HBO's telefilm "Bessie" has earned 12 Emmy nominations, including Best TV Movie. That recognition "feels incredible" for executive producer Lili Fini Zanuck. "We had already won the Critics' Choice Award, so of course we were a little nervous about the Emmy nominations," she adds. "All of sudden when you get that many, you just can't even believe it. It also speaks to the fact that it wasn't a single element, like in some movies where an actor gets nominated but nobody else. This lets you know that in its totality [the film] works." (Watch our complete video chat below.)
But it took a long time to get there. "I first became involved in the project 22 years ago," says Zanuck. "We could not get it made then. We went from studio to studio. We set it up many times, and nothing happened." One of the main concerns for studios was whether the film would find an audience overseas, but everything changed once the project was picked up by HBO.
"I think the advent of HBO makes what you can do with your movie a whole new game," she says. "I think you're going to see more very important filmmakers, like Scorsese with 'Boardwalk Empire,' who are going to come to television because it's going to be the only place where we can tell certain stories."
Zanuck is no stranger to awards success. The groundbreaking producer won the Best Picture Oscar for "Driving Miss Daisy" (1989). She was only the second woman to win that award, and 10 years later, in 2000, she became the very first woman ever to produce the Oscars telecast. Putting on such a large-scale event is a daunting task, but Zanuck embraced the unpredictability of live TV. "I didn't think anything could go wrong because when you're watching the show, if something goes wrong you love it."
We'll see if everything goes right for "Bessie" when Emmy winners are announced in September.
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Photo: Lili Fini Zanuck at American Cinematheque Awards, 2014. Credit: Jim Smeal/BEI/REX
Photo: Queen Latifah in "Bessie." Credit: HBO/Everett/REX