DGA Honors

DGA Honors

DGA Honors 1999

“The DGA is very excited to be establishing a new tradition here in New York,” said DGA President Jack Shea as he thanked more than 800 DGA members, friends and business associates at the First Annual Directors Guild of America Honors on November 21, 1999, at the New York Hilton in Manhattan. The event not only paid tribute to those who have created a resurgence of film and television production in the Eastern Region of the DGA but also supported those who believe in freedom of the arts.

Honors were awarded in five categories: Filmmaker, National Cultural or Political Figure, Industry/Union Leader, Financier or Producer, and Community Leader or Organization.

Martin Scorsese was given the Filmmaker Honor; Congressman Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.), and House Democratic Leader, was named the National Cultural or Political Figure; Thomas R. O’Donnell, President, Local 817, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, was given the Industry/Union Leader Honor; Robert Shaye, founder and CEO of New Line Cinema was given the Financier or Producer Honor; and Austin Film Society (AFS) was given the Community Leader or Organization Honor.

“The success of tonight’s event is a tribute to the dynamic leadership and remarkable vision that Ed Sherin has brought to our Guild as our National Vice President,” Shea said. “His remarkable vision has resulted in heightened service and programs for Guild members and the increased involvement of the Guild in building the Eastern film and television community.

Sherin, who championed New York film production with his landmark series Law & Order, attributed the current Renaissance in Gotham film production to cooperation. “Cities and towns throughout the Eastern Region have responded with enthusiasm to our needs, which proves once again that everyone wants to be in show business. New York City and New York State’s film commissions, as well as guilds and unions, have all cleared obstacles and built bridges of cooperation. Let that be a lesson to those who might disparage unions. For 10 years I’ve been on the streets of New York with Law & Order through rain and heat and snowstorms and the Law & Order Teamsters I have never waited on. They’re an incredible group of men and women.”

As a producer and director, he prefers working with crew and acting pools “unmatched anywhere in the world in the settings for which they were written, rather than phony bottom-line lookalikes.” The DGA exists, he emphasized, “to nurture, protect, and defend the economic future and creative vision of its members, and we will continue to do so.”

Sherin later expanded upon the reasons for the Honors. “One is to acknowledge the people that have been instrumental in making the Eastern Region important in film production,” he said. “The other aspect, and almost a twin corollary, is the importance of keeping production in the United States. We have extraordinarily good crews, we have the best locations in the world, we have a great talent pool, and very often shows go across the border because the competition is somewhat tilted in favor of Canadian production. This ceremony will, I hope sensitize the community to the importance of finding ways to compete on a level playing field, and to give producers the opportunity to stay in this country and work in those areas that reflect the written word more accurately.”

“The inaugural DGA Honors was a home run for the Guild and the entire production community in the East,” commented National Executive Director Jay D. Roth. “As we enter a new century, it is particularly appropriate that the Guild’s leadership has created this splendid annual opportunity to spotlight the tremendous talent and contributions of the DGA’s Eastern membership to our industry.”

Christina Lomolino, DGA Eastern Executive Director said, “The DGA Honors is a celebration of East Coast production and also an event which galvanizes the New York entertainment community around such issues as protecting freedom of expression, creative rights for artists, and working to correct unfair completion for U.S. production dollars.”

Acting icon Harvey Keitel served as the evening’s master of ceremonies and observed that “Not since Mount Olympus have so many gods gathered in one room. Each of tonight’s honorees does their part in making sure the creative process remains where it belongs, in the hands of the creative. Let’s face it; if we had used focus groups on The Last Temptation of Christ, it would have ended with Jesus blowing away Pontius Pilate! So we honor their dedication, passion and independent spirit, because is serves as an example and inspiration to the young filmmakers everywhere.”

Director John Sayles introduced the Honor to the Austin Film Society, which was accepted by Rebecca Campbell and Richard Linklater, saying, “Films only exist when they’re playing up on the screen, when people are interacting with the characters and the story that is being told. The people who make the film may be dead and gone but the film is still alive when that happens. There’s a kind of little resurrection that happens when a film is shown to an audiences. The Austin Film Society has had a core of dedicated people and shown every kind of film you can imagine to the public.” Of the more than 175 movies shown each year, 60 are open free of charge to the general public. AFS has more than 1,200 members. The Society awards grants to regional filmmakers.

AFS Executive Director Rebecca Campbell said, “The Society nurtures both the creation of film and the appreciation of film at the grass-roots level. By honoring us in this way, the DGA brings that effort into the national spotlight and for that we’re extremely grateful.”

Director Richard Linklater, who founded and guides the Society, said, “I couldn’t have imagined when I was booking films out of my bedroom 15 years ago that what we were creating back then would be getting recognized on a national level.

“The DGA realizes it’s not just about the current industry,” Linklater added later that evening. “It’s about the history of the medium and that’s what we represent.”

About Thomas R. O’Donnell, 13-term President of Local 817, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, presenter Robert De Niro said, “He is known as a fierce and gifted negotiator who has secured some of the highest wages and benefits for its members. At the same time, he is an acknowledged advocate of filmmaking in New York City.” O’Donnell created the Local 917 Scholarship Fund. “Because of Tom’s efforts, more than a thousand members and their dependents have had the chance to attend a university and were given a full scholarship, including the current head of production of 20th Century Fox.”

O’Donnell thanked De Niro “for his tireless efforts to keep and help New York to continue to be a major player in the production of motion pictures.” He thanked the DGA and said, “I know there are many others deserving, however I can find no fault in their final choice. I could not put into words how much this means to me. I would like to thank all the people at Local 817 who work with me and surely deserve most of the credit.”

Next, director John Waters presented the award to Robert Shaye, President and CEO of New Line Cinema. Shay has nurtured Waters since he distributed Pink Flamingos (1969), the breakthrough movie for Waters. “Bob never tried to change me into something I wasn’t. What Bob does best is find lunatic filmmakers and encourage them to seek out their vision and find the audience that would like it the best.”Characterizing the DGA to a nuclear reactor, Robert Shaye said to DGA Magazine, “Directors are the uranium rods that go into the equation. A great director and a great script, that’s what moves are all about...I hope I can continue to do my best to nurture and catalyze the directorial talent that is such a critical mass of the DGA.”

Kevin Spacey introduced Congressman Richard A. Gephardt saying that not only has the congressman been a great friend of the DGA for many years, but he also was the “principal sponsor of the 1987 Film Integrity Act which would have brought moral rights to the United States and given directors and screenwriters the right to protect the material alteration of their films without their consent. Some of us hope when the congressman will become speaker it will be reintroduced on the House Floor.”

Gephardt called the DGA “an association of some of the most talented and important people in our country. The industry is producing a major part of our GNP and our exports, as we need to keep it strong. To do that, we’ve got to have freedom of speech and freedom of the arts, and we have to very persistent about protecting intellectual property.”

“Richard Gephardt was speaking out in favor of artists’ rights long before it was popular to do so,” Jack Shea said later that evening. “We at the Guild think it is the most important thing to preserve the freedom of writers to make the kind of films they want to do. He was the first person to really speak out strongly for us in Congress.”

In presenting Martin Scorsese, actor Nicholas Cage, who stars in Scorsese’s Bringing Out the Dead, said, “I have seen many innovative film directors lose their creative vision with time, but this has not happened with Marty. Time only seems to make him hungrier for truth in his movies, and although he’s dominated the last three decades, he continues to grow as an artist who can touch our souls as we go into the millennium.”

Scorsese, who first observed the filmmaking process when he saw a crew shoot the TV show Naked City in his Little Italy neighborhood in the late 1950s, surmised that he has shot about two-thirds of his movies in New York, but ironically not New York, New York (1977). For that movie he wanted to re-create the mythical Gotham that he knew from watching Hollywood movies in the 1940s.

“I learned everything I know about lighting from the City, which is absolutely nothing. I grew up in an alley. You couldn’t tell if it was day or night. You could tell if it was raining, but a light bulb in the hallway, that was lighting to me. I have been blessed over the years to have worked with some extraordinary directors of photography.”

Scorsese used the DGA monetary award of $15,000 to establish a grant for a student filmmaker at Tisch School of the Arts at his alma mater, New York University.

Scorsese said, “Over the years I am personally indebted to the DGA for many things, but particularly for supporting my directorial rights in so many arenas, especially the artist’s rights which we have to keep fighting for. The DGA has been there all along and has always taken the tough, uncompromising stance to preserve the director’s vision.”

In conclusion, Shea commented the Honors “bring a whole new importance to the Directors Guild, not just in New York, but in the whole eastern part of the country. We have been wanting to promote this area for a long time and it’s now coming alive and we feel we’re part of that excitement.”


1999 Honorees

Martin Scorsese, Director
Honorable Richard A. Gephardt, United States Congressman (D-MO)
Thomas R. O'Donnell, President, Local 817, International Brotherhood of Teamsters
Robert Shaye, Founder and CEO, New Line Cinema
Austin Film Society
NYU Film School