To arrange lunch with Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. prexy Lorenzo Soria in early December is like setting a golf date with Karl Rove for early November — the word “busy” does not do their schedules justice.
Soria arrives in the Four Seasons dining room after a late-morning HFPA press conference with Alan Alda and Martin Scorsese. Since “The Aviator” is a Miramax film, he also had a private chat with Harvey Weinstein.
“We talked about what’s on with Miramax and then we talked about his diet — he’s very skinny,” says Soria. “Then I asked him if he could give a hand with somebody I would like to present the nominations.”
There, in a nutshell, is the life of an HFPA president: One moment he’s a journalist with special access to one of Hollywood’s key figures; the next, he’s got some Golden Globes business to handle.
The fact that he wears two hats is not lost on Soria. He’s well aware the HFPA has “this sort of double and sometimes conflicting role of being jurors of an award that plays an important part in the studios’ marketing strategy; and on the other hand, of being journalists serving our outlets. And we’re making our income not as jurors, but journalists.”
The HFPA presidency pays $56,317 a year. But a comparable job at a nonprofit with $10 million in assets and $6 million in annual revenue would be $250,000. The exec director at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences makes $318,171.
Considering how hair-pullingly crazed Soria is during the December-January award season, $56,317 would be undercompensation as a monthly salary.
The son of Italian Jews who left Italy for Argentina before the war, Soria, 53, is an L.A.-based correspondent for Italy’s L’espresso. When he was 30, he moved to Los Angeles (“I was kind of bored, I needed something new”), married an American, had a son, and has been an HFPA member since 1989.
Soria is now in the last six months of his two-year reign as the organization’s president. The end of the term should make his other master, L’espresso, quite happy, since his HFPA work frequently forces him to decline assignments. “I have many doctor visits,” he jokes. “L’espresso thinks I’m very sick.”
As he eats lunch (squash soup for starters, tuna tartare as the entree), Soria begins discussing the biggest change he thinks should be made in the HFPA presidency: splitting the job in two.
He feels that one job should be about maintaining relationships with studios and publicists, attending press conferences, and dealing with all the things Golden Globe — presenters, announcers and so on.
There’s also the work that involves dealing with HFPA’s internal problems, including competition among members. Soria describes this under the general heading of “grievances.”
It’s a bit of a coincidence, but a flesh-and-blood example of the time-consuming, relationship-soothing work the HFPA president performs is seated across the room in the person of Michael Moore.
Yesterday, Soria had breakfast with Moore (who, for the record, wears his trademark baseball cap even while eating indoors at a four-star restaurant).
The meeting was to smooth feathers over the exclusion of “Fahrenheit 9/11.” As a doc, it’s ineligible for a Globe, and there was a motion within the HFPA to give the populist documentary maker a special award, but it was voted down.
“The people at Lions Gate said Michael Moore is in town, why don’t you meet (him),” Soria says. “I think it was to send a message that there was nothing personal. That it was more of a case where we followed our rules.”
The other job Soria would like to see created to split the workload would be more like that of an exec director. This person would deal with such issues as the corporate and legal matters, the $1 million the HFPA gave to charity this year, and production of the Globes with Dick Clark Prods. and contractual matters.
Soria says not a day goes by when the HFPA isn’t “approached about sponsoring a Web site or having a sweepstakes. You owe all these people at least an answer, even if its ‘no.’ ”
This corporate side of the job requires a continuity and knowledge that doesn’t come from holding a position that, according to the org’s bylaws, can only last two years. “I think if we had someone who could devote his time to these things, his salary would be paid many times over by the things he or she can bring in,” says Soria.
“I think we have outgrown our system of government,” he adds. “This organization was founded and run by members. That’s what makes it so special — and it’s endearing. But we’re not in the place where we were 10 or 20 years ago. There are so many interests around and so many lawyers and money and contracts. All this takes a lot of time, and for some reason, every problem goes to the president’s desk.”
One thing Soria says he wouldn’t change at all is the format of the Globes show, to which he takes a not-broke-don’t-fix approach. “The show has a simple and successful formula that nobody plans to tamper with.
“The formula is star after star after star presenting different awards without people singing songs, without people dancing, without emcees taking center stage. There are no plans to change this.”
After finishing his espresso, Soria has to rush off to another HFPA press conference, this time with Ben Stiller, Barbra Streisand, Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro.
“You’d be amazed,” he says, wryly, “at the number of powerful people in Hollywood who become your friend, especially in the two months leading to the Golden Globes.”