PGA on cowboy trail

'Brokeback' front and center at kudos

“Brokeback Mountain” has lassoed in the Producers Guild of America’s top feature award, with Diana Ossana and James Schamus winning the Darryl F. Zanuck producer of the year award.

Focus Features’ cowboy romance topped Sony Classics’ “Capote,” Lionsgate’s “Crash,” Warner Independent’s “Good Night, and Good Luck” and Fox’s “Walk the Line” for the prize, presented Sunday night at the Universal Hilton before about 1,000 attendees.

“I’d like to dedicate this award to our astonishing and deeply committed cast and crew, who labored above and beyond the call to make this film,” Ossana said in her acceptance speech. Ossana’s a first-time feature producer and Schamus is the president of Focus. The genesis of “Brokeback” as a film dates to 1997, when Ossana read Annie Proulx’s short story in the New Yorker while visiting writing partner Larry McMurtry.

Ossana subsequently co-wrote the “Brokeback” script with McMurtry. Project gained traction when Ang Lee signed on as director after completing “The Hulk,” and Schamus, who’s collaborated with Lee on eight other films, greenlit the feature.

“Brokeback” has grossed more than $42 million domestically despite not having gone above 1,000 playdates until this weekend.

The PGA gave its first animated feature trophy to DreamWorks’ “Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit,” honoring producers Claire Jennings and Nick Park. “Wallace” topped Disney’s “Chicken Little,” Dream-Works’ “Madagascar,” Fox’s “Robots” and Warner Bros.’ “Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride.”

HBO won a pair of TV trophies for “Entourage” in episodic comedy and “The Life and Death of Peter Sellers” in longform. ABC’s “Lost” won the episodic drama nod, Warner Bros. TV’s “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” took the variety prize for the second year in a row and CBS’ “60 Minutes” received nonfiction kudos.

The PGA’s feature nod, based on voting by the org’s 2,700 members, would seem to make “Brokeback Mountain” a front-runner in what’s expected to be fairly wide-open contest for the best picture Oscar. A significant number of PGA voters are also members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.

“Brokeback Mountain” has gained momentum in recent weeks with noms from SAG, WGA and DGA and its four Golden Globes wins on Jan. 16, followed by nine BAFTA nominations the next day. Oscar noms are announced Jan. 31, and the Academy Awards will be presented March 5.

The PGA has a solid record in predicting Academy nominees and winners, with a two-thirds match rate. Eleven of the 16 PGA recipients have gone on to take the picture Oscar, though the orgs diverged last year as “The Aviator” drew the PGA trophy while “Million Dollar Baby” won the Oscar.

“The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” was a double PGA-Oscar winner in 2004, joining “Driving Miss Daisy,” “Dances With Wolves,” “The Silence of the Lambs,” “Schindler’s List,” “Forrest Gump,” “The English Patient,” “Titanic,” “American Beauty,” “Gladiator” and “Chicago.”

The PGA’s profile has been elevated in the wake of the Acad’s decision last year to follow the guild’s determination in producer credits. Producer-financier Bob Yari recently threatened to sue the guild after it didn’t give him a credit on “Crash,” but the PGA has defended the process, which included an arbitration (Daily Variety, Jan. 19).

No one mentioned Yari’s threat during Sunday’s ceremonies. But PGA president Kathleen Kennedy received ap-plause after noting that guild has launched the process of properly determining who’s a producer rather making it “an award for people who don’t actually do the job.”

“Lost” won the Norman Felton trophy for drama series, beating Fox’s “24,” HBO’s “Six Feet Under” and ABC’s “Boston Legal” and “Grey’s Anatomy.” “Lost” producers are J.J. Abrams, Damon Lindelof, Bryan Burk, Jack Bender, Jean Higgins and Carlton Cuse.

“Entourage” won the Danny Thomas award for comedy series, topping Fox’s “Arrested Development”; HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” which won last year; CBS’ “Two and a Half Men”; and ABC’s “Desperate Housewives.” “Entou-rage” producers were Doug Ellin, Stephen Levinson, Julian Farino, Mark Greenberg and Wayne Carmona.

“The Life and Death of Peter Sellers” took the David L. Wolper trophy for longform, beating out a trio of HBO entries — “Empire Falls,” “Warm Springs” and “Lackawanna Blues” and TNT’s “Into the West.” “Sellers” producers were Freddy De Mann, George Faber and Charles Pattinson.

In variety, “DeGeneres” topped ABC’s kudocast of the Academy Awards; NBC’s “Late Night With Conan O’Brien”; CBS’s “Late Show With David Letterman”; and HBO’s “Real Time With Bill Maher.” Besides DeGeneres, producers on the syndicated talker were Mary Connelly, Ed Glavin, Andy Lassner and Karen Kilgariff.

The PGA announced during the presentation that it has renamed the variety award in honor of the late Johnny Carson.

In nonfiction, “60 Minutes” topped FX’s “30 Days”; CBS’ “The Amazing Race 6” and “The Amazing Race 7”; and ABC’s “Extreme Makeover.” Jeff Fager was the producer on the “60 Minutes” segment centered on the murder of Emmett Till.

Previously announced honors went to Clint Eastwood (the Milestone Award); Roger Corman (the David O. Selznick achievement award in theatrical motion pictures); Norman Lear (the Producers Guild achievement award in televi-sion); “Good Night, and Good Luck” producer Grant Heslov (the Stanley Kramer award); and AOL chairman-CEO Jon Miller (the Vanguard Award).

Steven Spielberg, who’s working with Eastwood on “Flags of Our Fathers,” presented the award to Eastwood and said, “He’s remained the same man he’s always been — that is to say, totally unimpressed with himself.”

“I keep doing this — producing films, directing films, acting in films — because you know something: you learn something every time,” Eastwood said. “I’ve been very lucky to to able to work in a business where I enjoyed going to work every day.”

Queen Latifah emceed the event, hosted by Intel and sponsored by Volvo.

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