’ that film included a large amount of narration, but relied mostly on interviews and real-life interaction.
Similarly, the WGA has battled production companies to establish writer credit for those penning reality television programming.
‘‘There’s always improvisation on a movie, if you think about it — even the very traditional, original drama,’’ says Frisch. ‘‘It’s a collaborative process. ... A lot of it is, you’re creating the arc of the story.’’
Baron Cohen, who didn’t receive the best-actor nomination that some expected, did not immediately return requests Tuesday for a comment on the best screenplay nomination.
He did, though, last week at a question-and-answer session with the WGA, say: ‘‘We’d sit around the writers’ room and imagine the scene. What do we want it to look like?’’ He added, ‘‘Looking at the script and the finished film, they’re remarkably the same.’’
‘‘Borat’’ will compete for best adapted screenplay against the scripts for ‘‘Children of Men,’’ ‘‘The Departed,’’ ‘‘Little Children’’ and ‘‘Notes on a Scandal.’’