An exclusive inside look at the Directors Guild Awards

The Directors Guild of America Awards were held Saturday night at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza, marking the second time in two weeks I’ve made the trek to Century City to attend an awards ceremony hosted at this lavish hotel that no tourist could possibly afford. The Producers Guild Awards were also here, and after that experience I know exactly where to go, from the parking garage to the lobby. It makes me proud to know I’m becoming a pro at this sort of thing.

I get there when it’s still relatively quiet: call it the calm before the storm. The paparazzi are still setting up their cameras; most of the reporters have yet to show; the bartenders are chilling the copious amounts of alcohol ready to be served to Hollywood’s elite. I find my spot on the red carpet and am relieved to find I will be able to take good pictures and possibly talk to a few people as well.

Unfortunately, although I was told to get there by 5pm, I’ve still got about another half-hour before the nominees start to arrive. I take to wandering, snapping pictures of the various bars lining the walls. I watch the P.R. people talking amongst themselves, biting their fingernails at the prospect of the show running long. I observe the security guards posted at the doors, ready to take down anybody who makes the mistake of entering through a designated exit.

It’s 5:30 and the nominees have started to arrive. I look down the aisle and my heart leaps with excitement when I see a tall, lanky man with grey hair at the very end. Could that be Clint Eastwood? I grab my camera and zoom in, only to find out this man is about twenty years too young to be who I thought he was. I’m not sure if this is a comment on how good Clint looks these days, or how haggard this poor gentleman appeared to be.

I chat with Leslie Linka Glatter, eventual winner for Outstanding Directing in a Drama Series for “Homeland.” She’s a television veteran, with over 60 shows to her credit, who worked as a modern dancer before directing her first short film, “Tales of Meeting and Parting” (1984), for which she received an Oscar nomination. “I think what’s exciting right now is that we’re in a new golden age of television,” she said, “with a lot of interesting writing, directing, and acting going on. So it feels like a gift to be able to work in all different genres, and different kinds of stories.”

I also spoke with Charlie Siskel, son of the late, great film critic Gene Siskel, and one of the nominated directors of the documentary “Finding Vivian Maier” (along with John Maloof). The film, a portrait of the renowned street photographer whose work wasn’t discovered until the last years of her life, is also nominated at the Oscars, and according to Siskel, “mysteries are great subjects for filmmakers, and this is really a detective story where we as filmmakers – and John Maloof, who discovered Vivian’s work – were puzzled by the story. Why would a nanny lead a secret life as a photographer, but never share that work during her lifetime? I think what we found was that Vivian wasn’t just a nanny who managed to take a bunch of great photographs: Vivian was an artist, through and through, masquerading as a nanny.”

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A few others come and go, and while I’m able to get some pretty decent photos, I’m unable to snag an interview with Richard Linklater or Morten Tyldum. They’ve spent way too much time on the other end of the carpet, and the publicists are anxious to get them inside. Towards the very end I can see Wes Anderson and Bill Murray, and try as I might, I just can’t get a good shot. I’ll wait till they get closer, I think to myself, but before I know it, they’ve vanished into thin air. And I’ve yet to spot the real Clint Eastwood!

One person I was able to talk to, although ever so briefly, was Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. His publicist tells me I can only ask one question. I’ve long been a fan of his work, and want my only inquiry into his film to be a good one. I ask what his artistic decision behind shooting “Birdman” in one unbroken take was, and he responds by saying, “for me, it was an extension of the state of mind of the guy, and that was the reason I wanted to do it. Not for any other reason. Also, it really excited me in a way, how to solve the puzzle. I thought, OK, how am I going to do this? I love the notion but how practically can we do it? It was something that excited me.” 

Finally the red carpet has come to a close, and I head to the pressroom to indulge in my free meal before the ceremony begins. They’ve provided us with a wide variety of sandwiches, chips, desserts, and sodas in the room across the hall. I grab a ham and a roast beef, along with a chocolate-chip cookie and a can of Coke. Just before I’m able to sit down and gorge myself, we’re informed that they’re doing things a little differently this year: they’re going to start the show with the opening remarks, present the first award of the evening, and then take a dinner break. And oh, this is about to start in four minutes.

I eat my food as fast as I can and make my way into pressroom. Paris Barclay, president of the guild and Emmy-winning helmer of such shows as “NYPD Blue” and “Glee,” asks everyone to keep their remarks to two minutes, and I pray to God these great orators will follow that rule. Jane Lynch, our host for the evening, takes the stage and informs us that Barclay made this request because he spoke for seventeen minutes last year. One can only assume she was teasing her “Glee” director. Finally January Jones presents the award for Outstanding Directing in Commercials to Nicolai Fuglsig for his Guinness and FEMA ads, and I can get back to eating.

As I exit, I find another meal being served in a separate room for those involved in the production. I leave my camera behind and hide my press badge, and discover a buffet of pasta, salad, and chocolate brownies. Unlike my last stint at this hotel, this time I will emerge from the evening well fed.

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Now that the honorees have eaten as well, the ceremony can get down to business. Next up are “Cheers” creators Glen and Les Charles to present the Lifetime Achievement in Television Award to James Burrows, whose resume is like an honor roll of classic TV. In addition to “Cheers,” he also served as director on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Taxi,” “Friends,” “The Bob Newhart Show,” “3rd Rock from the Sun,” “Frasier,” “Will & Grace,” and “We’re the Millers,” to name but a few. “He’s made more pilots than a hooker at a hotel bar,” joked Les, referring to the number of successful flagship episodes Burrows has steered in his career. Upon accepting his award, Burrows thanks his mentor Jay Sandrich, longtime director of “Mary Tyler Moore” and “The Cosby Show,” for helping pave the way for him.

Next is Taraji P. Henson, who can’t contain her excitement upon presenting the Outstanding Directing in a Comedy Series prize to Jill Soloway for “Transparent.” Soloway, the daughter of a transgender, said she hoped the show would help break down barriers for the trans community, and remarked, “I think it was brilliant casting Jeffrey Tambor as Maura: it’s as if someone you know and love is coming out to you as a transgender, and that helps in peoples acceptance of the trans community.”

With wins for Soloway, Glatter, Laura Poitras for “Citizenfour,” and Lisa Cholodenko for “Olive Kitteridge,” it was a good night for women behind the camera. As Glatter stated in the pressroom, “when women get up to bat, they do things pretty well. The challenge is to find the next batch of women directors.”

Throughout the evening, the five feature film nominees will each be presented with a silver medallion in recognition of their work. First up is Murray presenting to Anderson. Murray recounts how he was granted membership in the DGA to direct the film “Quick Change” (1990), and says, “I haven’t directed since, but I’ve paid my dues every year. Not only that, but I’ve been secretly directing.” Try as I might to hear Anderson’s acceptance speech, it’s drowned out by the paparazzi swooning over Henson, who’s come back to have some photos taken with Soloway. These guys are intense, screaming, “get out of my way!” to anyone who dares block their shot. It’s times like these I’m thankful my camera has a zoom.

Michael Mann presents to his pal Inarritu. The eventual gold winner speaks about the personal visions of the filmmakers nominated, stating, “without knowing it, we reveal ourselves in X-Ray vision.” This extends to the unconscious ways in which certain directorial decisions are made. “The more I make films,” he says, “the less I know about them, and the less I know, the more I like them.”

Julie Delpy is on hand to honor Linklater, saying, “working with Richard is great as a writer, but as an actor, it’s difficult to be truthful in those fourteen minute walking-and-talking takes. But as a director, I hope my own fourteen minute takes will be half as truthful as yours are.” Linklater accepts his medallion and relates a story about how he first joined the guild, and learned the meaning of tradition when getting his card signed (you need three signatures from other members). “At first I went to my friends, and they said, ‘don’t come to us. Seek out the directors you admire.’ So I got my card signed by Francis Ford Coppola, Peter Bogdanovich, and Robert Altman.” Bogdanovich’s card, incidentally, was signed by John Ford, Howard Hawks, and Alfred Hitchock, proving Linklater’s point.

Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch, in England for Sunday’s BAFTAs, present the medallion via video to their “The Imitation Game” director, Tyldum. “I’m new to this country,” said the Norwegian. “Most people can’t even spell my name: they think I’m an IKEA bookshelf. This award is the warmest welcome imaginable.” He goes on to commend the comrade of the directing nominees, likening it to “Robin Hood,” and concluded by thanking, “the second half of my directing team, who I also happen to be married to.” His wife, he says, “keeps me from making all kinds of stupid decisions.”

Finally, “American Sniper” star Bradley Cooper presents the medallion to Clint Eastwood, who ascends the stage with thunderous applause. “I love doing movies,” Eastwood says, “even when they paid my pension off here too early,” referring to the Lifetime Achievement Award the guild bestowed upon him in 2006. “I’m not being greedy up here,” he continues. “They keep trying to give all the credit to one guy or one gal, and they forget it takes an entire team to make a movie.” He then goes on to thank his directing team, and when Cooper assists him in remembering the job title “second unit director,” the 84-year-old veteran quips, “see, he’s still got it. He’s not senile at all.”

In between all of this is a presentation by Barbra Streisand, on hand to give out awards for Directing in Variety/Talk/News/Sport – Regularly Scheduled Programming and Specials. It doesn’t much matter why she’s here, however, because all anybody in the room can talk about is whether or not she’ll stop by for pictures. She does, with Specials winner Glenn Weiss for “The 68th Annual Tony Awards,” who remarks, “I was just presented an award by Barbra Streisand. I’m going to be the most popular man on Broadway.”

As well, a second Lifetime Achievement in Television Award was presented by Pierce Brosnan to his “Remington Steele” director Robert Butler, who was overjoyed by the montage of his work presented beforehand. The Frank Capra Achievement Award was presented to Emmy-award winning producerPhilip Goldfarb, and the Franklin J. Schaffner Achievement Award was given to assistant director Julie Gelfand. With so many awards for achievement, is it any wonder these things run for four or five hours?

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Before the final prize is handed out, Steven Spielberg comes onstage to make a special announcement: starting next year, the guild will award an emerging talent with the newly created Best First Feature Film Award. “Imagine the talent this award could have gone to in the past,” says Spielberg, “such as John Singleton for ‘Boys N the Hood,’ or Clint Eastwood for ‘Play Misty for Me.’” Although I’m opposed to anything that makes awards shows run longer, this is a great addition, allowing the guild to welcome in the next batch of great filmmakers while still honoring the veterans.

Spielberg leaves the stage, but not before introducing last year’s guild and Oscar winner Alfonso Cuaron, here to award the Best Achievement in Feature Filmmaking. “How cool is it to be introduced by Steven Spielberg,” gushes the director. As he reads out the nominees, a thought crosses my mind: how cool would it be for Cuaron to give this award to one of his best friends, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu? Sure enough, that’s the name he reads out, and the pressroom is in shock as “Birdman” walks away with another major guild honor. “I never expected to be up here in my life,” says Inarritu. “When you go to bed and make love to your wife, you don’t say, ‘Let’s make the best children possible.’ There is no position to guarantee that.” He goes on to say, “to make a film is not so hard anymore with all the equipment available. Still, to make a great film is war.”

I check my watch and am relieved to find it’s not yet 11 pm. I stick around for a while longer to take some video of Inarritu, but it’s hard to hold the camera steady as people are brushing past you on their way out. As I leave the room, I can feel the excitement in the air as the Oscar race has yet again been turned on its head by “Birdman,” and I have to wonder: maybe it’s the hotel.

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