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TV Awards

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For Hollywood, it’s “the most wonderful time of the year.” No, not the holidays, with its breathless, town-wide anticipation to see who has returned to the excessive levels of ’80s and ’90s-era gift giving, but rather, the period immediately after, when the tuxes and evening dresses stay out after New Year’s eve in order to do several rounds of extra duty as award ceremony outfits.The film biz becomes officially thrilled with itself, and in the long run-up to the Oscars—just as winter is giving way to spring—every other guild and professional society, from publicists to producers to costume designers, editors, visual FX wizzes, cinematographers, and more, will be honoring the previous year’s best work done by its members.But wait—it isn’t just film. It’s TV, too. All those groups reward members for work well done on the small screen as well.Yet the Emmy awards fall in a late summer/autumn window—too early to “kick off” the awards—and since no one ever holds awards after the Oscars, just as no one is allowed to shake the Queen’s hand, doesn’t that mean that all those people doing all that good television work feel slighted in the feature film feeding frenzy?Below the Line went out in search of answers to that very question.Some, who oversee awards, agree with Eric Roth, executive director of the Visual Effects Society, that “it’s not an issue at all.” The VES honors work not only in film and television, but in commercials and video games. And the non-film honorees don’t feel like poor cousins at a wedding reception: Roth’s criterion is simple: If you do good effects work, “and you’re in the television world, you want one of our awards.”Nor does he notice any difference in the level of studio support—which might include both screenings and screeners, to make acclaimed work readily available. But then, the VES is in a unique position, in that they make all their nominated work available online. “The only organization in Hollywood that has this online ‘view and vote,’” he states.But then, they are the tech wizards.Thomas Walsh, chairman of the Art Directors Guild council, agrees with Roth that among his members too, “I don’t know that [a distinction] comes up as an issue.”Walsh has a particular fondness for television work, of course, as the production designer on Desperate Housewives, but he’s worked in features, too, and sees less and less distinction between the two arenas. “We have to be grateful to the HBOs of the world for raising the bar,” he says, and sees little—or no—difference between “film-quality and TV-quality” work anymore.After all, he continues, “the expectations are the same.” It’s got to look good either way. That there might be a sense of TV being “lesser quality work” is no longer the case. Any such residual feelings are “your own insecurity,” he says.But as for the structure of award evenings, film awards tend to “cap” all the various evenings. He also concedes that as far as the official congrats biz goes, “features have a few decades on television, and are still used as a benchmark.”Though one might be careful of the phrase “feature film” because, as Walsh notes, with everything—big screen and small—moving to digits, “pretty soon no one will be able to say they’re a ‘filmmaker.’ We’re all doing the same work.”Editor Maysie Hoy Marlett agrees that it’s “an exciting time of year,” not only because of the prestige of the Oscars, but because the kudos, for both film and TV, bestowed by American Cinema Editors, have an aura of their own. Starting in features under the tutelage of Robert Altman, and having done TV work as well, she does concede that “film’s the big award (for ACE), because it gives a big hint” at who might nab the Academy’s slot a short time later.Unlike Walsh, she feels there’s still a “perception that ‘you’re just a ‘TV editor,’” lots of whom, she says, “want to do features.” But the pecking order has many permutations—i.e., “You won an Emmy? Then you can cut a feature.”Then again, “a lot of TV guys get work” on low-budget features when they’re bridging the gulf, because schedules are necessarily shorter, and in TV there’s “more pressure to produce quickly.” On the other hand, as HBO raises the bar, Marlett notes she’s been hired on a TV show because they wanted her “feature experience”—even if, later on, the producers thought she showed too much preference for film’s wide-shots over TV’s extreme close-ups.But more and more, the work—especially on cable—”is just as good as any feature,” which may force Hollywood to reassess its need “to pigeonhole everybody.”One who’s not being pigeonholed is cinematographer Don Morgan, being honored at this year’s American Society of Cinematographers festivities with the organization’s first-ever career achievement award—for television. Morgan, though, like many of his colleagues, has worked on features, too, but agrees for a long time there was the perception that “if you’re doing features, you’re in heaven; if you’re doing television, you’re in purgatory.”But—like Marlett—he also helped pioneer a more film-like “look” for the small screen, especially when he was hired for the TV series adaptation of the ’70s hit Serpico. “I just want it to look like the feature film,” he recalls the director saying.Then, when the network suits took a look at it, they found it “too dark, too moody” for the small screen. At least, the way that screen was back then. “I don’t shoot ’em any different,” he says of both his long- and short-form work. Though he notes when he was hired to take over a horror film shoot, his TV work habits allowed him to catch up so fast, the producers were surprised to find they suddenly had time to re-shoot things that had fallen off the production schedule.He likes the new digital tools too, not only because they’re collapsing the difference between the two types of work, but because there’s “lots of stuff to play with out there.” And Morgan is clear that despite the “lifetime” honor, he plans to keep playing, and maybe take a swing back to the feature side of things.One of the people in the audience watching Morgan get his award will be Vilmos Zsigmond, himself pretty honored among DPs. “We don’t look down on television,” he agrees, noting some of the TV he’s done himself, including the mini-series The Mists of Avalon, and the Diane Keaton-starring telefilm Surrender, Dorothy.He thinks that overall, cinematographers are “getting more recognition” in the last 10 years for their particular blend of artistry and craft, due to increasing viewer sophistication about how films are made, fueled, in part, by all the DVD “extras” now so widely available.But he also finds, at the present juncture, that as far as content, “television is more courageous”—more akin to taking chances on ideas, like so many of those films he worked on in the ’70s.Features, he thinks, have become too worried about not offending anyone, but he’d rather err on the side of boldness: “Art should be that way,” he concludes.And so, perhaps, should award shows, regardless of who they’re honoring. Thankfully, in the long run-up to Oscar, most of them are.

Written by Mark London Williams

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