Damian Chazelle
Credit: Daniel McFadden

Whiplash, the tense music-school drama inspired in part by writer/director Damian Chazelle’s own days behind a drum kit, has been blindsided by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Online Oscar voters have discovered that despite Sony Classics submitting and campaigning for a Best Original Screenplay nomination, the Academy has classified Whiplash in the Best Adapted Screenplay category.

That decision is based on the fact that Chazelle initially produced Whiplash as a short film in 2013, making this year’s feature, technically, based on material previously published or produced. However, Chazelle wrote the screenplay for the full-length feature first, and the short, which debuted at Sundance, was made to attract notice and funding to tell the story on a larger scale. In other words, the short was actually adapted from the full-length screenplay, and not the opposite. “When we first shot the short, it was really just something to show investors, kind of as a sample for the feature,” Chazelle told EW last January. “My hope was to use the short to make the feature, [then] make the feature and take it to Sundance. That was always the dream.”

Whiplash was a strong contender for a nomination in the Best Original Screenplay, and still could land a mention in Best Adapted. However, the race might be slightly more competitive in the latter category, with The Imitation Game, Gone Girl, The Theory of Everything, Wild, Inherent Vice, and the Coen brothers’ Unbroken also in the mix.

“We submitted it as an original screenplay to the Writers Guild and the Academy because that made total sense to us, ” Sony Pictures Classics co-president Michael Barker told Deadline after the New York Film Critics banquet on Monday night. “Remember when we had Frozen River, it was a similar situation. Whiplash has been accepted as an original by the WGA. Now the Academy have made this designation that it is in the Adapted category and they are not obligated to tell either the writer or the company that has the film of the designation. So it’s a surprise to us. I wish I had more information. And they don’t really give you a reason. I wish the Academy could give an explanation.”

Frozen River, the 2008 film that starred Melissa Leo, earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay even though writer/director Courtney Hunt had produced a short film four years earlier about the same character and setting.

Oscar’s Adapted vs. Original Screenplay regulations have always been a little confounding. For example, many Best Original Screenplay Oscar winners are for biopics, like Milk and The King’s Speech. Meanwhile, a totally original sequel, like Before Midnight, is classified as Adapted because it features characters from a previous film.

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