It’s Friday morning at 10 ayem as I reach (by cell phone) executive producer Bob Gazzale en route to the first production meeting after Thursday night’s AFI Life Achievement Award tribute to Al Pacino at the Kodak Theater. The “live” show was two hours long. Gazzaale and director and coproducer Louis J.Horvitz must edit the show down to 88 minutes by next Friday to air June 19 on USA Network. The timing isn’t the only challenge–some of the prime presenters’ enthusiasm extended well beyond a few descriptive, unairable comments from the more than exuberant cast in one of the most colorful AFI tributes. Gazzale (happily) admitted to me, “How’re we going to pull this off?”
Robin Williams, “Insomnia” with Pacino, got the tribute off to a roaring start in inimitable Williams rapid-fire fashion. Sean Connery, last year’s recipient, received one of the many standing ovations. He had surprised the AFI graduates Wednesday by his appearance. The grads gave him a rousing cheer. He made the award presentation that day to Sir Howard Stringer, Chairman of the AFI Board of Trustees. The Pacino presenters plus appropriate filmclips, who followed: Oliver Stone (“Scarface”), Lili Sobieski(“88 Minutes”), Chris O’Donnell and Gabrielle Anwar (“Scent Of A Woman”), Kirk Douglas, another standing ovation, led the audience in shouting “Ho–Aah!” (until they got it right!), Ed Harris (“Glengarry Glen Ross,”) Winona Rider, (“Looking For Richard”), Jeffrey Wright (“Angels In America”), George Lopez’ editable take on “Scarface,” Samuel L.Jackson (“Sea Of Love,”), Andy Garcia (“Godfather 3”) described Pacino getting in the mood for a dialogless take, and then a pefect wrap intro of Pacino by Sean Penn (“Carlito’s Way”). Pacino, highly emotional on receiving the award, paid special tribute to his mentor, Charles Laughon. Pacino’s production company is named “Chaz Productions.” As Gazzale recalled the night, he told me, “Kirk Douglas and Sean Connery–to Jamie Fox and Robin Williams–that’s how the AFI reveals its true self.
The evening also marked the final show for Jean Firstenberg, the President and CEO of the AFI who is departing at year’s end. She too received a so-well-deserved standing ovation. She introduced her family which boasts a long Hollywood history. Another of her accomplishments “The AFI–100 Years–100 Movies,” produced by Gary Smith which airs June 20 on CBS. It will salute the greatest movies of all time. Morgan Freeman hosts. The two AFI events–airing on the 19th and 20th are a continuing tribute to the AFI’s 40th anniversary.