At 70, Foreign Press org expands its reach

Showbiz Philanthropy Leader Report 2012

Like Hollywood itself, the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. has grown over the decades, from humble beginnings in the 1940s — members initially held informal gatherings in private homes — into the influential org it is today. And that growth has mirrored the increasing importance of foreign film markets for today’s studios and production companies and their international business models.

According to Judy Solomon, a journalist (for Israel’s Maariv) who joined the HFPA back in 1956, the early years were “difficult for us, because you couldn’t find a publicist in the 1960s or even the 1970s who knew more than two or three foreign magazines — usually the obvious ones like Vogue — outside the U.S. market. And most people at the studios weren’t that interested in the foreign markets that we all covered. Now, that’s all changed completely, especially as some two-thirds of a big blockbuster’s income comes from foreign markets. And those markets are expanding every year, while the domestic market is shrinking.”

She goes on to note that Hollywood’s “growing recognition” of the importance of foreign markets also coincided with the rise of the Golden Globes Awards.

The first Globes were handed out in 1944. But, “The decision to create separate categories for drama, and musical or comedy (in 1951) and then the Cecil B. DeMille Award a year later were also key moments, along with including television (in 1955),” says Jorge Camara, a six-time HFPA president who joined in 1964 and writes for Mexico and the Dominican Republic markets.

The show, which was first televised in 1958 locally in L.A., and then nationally from 1964 onward, has subsequently become a popular predictor of the Oscars. “Going on national TV was a key moment in our history,” says Solomon, “because it instantly became much more recognized and important. Our show was always well-attended by all the top stars, but now audiences could see them having fun and relaxing in a casual atmosphere. There’s not all the pressure of the Oscars.”

With the gradual decline of the studio system, the HFPA faced another challenge, says Solomon. “We couldn’t get interviews or coverage with a lot of big stars, which is why we began our press conferences in the 1970s. We invited the stars to come and talk and organized everything. The first one was done at the Beverly Hilton, and we’ve done them ever since.”

While stars dutifully attend press junkets and tours, the HFPA often manages to get access to talent often denied to other outlets and organizations. When exiled director Roman Polanski did a rare interview for “The Pianist,” “we got him live via satellite,” Camara says. “And for ‘Carnage,’ we actually flew to Paris to talk to him — the first time most of us ever met him.”

The HFPA will have to continue adapting to the rapidly changing media and cinematic landscape. “Who knows what it’ll look like in even a few years?” says Camara, “with the Internet and all the new ways films are being distributed now. And maybe like celluloid, print journalism will be extinct. I hope not, but our members will have to deal with all these new issues.”

New technology

While younger members know smart phones and email, older HFPA members can still recall typewriters and Telex. “I used to fax a lot, and also FedEx big, heavy Betacam tapes back to Finland, along with my stories and color slides three times a week,” reports Erkki Kanto, who writes for the Finnish market, and who has been the HFPA’s IT director since 2000. Now 66, the 20-year member says technology has been, “a huge benefit for all journalists filing abroad. It’s easier and faster.”

The only drawback? “The high speed of today’s global communications means that it’s also far more competitive, in terms of filing stories,” adds Kanto.

Husam “Sam” Asi, 42, who writes for U.K. Screen and Al-Quds Al-Arabi, says he embraced new technology “from a very young age” and it has made his HFPA coverage far more efficient.

“When I go to one of our press conferences, I use my iPhone as a recorder or video camera, I have a pocket keyboard and I can transcribe the interviews and file a story before it’s even over,” he says.

For Asi, even email is often outdated and too slow. “When I write stories, I’ll use Google Docs, and instead of emailing them, I’ll share them online with my editor in London,” he says. “We can then work on it together live, he can make comments and so on, and I can instantly modify or change anything. That way, you avoid all the usual back and forth with email.”

Asi, who began using this system two years ago, says it, “expedites the whole writing and editing process immensely,” and adds that he “can’t even imagine” what it was like using Telex and fax.

Trustees of the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. recommended $1,243 in grants for 2012.

American Film Institute – $30,000
CalArts – $60,000
Cal State Fullerton Philanthropic Foundation- $10,000
Cal State Long Beach – $50,000
Cal State Los Angeles – $50,000
Cal State Northridge – $50,000
Columbia U. – $50,000
Los Angeles City College – $15,000
Loyola Marymount U. – $15,000
New York U. – $40,000
UCLA – $65,000
UCLA; Festival of New Creative Work – $25,000
U. of North Carolina – $10,000

Professional Training and Mentoring:
The Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment – $11,000
Film Independent, Project: Involve – $35,000
Independent Filmmaker Project – $15,000
Intl. Documentary Assn. – $10,000
Natl. Assn. of Latino Independent Producers – $15,000
Streetlights – $7,500
Sundance Institute – $50,000
Visual Communications – $7,000

Pre-professional Training and Education:
California State Summer School Arts Foundation – $20,000
Ghetto Film School – $20,000
Inner-City Arts – $25,000
Inner-City Filmmakers – $25,000
Los Angeles County High School for the Arts – $20,000

Film Preservation:
The Film Foundation – $250,000
Los Angeles Conservancy – $35,000
Outfest – $30,000
UC Berkeley, Pacific Film Archive – $15,000

Promote Cultural Exchange through Film:
American Cinematheque – $40,000
FilmAid Intl. – $50,000
Latin American Cinemateca of L.A. – $10,000
Levantine Cultural Center – $17,500

Special Projects:
Ensemble Studio Theater – $15,000
Gingold Theatrical Group/Shaw Festival – $5,000
Lollipop Theater Network – $15,000
Los Angeles County Museum of Art – $35,000
The Pablove Foundation – $5,000
Young Musicians Foundation – $10,000
Young Storytellers Foundation – $5,000

Showbiz Philanthropy Leader Report:
Barbara Davis: Philanthropist of the Year | HFPA shares its Golden Globes wealth with arts orgs | At 70, Foreign Press org expands its reach | Newman legacy at Weinstein Co. | Hollywood goes global to help a continent in need
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