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Publicist Guild Awards reflect evolution of profession

ICG Publicist Guild Awards @ 50

That the annual ICG Publicists Awards luncheon falls on the Friday before the Academy Awards might seem like poor scheduling by those who are deep in the trenches of awards season.

HONOREES
Lifetime Achievment Award
Kirk Douglas
Motion Picture Showmanship Award
Kevin Feige
Television Showmanship Award
Chris McCumber and Jeff Wachtel
NOMINEES
Maxwell Weinberg Publicists Showmanship Award — Film
• “Argo” (Warner Bros.)
• “The Avengers” (Disney)
• “Flight” (Paramount)
• “Les Miserables” (Universal)
• “Life of Pi” (20th Century Fox)
• “Skyfall” (MGM/Sony)
Maxwell Weinberg Publicists Showmanship Award — TV
• “Chicago Fire” (Wolf Films/Universal/NBC)
• “Elementary” (CBS TV Studios)
• “Homeland” (Fox 21)
• “New Girl” (20th TV)
• “Person of Interest” (WBTV)
• “Revolution” (WBTV)
Les Mason Lifetime Achievement Award
Hilary Clark
• Sheryl MainHeidi Schaeffer
• Murray Weissman
• Deborah Wuliger
Press Award
• Alex Ben Block, the Hollywood Reporter
• Mike Fleming, Deadline Hollywood
Pete Hammond, Deadline Hollywood
• Jeff Jensen, Entertainment Weekly
• David Karger, Fandango
• Scott Mantz, Access Hollywood
Intl. Media Award
Philip Berk, Australia
Jean Cummings, Japan
• Ramzi Malouki, Tunisia and Tahiti
• Elisabeth Sereda, Austria
• Lynn Tso, Taiwan
• James White, U.K.
Excellence in Unit Still Photography — Film
• Claire Folger
• Dale Robinette
• Jamie Trueblood
• Merle Wallace
• Wilson Webb
• Barry Wetcher
Excellence in Unit Still Photography — TV
• Richard Foreman Jr.
• Matt Kennedy
• Justin Lubin
• Suzanne Tenner
• Robert Voets
• Michael Yarish

However, the timing of the fete that brings together members of the Publicist Guild and Intl. Cinematographers Guild to honor achievements in film, television, publicity, press and still photography is no coincidence.

The first luncheon, held in 1963, was a creative solution to a tough predicament faced by publicists at the time, recalls former guild president Henri Bollinger.

“In my early 20s,” says Bollinger, now chair of the Publicists kudos, “when I got my job at KTLA, the publicity director told me, ‘I’ll give you a little piece of advice. If you’re ever with one of the stars and there’s a still cameraman around, make sure that you are not included in any shot.’ I said, ‘Why not?’ ‘Because if you are, and that picture is published in any publication, it’s basis for getting dismissed.’ ”

Bollinger says this was a policy at every major studio at the time.

“They did not want the public to believe that a publication was writing about a movie because a publicist fed the material to them,” he says. “If you were thanked for an Oscar award, that would have been disastrous.”

Frustrated, a group of influential studio publicists, helmed by then-guild president Chuck Moses, decided to remedy the situation.

“Those guys were brilliant,” says Bollinger. “They said, ‘We’re going to create these awards and place them just before the Oscars to let the industry know who is responsible for bringing audiences to these theaters. This way, they can’t blame any one of us individually. Are they going to have us all fired?’ ”

It was a unifying moment for a group that has always considered itself somewhat fractured.

“Publicity is one of the most difficult areas of entertainment-related activity to be clearly defined,” says Bollinger, listing studio publicists, unit publicists, television publicists, agency publicists and independents as its sub-categories. “All of them have different needs and different interests.”

But trying times have made the group find common ground. “By the mid-’70s, the movie industry was having a really tough time,” says Ed Crane, who served as guild president for two terms in the ’90s. “Overnight, those fabulous studio publicity departments bordering Hollywood’s golden era became empty shells.”

The demise of such departments resulted in the unexpected rise of female PR reps, as agencies started recruiting employees.

“A lot of publicists came from journalism, and were not that willing to take on entry-level jobs. Women were, so you began to see an influx,” says Bollinger. “When I first became a member of the guild, 85% to 90% were male. Today, certainly 60%-65% of all working publicists are female.”

In the early 2000s, with only about 500 active members, the Publicists Guild was finding itself without proper resources to provide its members with useful services and programs, often relying on IATSE for financial support. When Tom Short came into office at IATSE, his solution to this was to merge the publicists with the cinematographers.

“Quite a few board members — and regular members as well — were concerned, because we had no voice in the merger,” says Bollinger. The Cinematographers Guild, with its 6,000 members, absorbed the Publicists Guild, which despite initial fears that its identity would be compromised, soon came to accept the union.

“We saw that the leadership of ICG was willing to listen to us,” says Bollinger. “They evaluated what our demands were, what was realistic and what wasn’t (and) were willing to consider them and address them.”

It’s a partnership that works to this day. “Part of it is the fact that cinematographers understand the true value of the work of the publicist,” says current prexy Steven Poster. “Plus the still photographer has always been in the camera union, but the person the still photographer works with the most is the publicist.”

The 50th anniversary of the first luncheon is a great time to take stock in how far these two groups have come together.

“Some of the publicists luncheons have been true highlights for me because they’re so joyous,” says Poster, who this year looks forward to honoring Kirk Douglas. “They’re really, truly, fun and pressure-free events that are right in the middle of the biggest pressurized weekends in the entire business.”

ICG Publicist Guild Awards @ 50
Awards reflect evolution of profession | Kirk Douglas valued publicists’ role | Marvel’s Feige keeps tentpole fare fresh | USA’s McCumber, Wachtel prioritize marketing

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