The 53rd annual Publicists Awards luncheon held Friday at the Beverly Hilton Hotel was a star-spangled event with presenters including Johnny Mathis, Sally Fields, Michael Keaton and Ed Asner. Lily Tomlin was there to receive the organization’s lifetime achievement award.
The Walt Disney Studios team behind the record-setting global box office smash Star Wars: The Force Awakens received the Maxwell Weinberg Publicist Showmanship Award for the best motion picture publicity. The Max Weinberg award for television publicity went to the 21st Century Fox team behind ratings hit Empire.
Though the overall effort was huge, Michelle Sewall, Disney’s senior publicity veep said she also exercised incredible restraint. “You could not do anything you had done before.” One of the top accomplishments of her team, she noted, was to keep the plot line of the seventh film in the Star Wars secret until just before it debuted Dec. 16.
Open Road Films chief exec Tom Ortenberg got the Motion Picture Showmanship Award and John Landgraf, the chief exec of FX Networks, received the Television Showmanship Award. Ortenberg is the executive producer of Spotlight and Keaton, who starred in the movie, presented him with the honor.
Landgraf has shepherded many hit shows during his long stint at FX from The Shield to Fargo. Speaking last year at the Television Critics Association presentations, he stirred the waters when he told the critics that while this might be a new golden age for television, there was a glut in the making. With 400 originally-scripted series set to air this year “there is simply too much television,” he declared.
The Publicists Guild is a unit of the International Cinematographers Guild, IATSE Local 600. “This is a changing and evolutionary time in every part of our industry,” said ICG president Steven Poster. “The mega-speed at which you have to get the information out there… makes your job more difficult every day. Without you nobody would know who any of us are, or would like to be.”
A bittersweet high point of the luncheon came when publicist Murray Weissman was posthumously awarded the Les Mason Award, the highest accolade the publicists give one of their peers. Weissman was 90 and still active when he passed away last December. Among his accomplishments was doing publicity for Jaws when he was at Universal and, after he started his own firm, working on the campaigns for Oscar-winners Shakespeare in Love and Dances With Wolves, and television mega-hits including Mad Men and Breaking Bad. The much-beloved Weissman received a number of shout-outs during the ceremony.
Fields presented the award to her close friend comedienne Tomlin who kept the audience in stitches with her remarks. “This means to me more than the Oscar I don’t have,” she said. Tomlin, lifting up the crystalline award, had words of caution. “If you set them on a shelf near the window, the curtains will catch on fire.”
Mathis, the legendary crooner now in the 60th year of his career, presented songwriters Alan and Marilyn Bergman with a special award of merit from the organization. The husband-and-wife team are known for three Oscar-winning songs “Windmills of Your Mind,” “The Way We Were” and “Yentel” and many other hits.
The excellence in unit still photography for motion pictures award went to Barry Wechter. Chuck Hodes was the recipient of the award for excellence in unit still photography for television.
Elaine Lazelle, senior publicist at Walt Disney Studios, got the Bob Yeager award for community service, for the many charitable and community outreach efforts she has launched in her years at the Mouse House.
Bryan Alexander of USA Today won the domestic press award. He got a big round of applause for the brevity of his two-word acceptance speech: “Thank You.” Meanwhile, the recipient of the international media award was Yuko Yoshikawa, the Hollywood reporter for Reuters Japan.
In lieu of gift bags this year, the ICG Publicists made donations in honor of its members and sponsors to the Motion Picture and Television Fund.