The beleaguered but intrepid publicity team for The Interview, the satirical movie about North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-Un that triggered the horrendous Sony Studios hack last year, won the Maxwell Weinberg Publicist Showmanship Award for best motion picture publicity campaign at the 52nd Annual Publicists Awards. The Weinberg award for best TV publicity campaign went to the CBS Television Studios team that promoted Jane the Virgin, a popular new series based on a Venezuelan telanovella that appears on the CW Network. The luncheon ceremony, with some 900 in the audience, was held Friday at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.
Bob and Harvey Weinstein, co-chairmen of The Weinstein Company, known for its attention-grabbing and frequently unconventional publicity, got the Motion Picture Showmanship Award. “There’s no doubt in my mind that publicity has been the lifeblood in how we promoted our films,” said Bob Weinstein, adding that publicity “helps market the movie in a way advertising and commercials can never equal.”
Harvey Weinstein noted the company has distributed many issue-oriented movies that had budgets much smaller than big studio films. A current example cited is the campaign for The Imitation Game, about computer genius Alan Turing, who helped break the Nazi Enigma Code in World War II. He was later punished because he was a homosexual and committed suicide. Weinstein said his company’s well-publicized effort to get the records cleared for Turing and for another 49,000 British gay men who were also persecuted by the U.K. government has also helped promote The Imitation Game’s awards prospects. But it also was “for a damn good cause,” he declared.
In a nod to the growing role new media plays in producing those streaming “binge watching” series like House of Cards, Ted Sarandos, chief content officer of Netflix, received the Television Showmanship Award. (It may have to be renamed because of the growing number of shows that don’t appear on TV). Sarandos said Netflix has “reached milestones most people would have thought impossible only a few years ago,” adding that by the end of 2019 Netflix expects to be “a truly global company.”
Andrew Caraco, Sony’s executive vice president of theatrical releases, in accepting the award for the publicity team from Columbia Pictures (a unit of Sony Studios) said they were prepared for an unconventional campaign to promote The Interview, because of its unconventional plot – two American journalists sign on for the clandestine job of assassinating North Korea’s leader. “But then suddenly it was Nov. 24 and our world changed,” said Caraco.
When all hell broke loose at Sony after the entertainment company’s computers were hacked, a black skull appeared on employees’ screens. The various publicity teams, working on campaigns for not just The Interview, but a whole slate of movies, discovered they had lost all their communications tools: “No computers, no email, no Microsoft Word, no voicemail, no shared drives, no digital access whatsoever. It took us back, not to 2004 or even 1994 — it was like 1974,” noted Caraco. But the pubsters were determined that “the show must go on and refused to let a little thing like an international hacking scandal bring us down.”
“On the flip side,” added Caraco, “in the world of silver linings there is no greater publicity opportunity than having the president of the United States come out and say he wants the American people to see your movie. It really does work wonders for awareness and interest.”
Arpi Ketendjian, director of publicity for CBS Studios, praised the publicity team on Jane The Virgin and also the shows cast “who literally did every single interview we ever asked of them.”
The publicists are members of the International Cinematographers Guild (IATSE Local 600) which sponsors the annual kudos fest. ICG president Steven Poster, at the start of the ceremonies, noted that “We live in the age of social media and there’s no turning back. That’s why we appreciate social media today and celebrate the talented publicists who are making it work for the dynamic entertainment industry we’re proud to be part of.”
Poster also asked for a moment of silence for camera crew member Sarah Jones who died exactly a year ago on Feb. 20, 2014 on a shoot in Georgia when she was hit by a train, due to inadequate safety procedures by the production team. Her death has turned into a campaign for improved safety on sets and on location shoots.
Melissa Kates of ViewPointLA received the Les Mason Award, the highest honor the publicists give to one of their own members. “I love this job. I was born to do this job,” said Kates. “I’ve always been fascinated with the world of actors. To say I got my dream job is an understatement.”
Veteran comedian Bob Newhart, 85, star of several mega-hit television shows over the years with a career that dates back to 1960 when his “Buttoned Down Mind of Bob Newhart” comedy LP launched him, got an enthusiastic standing ovation when he accepted the organization’s Lifetime Achievement Award. “I’m very proud of making people laugh,” said Newhart. “It’s a very important thing these days, especially these days. Comedians allow you to get through something and carry on. That’s what we do and all the people in comedy have ever done.”
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences president Cheryl Boone Isaacs received the president’s award from Ava DuVernay. The Selma director noted she started out as a publicist, when she first met and worked with Isaacs. “I looked up to her not only because she was a woman of color but because she was the best,” said DuVernay. She pointed out that many entertainment industry execs, producers and creative artists like herself, started their careers in publicity, including Isaacs. “There’s a reason for this,” she added. “The publicist learned to maneuver both sides of the show business equation — the show side and the business side. They are masters of storytelling but they also understand the business.”
The Bob Yeager Award for community service was awarded to Warner Bros. publicist Justine Gamez. She won the award for helping to create a charitable nonprofit after a cataclysmic typhoon and tsunami hit the Philippines, where she comes from. “I am the first in my family to work in Hollywood,” said Gamez, “and it’s amazing to me to see the impact that this community has, to see a relatively small group of people affect millions of people all around the world. That’s what actually prompted my humanitarian efforts. With the right plan and strategy you are capable of helping a lot of people.”
The press award went to Dave Karger of Fandango.com, and the international media award was presented to Rocio Ayuso of Spain. Other award recipients included Wilson Webb for excellence in unit still photography for motion pictures and Ursula Coyote for excellence in unit still photography for television.