'The Interview' Takes Top Prize at Publicists Awards

Ed Araquel
'The Interview'

Showmanship Awards were presented to Bob and Harvey Weinstein and to Ted Sarandos.

The Columbia Pictures publicity team behind Sony's The Interview won the Maxwell Weinberg Publicist Showmanship Awards for best motion picture publicity campaign at the 52nd annual ICG Publicists Luncheon, which was held Friday at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. The award for best TV publicity campaign went to CBS Television Studios for Jane the Virgin.

In accepting the final award of the afternoon, Andrew Caraco, Sony's executive vp motion pictures, said they always knew it would take a unique, unconventional campaign to promote The Interview.

"Everybody thought North Korea was doing what North Korea had always done in the past," said Caraco, "which is to make bizarre threats in grammatically poor English. But then suddenly it was Nov. 24 and our world changed."

With the hacking of the Sony computers Caraco said that they found themselves with movies to promote, when they had "no computers, no email, no Microsoft Word, no voicemail, no shared drives, no digital access whatsoever. It took us back not to 2004 or even 1994 — it was like 1974."

He said his team determined "the show must go on and refused to let a little thing like an international hacking scandal bring us down."

"On the flip side," added Caraco, "in the world of silver linings there is no greater publicity opportunity than having the president of the United States come out and say he wants the American people to see your movie. It really does work wonders for awareness and interest."

Arpi Ketendjian, director of publicity for CBS Studios, said working on Jane The Virgin was an extraordinary experience. In addition to the CBS publicity team and executives, Ketendjian praised the cast of Jane The Virgin, "who literally did every single interview we ever asked of them, sacrificing their lunches and dinners."

"Working on this show," added Ketendjian, "was an extraordinary experience and I'm so thankful for that. This is just the cherry on top."

At the ceremony, Billy Bob Thornton presented the Motion Picture Showmanship Award to brothers Bob and Harvey Weinstein, co-founders of both Miramax Films and The Weinstein Co. Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos received the corresponding Television Showmanship Award, which was presented by Chelsea Handler.

"There's no doubt in my mind that publicity has been the lifeblood in how we promoted our films," said Bob Weinstein, adding that publicity "helps market the movie in a way advertising and commercials can never equal."

"I also want to apologize for anything either of us may have said out of turn to any of you [publicists], but they have only given us two minutes for this speech so I don't have the time to go into any of the details. … I can assure you without the hard work of the publicity team … a great majority of our films would not have been successful."

Harvey Weinstein said that over the years they have had a lot of issue-oriented movies and have used publicity to promote them when they had budgets much smaller than big studio films.

He singled out two campaigns as special. He said the recent effort to get 49,000 signatures of gay men seeking to have their records cleared in the U.K. did help The Imitation Game but it also was "for a damn good cause."

He said the "relentless" publicity campaign for the 1988 documentary The Thin Blue Line helped free Randall Adams, who had been on death row but was totally innocent. He said it "showed the power of what publicity can be."

More recently, Harvey Weinstein said the publicity surrounding the movie Bully has "changed so many schools and made educators around the country more responsible. Sorry it took such a high cost in the kids' lives who were affected, but we had so much help from the community at large."

As always Handler was outspoken and outrageous. She led off her presentation to Sarandos by saying that she was not going to apologize for "the things that fly out of my mouth, exposing my breasts or — in the case of Mardi Gras earlier this week — doing both at the same time."

Handler referred to Sarandos as her new boss, because she is now doing a show for Netflix. "The thing I love most about Ted Sarandos," said Handler, "is he's married to a black woman. Isn't that f—ing awesome? The only thing that would be better is if he was married to a black man."

Sarandos called Hollywood "a truly magical place," and said he loves his job so much "I would do it for free but they pay me."

After praising his mentors, including Norman Lear, whose programs enriched his youth, Sarandos said Netflix has "reached milestones most people would have thought impossible only a few years ago," adding that by the end of 2019 Netflix expects to be "a truly global company."

A Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Bob Newhart. And Selma director Ava DuVernay presented the President's Award to Cheryl Boone Isaacs, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Newhart recalled beginning his career in comedy in a nightclub in Texas 55 years ago. "I'm very proud of making people laugh," said Newhart. "It's a very important thing these days, especially these days. Comedians allow you to get through something and carry on. That's what we do and all the people in comedy have ever done. So for myself and for them, I very much accept this wonderful lifetime achievement."

DuVernay noted she started her career as a publicist, which is where she first met and worked with Isaacs. She said, "I looked up to her not only because she was a woman of color but because she was the best."

Isaacs said she broke into Hollywood in 1977 with a boost from her brother, the late Ashley Boone, who was a top studio executive in his day. "He got me hooked on the business very early," said Isaacs.

Isaacs noted that many executives and producers started their careers in publicity. "There's a reason for this," she added. "The publicist learned to maneuver both sides of the show business equation — the show side and the business side. They are masters of storytelling but they also understand the business."

Melissa Kates of ViewPointLA received the Les Mason Award, the highest honor the publicists give to one of their own members.

"This is horrifying," said Kates in accepting. "I cannot believe how much more comfortable I am criticizing someone else backstage and not having to appear in front of all these bitches."

Turning serious, Kates added: "I love this job. I was born to do this job. … I've always been fascinated with the world of actors. To say I got my dream job is an understatement."

The Bob Yeager Award for community service was awarded to Warner Bros. publicist Justine Gamez. Gamez won the award for her efforts to create a nonprofit that helped raise funds after a devastating earthquake and tsunami in her home country, the Philippines.

"I am the first in my family to work in Hollywood," said Gamez, "and it's amazing to me to see the impact that this community has, to see a relatively small group of people affect millions of people all around the world. That's what actually prompted my humanitarian efforts. With the right plan and strategy you are capable of helping a lot of people."

The Press Award went to Dave Karger of Fandango.com, and the International Media Award was presented to Rocio Ayuso of Spain.

Other award recipients included Wilson Webb for excellence in unit still photography for motion pictures and Ursula Coyote for excellence in unit still photography for television.

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