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At the helm, in the trenches

DGA Awards 2013

MICHAEL APTED
Robert B. Aldrich Award

Michael Apted became more familiar with the powers of the DGA during the troubled production for “Thunderheart.”

After promising the Oglala Sioux he’d hold true to their story, Apted — who also directed a documentary about the subject (“Incident at Oglala”) — had to fight to keep the studio from cutting out all of the cultural material for TV broadcast.

“I refused to do it and sought the DGA’s help,” says Apted, the recipient of the 2013 Robert B. Aldrich Award for extraordinary service to the DGA. “They were fearless in their support. The TV company gave up and conceded. I was so impressed with their stand for my creative rights I involved myself more (actively) in the Guild.”

In his three-term tenure as DGA head, Apted helped navigate turbulent times, including figuring out the role of new media, looking at ways to strike a balance between embracing technology and protecting members’ rights.

The English director is best known in critical circles for his long-running “Up” documentary series — eighth entry “56 Up” was just released — and for a multifaceted career including James Bond and Narnia films, “Gorillas in the Mist” and HBO’s “Rome.”

“I’ve always enjoyed mixing documentaries and features,” Apted says. “They exercise different muscles, but each helps the other. Documentaries keep me light on my feet, and teach me to solve problems as they arise; features taught me how to construct stories and present characters — all useful lessons.”
— Craig Phillips

DENCY NELSON
Franklin J. Schaffner Achievement Award

David Letterman once said of Dency Nelson: “When the grenade goes off in the trenches, Dency throws himself on it for me.”

Nelson, who was then Letterman’s stage manager, was so moved that he cried.

As a stage manager for almost every major events and awards show since 1981, including 24 Oscarcasts, Nelson has built a career on navigating “the trenches.” He has also stage-managed special events, including Olympic Opening and Closing Ceremonies and President Obama’s “We Are One” inaugural event.

At every event, Nelson excels at one-on-one interaction with performers.

“It’s very gratifying every year at the Oscars when people come into the wings to rehearse,” Nelson says. “They don’t know my name, but a smile comes across their face because they know I’m going to take good care of them.”

ERIC SHAPIRO
Lifetime Achievement in News Direction

On Sept. 11, 2001, CBS News director and DGA honoree for lifetime achievement in news direction Eric Shapiro spent 16 hours in the director’s chair supervising live coverage of the tragedy.

“My daughter had just begun work downtown at a building not a block or two away,” Shapiro says. “There were stories like that among most of the team members, but we all pulled together and did what we had to do.”

Shapiro, who describes his job as not unlike that of an “orchestra conductor giving cues,” started his career in the CBS mailroom. An Emmy Award winner, Shapiro has directed coverage of every major news event since 1969, helped CBS transition from black and white to color, film to video and from standard to HD, and directed and oversaw design and redesign of many CBS News programs, including “48 Hours,” “America Tonight” and “CBS Evening News.”

SUSAN ZWERMAN
Frank Capra Achievement Award


Susan Zwerman entered college determined to study math, buther path changed after seeing Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

“I was so hypnotized by it,” Zwerman says, the Frank Capra Achievement Award honoree. “I made a leap of faith and never looked back.”

With the help of many DGA mentors, she worked her way up to assistant director and unit production manager. Inspired by the CGI work in “Jurassic Park,” Zwerman shifted to focus on vfx production.

“One needs to be a right- and left-brain thinker,” she says. “The visual-effects job requires both analytical skills and creativity.”

Now a teacher as well, Zwerman has organized technology and vfx seminars for DGA members, while also helping to start the Exceptional Minds school, preparing young adults with autism for careers in animation and post-production.

“Giving back, mentoring (and) taking an active leadership role have all been important elements of my life as a Guild member,” Zwerman say. “It’s extremely gratifying to be recognized by my peers for this work.”

DGA Awards 2013
Success to succession | Milos Forman speaks for the rebels | At the helm, in the trenches

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