HFPA chief on his plans for fifth term

Camara gets candid on TV deals, tix for agents

It’s not mentioned during lunch at Morton’s, but Jorge Camara’s Hollywood Foreign Press Assn.’s electoral career has outlived the restaurant.

When the eatery opened in 1979, Camara was on his first term as HFPA president. And though Morton’s is closing this month, Camara is back for his fifth go-round.

He’s comfortable at a table near the door where he orders a non-alcoholic beer with lunch. He notes that anything stronger would put him half to sleep this particular afternoon when the pressures of pre-Globe screenings and planning are already being felt.

And while this might not be the L.A. restaurant with the most memories for Camara (on occasion he’d eat at Mr. Chow’s with the late Mexican film legend Cantinflas), it’s only a block from the HFPA office.

Camara was born in Merida, the capitol of Mexico’s Yucatan state, where his father owned a large general store. The family, prosperous enough to vacation in Cuba and send children to college in Mexico City, had some political roots.

The most famous was an uncle, Jose Maria Pino Suarez, who was elected vice president with Francisco Madera in 1910. In Mexico, this is akin to being George Washington’s veep — there’s even a Mexico City subway station named after him.

And though being HFPA prexy can be an intense job, Pino Suarez had a more difficult electoral career than Camara: he was assassinated in 1913.

Camara came to Los Angeles in 1965. He’d written for a publisher in Mexico City who had three movie magazines. When there were complaints about the Hollywood correspondent’s work, Carmara made the boss an offer he couldn’t refuse.

“I wanted to come to Hollywood and see what it was like,” recalls Camara. “So I said you don’t have to pay me more. Just pay me the same salary and I’ll do the job there.”

Friends helped him find an apartment in West Hollywood, where he still lives, and he augmented his salary with other jobs including interpreting.

Three years after arriving, Camara joined the HFPA (a process he says was almost casual compared to how hard it is today) and over the years he also joined the L.A. Film Critics Assn., where he was once prexy, as well as a number of theater critics groups and the Broadcast Film Critics Assn.

It’s belonging to the last group that’s interesting. In years past, the BFCA kudocast has aimed at being a Globes rival as the primary pre-Oscar event. The org seemed to be making inroads when it went from E! to the WB. But with the demise of the Frog net, the show is back on cable with a three year deal at VH-1.

While most recent HFPA prexy Phil Berk was a bit more prickly when the subject of the BFCA awards came up — one sensed he felt about the BFCA the way the Academy feels about the HFPA — Camara is more diplomatic.

“We don’t feel threatened by any other organization that wants to give awards,” he says. “We’ve been doing this for 65 years and we prefer to concentrate on our own business.”

On other issues Camara is equally diplomatic. As an example, on the perennially touchy subject of talent agents wanting more tickets to the Globes, he goes out of this way to say he understands the tenpercenters’ needs and will do what he can.

“If we have the space, we’d be happy to accommodate them,” he says.

But he also says the HFPA’s main job in mounting the Globes is securing talent and it’s the publicists and studios who deliver.

So it might be a friendlier “no” when it comes to agents getting more tix, but it’s still going to be no.

Another major issue is the HFPA’s relationship to Dick Clark Prods., which produces the Globes show, and NBC, which broadcasts the event.

The parties have a contract that runs until 2011 to produce the show on the Peacock net.

DCP and the HFPA split NBC’s license fee after dividing the kudocast’s expenses. The roughly $4 million Dick Clark Prods. nets annually from the show makes the Globes telecast the production company’s crown jewel.

But earlier this year, the HFPA learned that Dick Clark Prods. was sold by Mandalay and Mosaic Media to the RedZone Capital investment group — on the morning the deal was published.

This did not sit well with the HFPA officers.

Camara says he was “surprised” and that his org “wished we were notified” of what the old and new DCP owners were planning to do. He says he recently met with RedZone execs to discuss the future.

Camara adds that the relationship has started cordially, but as for an early renewel of the contract “that depends on many things and it’s a little too early to talk about. But problems we’ve had in the past, we’re confident have disappeared.”

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