As I entered the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza on my way to the 2015 Producers Guild of America Awards, I was at once struck by the awesome beauty of the lobby – a lavish, dimly-lit reception area bathed in deep blacks and rich mahoganies – and utterly confused as to where I was supposed to go. From the looks of it, there were at least four or five events going on at the place that night, or perhaps the dress code always calls for a black tie and tails. I took my chances and went down one of the many escalators in the building, and was relieved to find out I was going the right way: after all, I only had ten more minutes before the red carpet began.
First challenge of the night: making my way to the check-in table. I can see it just past one of the many red-velvet roped stanchions they’ve set up throughout the building, and instead of being able to cut right through I’m informed by security to go around the escalator, thus walking in a complete circle. These folks are very particular about which way you walk.
As I approach the table, I am greeted to my first disappointment of the night: my badge is good for the red carpet only. That not only means no seat in the actual ceremony, which no doubt includes a delicious, very expensive dinner and a variety of fine wines, but no access to a press room from which to watch the show on a television. I swallow my pride so as not to cause a scene, and decide to figure something out after I’ve performed my duties on the red carpet.
I descend another flight of escalators and make my way to the showroom where I see camera crews have already setup. Experience tells me this must be the place. Now for the second challenge of the night: finding my spot on the red carpet. Placement is everything. After all, you’re going to be spending a full ninety minutes of your life standing here. You don’t want to be placed next to some crazed paparazzi whose going to make your night a living hell.
Once again, I have to navigate through the intricately placed stanchions just so I can get to the carpet. I think I see a way in, but it requires me reentering the room. It’s not that complicated: I literally have to walk in, turn forty-five degrees and walk back in. Yet the friendly security guard posted at the door informs me that this is an exit, even though there is yet anyone exiting.
Finally I do what I should have done in the first place, and use the long legs nature gave me to step over the ropes. As I search for the card with my name on it, I’m greeted with my second disappointment of the night: my placement on the red carpet. How to best describe this to you? Imagine being at the very end and off to the side, with three other press members separating you from the action. While waiting I become friendly with the reporters next to me who are similarly dismayed by the rotten hand they’ve been dealt.
From where I’m standing, it’s hard to get a good photo of the stars. My friend with the hi-definition camera is out of town for the week, so I’m stuck using my iPhone. I open the camera app and am informed that I’m unable to take a photo because my memory is full. As I frantically delete pics of the seashore and past meals to clear up space, the first set of honorees begin to arrive.
Let me be perfectly honest about something from the get-go: I’ve never really been one for red carpets. It’s hard to talk to anyone with any semblance of intelligence when shouting over all of the noise going on around you. Celebs don’t seem to really like them either: they’ve become conditioned to being asked tacky questions about their love life and hairstyles, thus encouraging them to get in and out as fast as possible.
A few of the publicists I know approach me. We exchange “hellos,” they comment on my awful placement on the carpet, and they ask if I’d like to speak with some of their clients. Naturally I say yes. Having cleared up what I imagine would be an ample amount of memory on my phone, I prepare to take video interviews. It might not be the best way to go about it, but it’ll do in a pinch.
I speak first with Andrew Millstein, President of Disney Animation, here with nominee “Big Hero 6.” He says “Disney Animation is in a very creatively vital phase right now. We like to call it a creative renaissance, and it’s nothing you take for granted. You just keep pushing forward as hard as you can.”
I then speak with Karen Kramer, wife of the late director Stanley Kramer, know for his socially conscious films such as “Inherit the Wind” (1960), “Judgment at Nuremberg” (1961), and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” (1967). She’s there with their daughter Kat to present the annual Stanley Kramer Award to Ryan Murphy’s AIDS drama “The Normal Heart.” “This is the kind of film Stanley would have directed,” Mrs. Kramer says with pride. “He tackled these subjects – racism, religion, the Holocaust, nuclear war – at a time when it was still taboo.”
I then speak with Chaz Ebert, wife of the late critic Roger Ebert, and here with nominees Steve James, Garrett Basch, and Zak Piper for their film “Life Itself.” Mrs. Ebert greets me with a smile, saying how much they love Gold Derby because we were predicting them to win. She tells me, “I hope people will walk away from this movie filled with Roger’s love for life.” I have to admit, this was an emotional moment for me: Roger Ebert had a huge impact on my work and my life, and as James puts it, “I can’t think of a more compelling subject for a documentary about appreciating film and appreciating life.”
I have to rely on memory for most of this because as I later found out, my videos stopped recording after about thirty seconds each. I know this wasn’t my fault because I remember hitting the stop button at the end of each interview, so I’ll blame it on lack of memory on my phone. What little remains is of such a bad audio quality they might not have been worth posting in the first place.
I glance at the red carpet every so often to see if I should take some pictures. As I’ve said before, I was given a bad place on the carpet. I try to move in close for some snapshots, but can only get so far before I’m invading somebody’s personal space. If you look close enough, you can just make out J.K. Simmons’ head as he chats with a reporter. And there’s Bennett Miller with his fellow “Foxcatcher” producers. The Oscar nominee has been having a pretty good week despite his film being left out of the Best Picture lineup. Speaking of directors, there’s “Birdman” helmer Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, who already has a twinkle in his eye: perhaps he knows something no one else does yet. I caught Edward Norton talking very seriously with somebody, then laughing shortly thereafter. The best shot I got was of Felicity Jones, and that’s just because she stopped to get her photo taken by a reporter from “Vogue.”
Some of the celebs I couldn’t get photos of because my phone kept filling up with space were Jeff Goldblum, who’s talking with the guy from “Architectural Digest” about the feng shui in his favorite room in his house; Kerry Washington, who’s racing across the carpet before she can get stopped by someone curious about what dress she’s wearing; and Jennifer Lawrence, who honestly has enough photos taken of her on a daily basis. She does get asked about what dress she’s wearing, and her answer is “I don’t know.”
Now that the red carpet has ended and everyone’s packing up, I have two problems that need solving: (1) what am I going to do about that $12 parking ticket for the hotel; and (2) how am I going to see the ceremony. I go back to the check-in table to find some more information, and am informed to find somebody else. After wandering around downstairs, I find what appears to be a pressroom, and saunter in with the confidence of a man whose badge gives him the right to be there. For the first time in the evening, I am greeted with zero resistance from security.
Sometimes you can find some pretty good food in these pressrooms. Tonight I find a veggie platter with some green humus. I think there were sandwiches earlier, but I wandered around for too long and missed out on them. On the bright side, I was able to snag a Pepsi before the last one was taken.
I take my seat next to an intern from the PR firm in charge of the show. I ask what I should do about my parking; she says she still has to figure that out herself. It’s starting to look like I may actually have to pay the $12. I look at the other interns and find them all feasting on dinners provided to them for all their hard work. I secretly pray that one of them won’t want theirs as I much on my veggies.
The show starts ten minutes late. It happens. People are mingling. We’re informed at the beginning that the ceremony will be over by 10:30. As the acceptance speeches run long and the interns start to sweat, I wonder if they’re going to hold true to that. I finally ask the right person about my parking, and am given a ten-hour validation. Like the can of Pepsi, you have to be grateful for life’s small victories.
It’s difficult at times to hear the ceremony. At times, the pressroom can be as noisy as the red carpet. If you’ve seen one acceptance speech, you’ve seen them all. The big difference is that at ceremonies such as this, where winners aren’t inhibited by the thirty-second-or-less rule, speeches tend to go on for a while longer. And boy, can these producers talk. Gale Anne Hurd of “Walking Dead” and “Terminator” fame, accepting her David O. Selznick Lifetime Achievement Award, not only gave us a complete history of her life, but of Selznick’s as well. Warren Littlefield, one of the producers of the TV series “Fargo,” recounted the coldest day on set, with a temperature of 35 degrees below zero and a wind-chill that dropped it to 45 below. The Norman Lear Award was presented by Lear himself to Brad Pitt’s production company Plan B, an honor Pitt was obviously super stoked to receive. At the age of 92, the creator of such groundbreaking shows as “All in the Family,” “Sanford and Son,” “The Jeffersons,” and “Maude” is still a great orator.
Finally, after the various prizes and lifetime achievements have been doled out, the evening is winding to a close. Bryan Cranston, who just delivered a classy acceptance speech as one of the producers on “Breaking Bad,” returns to the mic to give out the final award. Those of you who forgot what a funny guy Cranston could be would be delighted by his impeccable comedic timing. He opens the envelope and announces “Birdman” as the winner, and the room is thrown into chaos. Some of us expected the winner to be “Boyhood,” which the sound of the “b” at the beginning tricked us into hearing. Other expected “The Imitation Game,” which better fits the mold of a PGA winner. Others still expected “American Sniper,” which made a ton of money over the last weekend. But no, it’s “Birdman,” and as Inarritu ascends the stage, he gives a shout out to his fellow nominees, saying “there are two kinds of films: those that could be made by anybody, and those that are the beautiful expressions of their makers.” Again, I’m paraphrasing from memory.
I leave the pressroom to find those that sat in on the actual ceremony beginning their mass exodus as well. There’s Goldblum again, ready to return to his favorite room in his house. And there’s Miller chatting with fellow directing nominee Morten Tyldum of “The Imitation Game;” I expect they’ll be seeing a lot of each other in the coming month. As I ascended the escalators, you could feel the nervousness in the room as the Best Picture race had suddenly been thrown into disarray. It feels as if anything could happen at this point, and I like it.