MCN Columnists
David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

20W2O: “Hey, Mister… I Got Something Shiny For Ya.”

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I normally wouldn’t respond in specific to an article that takes me to task, but Richard Horgan’s “In Defense of Carlos de Abreu” at Fishbowl NY is so completely wrong in so many ways, that it serves as an excellent example of how the media loses perspective on the facts and ends up going along to get along with ridiculous con jobs like Carlos’ “Hollywood Film Awards.”

First, there is the great rationalization of moral equivalence. “Sure, Hollywood Film Awards may be a scam… but so is the entire awards season… so everything is the same… so why care about the honesty of any of it?”

It’s an absurd piece of logic, but a popular one. But if Horgan – and the many others who sing this to themselves at night so they sleep soundly – really wanted to make this argument, I would almost respect it.

Instead, he sets up a series of false narratives to close the gap between outlets that accept Oscar advertising (like mine) or established, serious festivals that have added awards to their line-up to draw talent and support their not-for-profits and Carlos’ creation, a fake award show on the heels of a nearly-fake film festival with the sole purpose of creating revenue by and for one individual.

There was a time when I thought Carlos was benign, even amusing. I was one of his “advisors.” He repeatedly asked me to work on the award show. He repeatedly asked me to take the reins of the film festival. I reached out, on his behalf, to LAFCA and others, to take advantage of the infrastructure he had set up at the Arclight Hollywood to make The Hollywood Film Festival into something of weight. Carlos was not willing to spend any money on this effort. And few serious film people wanted to be associated with a guy who was seen as a con man.

As I withdrew from him, he withdrew from me. Carlos was one of my “friends” about whom I had to make excuses. We stopped lunching probably 7 years ago.

I have felt comfortable openly mocking the show ever since, only embarrassed that I didn’t start earlier. But it didn’t – and doesn’t – matter. The industry has found a use for it and that is the bottom line. I am not more powerful than those forces and even as a truth-teller, I am not arrogant enough to think that my invective can stem even the growing media laydown for the show, much less CBS’ choice to air it.

But the truth of what The Hollywood Film Awards are has never changed. You can put lipstick on a pig and all. I don’t demand that everyone feel as disgusted by great talent being asked each year to show up for a made-up award. I just ask that journalists, whom I was raised to believe had a responsibility to seek truth, admit the truth as they deliver content for their ad sales department to monetize, connected to The HFAs.

Back to Horgan’s piece…

Falsehood: “The very loosely juried late October celebration”

Not “loosely juried.” Not juried. In point of fact, though Carlos does ask for the opinions of people who might be in the know about who might eventually end up being Oscar-nominated, the choice of who wins awards is 100% at Carlos’ personal discretion. And he is much more influenced by publicists and awards consultants who will get their clients to attend than he is by any of his lunchtime advisors. Carlos has – and this is easily confirmed by many, many people – a consistent habit of making up awards to fit the talent he gets to show up. There is nothing “juried” about it.

Falsehood: “Just as the HFPA was able to put Pia Zadora in the Vegas rear-view mirror, de Abreu we believe has earned the right to expect more constructive criticism.”

This is suggesting that The Golden Globes somehow achieved greater legitimacy in the eyes of the media and the world by somehow improving their behavior as an event. Not the case. The Golden Globes’ legitimacy is based on one thing… being a successful network television platform.

While there are no Pia Zadoras or even watches from Sharon Stone anymore, the HFPA is aggressively bribed by the awards-hungry distributors on a level that dwarfs any other group by a wide margin. The group of under 90 international journalists in various, but mostly limited, stages of their careers, has benefits of access and travel that outstrip the working junket press by a significant margin, but with no direct publicity return. Whatever you think of the junket press, they are there with a purpose. The only real purpose of indulging HFPA is the eventual voting for The Golden Globes. I estimate the annual benefit of HFPA membership, in travel, food, swag, etc, to be at least $200,000 a year. It’s the ultimate retirement plan.

But however corrupt the HFPA game, the media – aside from one or two angry pieces a year that turn up – looks the other way… because they want the access to the talent on that red carpet, in that press room, and for their special issues. They want to cover the hit television show. They don’t really care whether it’s all a big game perpetuated by a small group of people who are, to the public, faceless, nameless, and irrelevant. To care would to get in the way of the party… and the money.

Horgan is correct that we are now going there with “The Carloses.” It will be THE October Televised Award Show. Emmys in September. Hollywood Film Awards in October. AFI will renew efforts to get a show on the air in November. People’s Choice, BFCA, and Globes in January. Oscar in February.

The push in the last couple of years by most distributors to shorten their Oscar Phase One ad spending window to mid-November – 1st week of January will be pushed back. People like me – and the trades and the LA Times and NY Times – will make more money because of Carlos’ con, as an October/early November award ad sales market that has cooled significantly in recent years will be reinvigorated by the perceived competition. And the media – most of which has already signed off on not giving a damn about the event’s complete illegitimacy – will fall right in line.

Falsehood: Horgan cites Carlos’ published awards criteria, suggesting that Carlos “add some transparency.” Well, if Carlos puts together an official advisory group that actually does more than suggest names to him based on early buzz – and he might, though he’s gotten away with the con for a long time without doing so – it will not be transparency. it will be a new methodology.

Of course, this begs the bigger question… which Horgan seems comfortable not addressing at all as he defends the con, apparently out of boredom with people like me – or maybe just me – pointing out the vulgarity of the game.

How is a legitimized Hollywood Film Awards a good thing? For anyone?

I would argue that it’s in “Hollywood’s” interest not to push Carlos to pretend there is any legitimacy to the show at all. Because while it is a red carpet opportunity early in the season, the more we pretend that it means something, the more problematic the whole exercise becomes.

Hollywood Film Awards is driven heavily by films that have not been released or have been released within a few weeks of “winning.” Of 17 non-career/legend awards handed out this last October 22, six were for films not yet in release (August: Osage County and Dallas Buyers Club with 2 each, Hunger Games, and American Hustle), five were for films in release less than a month (2 for 12 Years A Slave, 1 each for Captain Phillips, Gravity and Prisoners), two were for The Butler, and the remaining four awards were for Star Trek: Into Darkness (online vote), Pacific Rim (effects), Monsters University (animation), and Before Midnight (screenwriting).

It may now be time to point out that this year’s Hollywood Film Awards were brought to you by The Weinstein Company (4 awards), Sony Pictures (3 awards), Warner Bros (3 awards), Fox Searchlight (3 awards), and Focus Features (2 awards). Everyone else who didn’t negotiate their wins properly with Carlos could f-off.

Perhaps I might also point out that 12 Years A Slave, which is considered an Oscar frontrunner while The Butler seems to be struggling for position, was given two “breakout awards,” as Lupita Nyong’o broke out in Supporting Actress while Julia Roberts won and eventual DGA nominee Steve McQueen broke out while Lee Daniels won. I guess Searchlight was late to the party.

Also worth noting… The Weinstein Company’s Philomena, which premiered at Toronto like 8 of the award winners and now seems to many to be The Weinstein Company’s most likely Best Picture nominee, was left out of the party. Why? Because it was October, no one outside of festivalgoers had seen either August or Phil, and TWC was still betting August. (Also, Judi Dench was not available to come in for her award, which made her unofficially ineligible.)

If you are wondering where Nebraska and The Wolf of Wall Street are, one might assume that Paramount decided not to play ball. The studio did take home Carlos’ version of Best Picture, the “Hollywood Movie Award,” for Star Trek: Into Darkness. But that was an online vote by the public, so Carlos had no control.

Also missing were current frontrunners, including Robert Redford (indie… no money… probably wouldn’t lower himself to attend), Inside Llewyn Davis (no Coens, no real stars to offer Carlos), Saving Mr. Banks (interestingly, Disney’s animation award push is led by a different team than live action), and Her (closing New York Film Festival, no Spike, unlikely Joaquin, no Scarlett talk yet).

Of course, to talk about how well the Hollywood Film Awards connect to the eventual nominees and winners of other awards is besides the point and threatens to legitimize HFA by association more than it deserves. That said, about 10 of this years awards match with Oscar (one of those is “Costume & Production Design,” which are 2 separate awards at the Oscars). Of those, 4 are currently considered likely nominees when Oscar announces next week. Two of those four are below-the-line winners. DeAbreu used to offer up a lot of below-the-line awards to bait higher profile talent to come and present to the talent they work with on set. But this year, he dumped all but two below-the-line awards, probably on the advice of Dick Clark Productions, who were already in bed with him before this year’s show.

The basic fact is that an October award show intended to honor the best in film of the year is, at best, doomed to be so off the center of the season as to remain meaningless, and at worst, to be an embarrassing farce that actually makes talent accepting awards look desperate and fake. Sandra Bullock and Matthew McConaughey are not likely to suffer for having appeared at The Carloses. And of course, taking home his personal gift of an award means nothing to their ultimate likely nominations. Also not paying a price for being relegated to being “breakouts” are Jared Leto (who has been in show business a lot longer than strap-hanger Carlos), Steve McQueen with his third high-profile feature in 6 years, or Lupita Nyong’o, who actually did break out this year.

Does it really matter than Carlos de Abreu makes up awards to give out? I mean, if the talent turns out to accept the award and it’s televised, it is another personal appearance. Like most personal appearances, especially for films and performances that have not been widely seen, it means little. In the end, the power of the work that will get awarded and nominated over and over through the season… through the most significant award events and for the least significant ones… remains in the work itself. If Julia Roberts gets nominated for Best Supporting Actress by The Academy, it will not be because she turned up for this show in October. And if she doesn’t, it would not be because she had not.

What is the downside, besides needing a shower after the show to remove the slime? Well, if it gets stickier, it extends the season to October, which is not a good thing for anyone other than the films trying desperately to sneak into some solid slotting before the season really starts in earnest. HFA’s history is that it is not successful in accomplishing this for anyone. But people will still keep trying.

And what becomes of a show where there is no legitimate criteria for selecting the winners… but which has an increased perceived significance to the industry? What if Jennifer Lawrence got loose from shooting to accept Best Supporting Actress instead of Julia Roberts? What if Redford decided that he wanted an award? What if the show’s broadcast network, CBS, decided that CBS Films should win Best Ensemble… or else?

Carlos de Abreu and The Hollywood Film Awards have found their power in their sheer meaninglessness. But now, the genie is out of the bottle.

I remember when, in 1987, George Schlatter started the American Comedy Awards. And indeed, there was some pretense of voting, but really, it was George’s show and he made the calls. The show managed to air for 14 years on ABC. It was basically a way to showcase comedy talent, young and old, and make some money in the process. It wasn’t serious and no one really took it seriously. But, you know… George Schlatter had earned the respect of the comedy world and the networks as a great comedy producer for decades. No one else took comics seriously, so the show was a win-win for everyone (until the ratings killed it).

Can someone legitimately see The Hollywood Film Awards that way?

Sure. It doesn’t really matter who the pimp is or what his history… if the show is fun, it will be fun.

But let’s not delude ourselves and pretend that it is, on any level, anything more than a piece of business. For Carlos, for Dick Clark Productions (which continues to have a shaky relationship with HFPA and could threaten to leverage this show against January in the case of a split), and for CBS.

You want to buy some press? In this regard, Horgan is right. There is lots of media attention paid for all season long.

But don’t try to tell me someone earned it… or that Carlos is not a hustler… or that an award selected by one guy based on projected success in other award venues and talent availability is anything other than a con. Don’t lie… to me or yourself.

9 Responses to “20W2O: “Hey, Mister… I Got Something Shiny For Ya.””

  1. Bill Monahan says:

    You clearly have serious anger issues.

  2. Mark Lantieri says:

    Thank you. Those awards did smell exactly the way you are depicting them; from the moment I started hearing about them, I kept wondering about the absurdity of giving out the umpteenth, unnecessary, movie award, in a month as pointless as October can be.
    Now it all makes more sense; and reminds me a lot of an italian “alleged” film festival, where awards are handed out – in the shape of “competitive” or “career achievement” ones – only to stars willing to show up [“Capri, Hollywood Fest”, directed by Pascal Vicedomini (aka the italian Carlos De Abreu)]

  3. YancySkancy says:

    They’re seriously going to air this thing in October? Who will care? I mean, I know some people are stargazers and will watch anything like this, but will it really be enough to get good ratings? Who wants to see someone win an award for a film that won’t even be reviewed or released for two months? Especially one in which no voting body is involved, just the whims of one man, whose choices are driven by the needs of his show, not his opinions of the work?

    Unbelievable.

  4. I never said that awards season was a “scam.” I was only hinting at the vast swirl of conflicts-of-interest, one that includes (not you) some chroniclers accepting money on a regular basis from the very studios they cover during this period.

    Also, again in part as a reflection of the time I have to devote to these items, I didn’t go into more detail but embed-linked at one point to Glenn Whipp’s great piece last fall, where one publicist (anon) was quoted as saying it’s basically just Carlos and his wife who “vote.”

    But I appreciate you re-covering your history with Mr. de Abreu. I remember you writing about this earlier, but couldn’t quickly find it. Overall, greatly appreciate these additional thoughts from your end. May do a follow-up piece next week.

    ADDED: And point taken on transparency vs. “new methodology.” You’re right, I should have made that aspect of it all clearer.

  5. By the way, as I am re-reading your piece, just a quick aside on this Golden Globes weekend. That’s insane that HFPA members are banking on the order of as much as 200K+ above what regular, hard-working junketeers are.

    If your numbers are correct, Yowser. Or as French HFPA members might say, Sacre Bleu!

  6. One more, last comment for now. I think the way the studios have shoehorned in on Telluride, Toronto and – to a lesser extent – Venice, is as much to blame for awards season starting sooner than anything Carlos does.

    If anything, his stature and A-list list has been fed by that Labor Day-start juggernaut. I’m thinking anyone, with any name, lucky enough to have flagpoled late October might be in same position. E.g., sort of picking up on your late-essay thoughts, it doesn’t matter to all others who/what Carlos is. As long as room opens at that particular point, on time.

  7. Ray Pride says:

    Maybe the $200,000 figure is meant as the amount spent per member to satiate the needs of the HFPA 90?

  8. Hi Ray:

    Or at least the amount required on one of many Hollywood fronts to keep the wheels of that now all-too-crucial international box office properly greased.

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“Well, actually, of that whole group that I call the post-60s anti-authority auteurs, a lot of them came from television. Peckinpah’s the only one whose television work represents his feature work. I mean, like the only one. Mark Rydell can direct a really good episode of ‘Gunsmoke’ and Michael Ritchie can direct a really good episode of ‘The Big Valley,’ but they don’t necessarily look like The Candidate. But Peckinpah’s stuff, even the scripts he wrote that he didn’t even direct, have a Peckinpah feel – the way I think there’s a Corbucci West – suggest a Peckinpah West. That even in his random episodes that he wrote for ‘Gunsmoke’ – it’s right there.”
~ Quentin Tarantino

“The thought is interrupted by an odd interlude. We are speaking in the side room of Casita, a swish and fairly busy Italian bistro in Aoyama – a district of Tokyo usually so replete with celebrities that they spark minimal fuss. Kojima’s fame, however, exceeds normal limits and adoring staff have worked out who their guest is. He stops mid-sentence and points up towards the speakers, delighted. The soft jazz that had been playing discreetly across the restaurant’s dark, hardwood interior has suddenly been replaced with the theme music from some of Kojima’s hit games. Harry Gregson-Williams’ music is sublime in its context but ‘Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots’ is not, Kojima acknowledges, terribly restauranty. He pauses, adjusting a pair of large, blue-framed glasses of his own design, and returns to the way in which games have not only influenced films, but have also changed the way in which people watch them. “There are stories being told [in cinema] that my generation may find surprising but which the gamer generation doesn’t find weird at all,” he says.
~ Hideo Kojima