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Joker took home the top honor at the 2020 ICG Publicists Awards, recognizing the best film and TV campaigns of the year, on Friday at the Beverly Hilton. The team from Warner Bros., helmed by unit publicist Larry Kaplan, won the Maxwell Weinberg Publicist Showmanship Motion Picture Award in a category that included Avengers: Endgame, The Irishman, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Rocketman and Us. In television, the same honor went to The Mandalorian.
The recipients of this year’s Motion Picture Showman of the Year Award were Avengers: Endgame directors Anthony and Joe Russo, who acknowledged that billions of dollars at the box office is not achieved without hundreds of collaborators — and a strong publicity team among them. “Being a filmic storyteller is an impossible solo undertaking, so we want to recognize the hundreds of artists we’ve had the opportunity to work with over the years,” said Joe Russo onstage. “We would not be standing up here without the hard work of the publicity teams from Disney.”
On the red carpet, before the ceremony, Joe Russo told The Hollywood Reporter that Disney had surprised him in their acceptance of the franchise bookend and willingness to promote it as such. “When you're dealing with incredibly lucrative characters that have made a studio a lot of money, it's sometimes been difficult for them to embrace the end. And Disney completely embraced the concept,” he said. “I think that really drove this movie to a much higher box office than Infinity War because the audience felt that this was narrative closure, and they wanted to be there first to see it.”
The Lifetime Achievement Award was presented by Seth MacFarlane to Don Mischer for his five-decades-long career as a director of television and live events. “Don’s perspective creates the lens through which we view cultural and political history as it unfolds before us,” MacFarlane said before introducing clips of Super Bowl halftime shows, Olympics opening ceremonies, the Oscars, the Emmys and presidential inaugurations.
The special award that was named after Henri Bollinger, who served five terms as the president of the Publicists Guild and 37 years as chairman of the awards committee before his death in 2018, was given to publicist awards chair Sheryl Main. Along with crediting Bollinger for encouraging her to find her voice, the longtime unit publicist thanked Arnold Schwarzenegger. “I got my masters at the University of Schwarzenegger,” said Main. “The first time I met him, he literally kicked me in the ass and told me to show some leadership. So I did. He always was building me up and making me feel like I could do anything, so because of his encouragement I got the courage to think outside of my comfort zone.”
Ava DuVernay, who received the Television Showman of the Year Award, reminisced onstage about her time as an independent publicist. “I loved it and I miss it,” she said. “The publicist is still in me and she remains in me in the best ways. And from being a publicist, I know that so much of what artists take way too seriously is crafted by the people in this room. The awards and profiles go to a lot of people’s heads. It’s not personal. It doesn’t happen because you’re the greatest thing since sliced bread. You have damn good marketers and publicists putting their talent behind ours.”
In presenting DuVernay with her honor, Queen Sugar actor Dawn-Lyen Gardner told a story about her first day on the set of the female-helmed series. “I saw women everywhere. In every department. All kinds of women. And I saw women of color in abundance at video village, in leadership positions. I felt safe and I felt seen,” she said. “It quite literally shifted my normal, for what’s possible in our industry.”
The biggest surprise of the luncheon, which annually produces some high-profile cameos, was Jennifer Aniston making an appearance to present her publicist of 26 years, Stephen Huvane, with the Les Mason Award for Career Achievement in Publicity. “He’s someone who has been my confidante, my cheerleader, my personal bouncer, my life coach, my personal space-keeper and my dear friend for 26 years,” she said, thanking Huvane for persistently fielding such tabloid rumors as “Jen snubbed from Courteney Cox’s Irish wedding” and “Jen’s knees go under the knife.”
The notoriously stone-faced publicist, who even acknowledged that he’s known as a “tough-ass," fought back tears as he took the stage. “I’m a total wuss. I cry really easily,” he said, thanking Aniston. “Jen, I love you so much and I will always, always be there for you.” Among the many who have informed Huvane’s career, he thanked Nanci Ryder for giving him his first PR job as her assistant: “She took a chance on me and taught me so much. She introduced me to a career I ended up loving.”
A complete list of this year's winners follows.
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