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Universal's war drama 1917 won for outstanding producer of theatrical motion pictures at the 31st annual Producers Guild Awards on Saturday night, bringing the Oscar race into sharper focus three weeks ahead of the ceremony.
The trophy was received inside the Hollywood Palladium by a producing team that included producer Pippa Harris and director Sam Mendes, with Harris saying first that in "these times of division and conflict around the world, I really hope  is just a reminder to never take for granted the peace that we all inherited."
Mendes, who called Harris his favorite producer and someone he's known since he was 14 years old, paid tribute to his grandfather, who inspired the story, and every single member of the crew and cast, many of whom were required to commit two years to work on the project. "To work with so many artists all working at the peak of their craft — led, of course, by [cinematographer] Roger Deakins — was humbling and joyful and by far the best experience of my professional life."
The speech capped off a more than two-hour program that saw trophies presented in categories spanning film and television. Among the latter, the evening's winners were mostly in line with those who triumphed at this year's Emmy Awards, including Leaving Neverland, Last Week Tonight With John Oliver and RuPaul's Drag Race.
Apollo 11 took home best documentary honors, while additional film award recipients included fellow NASA project Apollo: Missions to the Moon for outstanding producer of televised or streamed motion pictures and Toy Story 4 for best animated theatrical motion picture.
The PGA also bestowed special honors during the ceremony, with the first of the evening going to Netflix's Ted Sarandos. Jimmy Kimmel — who filled in as presenter for Ellen DeGeneres, who was sidelined by the flu — joked that he was asked only the night before and had trouble figuring out why he got the call over a long list of Netflix stars who could have been asked to present the Milestone Award to Netflix's chief content officer. Among them: Kevin Hart; Chris Rock; Adam Sandler ("toast of the town"); Kevin Spacey ("newsmaker"); Millie Bobby Brown ("You could've gotten selfies for your kids"); Eddie Murphy; David Letterman; Dave Chappelle ("He couldn't pop in on the way to the weed shop?"); and "Where are the two fucking popes tonight?"
"Ted is a great guy. He's kind, he's funny, he's humble," said Kimmel, switching gears and getting serious. "He is a producer for all the best reasons and in the best sense of that word."
During his acceptance speech, Sarandos gave a shout-out to his many creative partners and collaborators — everyone from Martin Scorsese and Noah Baumbach to Reed Hastings and Sarandos' wife, Nicole Avant — but he saved the most touching sentiments for a surprise source: his mother. Growing up in Arizona as one of five children, Sarandos said his family "generally struggled" all the time, particularly with bills. If the gas was on, the electricity was off, but "in this weird, reckless, beautiful thing," his mother bought a VCR before anyone he knew had one. She also made sure they had cable TV and because she "was the original early adopter," having access to those things sparked Sarandos' love of film and television.
"I came into this business as a fan. I remain a big fan," he said. "In the theater, in front of the TV, on set, in post, always a fan."
Later, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin presented Grace and Frankie creator Marta Kauffman with the Norman Lear Achievement Award. Onstage, the TV veteran called on her producing peers to make a promise that they would help thwart climate change by making their sets eco-friendly and to ensure that crews are both registered to vote and given Election Day off to do so. "Unless someone like you cares a lot, it's not going to get better," urged Kauffman, who gave a shout-out to Fonda by calling her "a fierce badass" for putting her body on the line to fight climate change. "Do everything in your power to make these changes. Say, 'I promise.'"
The moment was one of many that served as a call to action. Also noteworthy was when Chernobyl creator Craig Maizin paid tribute to the #PayUpHollywood movement by saying, "Give your assistants a raise. They deserve it."
Up next was Octavia Spencer, who received a standing ovation while accepting the Visionary Award from Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone. Having the pair onstage brought Spencer to tears. "I couldn't be more humbled than I am right now," she said. "To have this honor presented to me by two people who were there at the very beginning … now, some 20-odd years later, we are enjoying the fruits of our labor together and seeing our dreams realized."
Lionsgate's Bombshell received the Stanley Kramer Award, which castmember Margot Robbie was on hand to present to producers Jay Roach, Charles Randolph and Charlize Theron. Roach spoke on behalf of the Bombshell team and, after praising Robbie's performance and their partners at Lionsgate and Bron Studios, he referred to Theron as a superhero. "Charlize really should be the one accepting. She's the one that brought us all together," he said. "She produced the hell out of this movie. She saved us when we were for real falling out of the sky. Another word for 'miracle' is Charlize."
That was followed by Plan B's Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner, who were given the David O. Selznick Achievement Award in Theatrical Motion Pictures by presenter Frances McDormand. She admitted that, "as some of you know, I hate these things."
But the actress got past her personal issues with awards ceremonies because "Plan B has made some of the most interesting and thought-provoking films of the past few years — Moonlight being one of my favorites," she said of Barry Jenkins' best picture Oscar winner. "As for Mr. Pitt, the time that I spent with him on Burn After Reading was some of the most satisfying that I've had as an actor."
Pitt, in a rare turn at the podium for his efforts as a producer, bookended his speech with jokes.
"Spielberg, Grazer, Zanuck, Kennedy, these are just a few of the names I've cheapened tonight by accepting this award. When I started out as an actor, I wondered about producers, 'Just what the fuck do they do?' I'm now painfully aware of all that you do and I commend you all," he said. "I think that our job as producers are ultimately protectors, stewards of story and protectors of the storytellers, and I find that to be an awesome responsibility. Plan B, we've been at for about 16 years, going on 17. I have no regrets. Other than sharing our name with an emergency contraceptive pill — didn't see that one coming."
After remarks by Kleiner, Gardner concluded Plan B's acceptance speech by urging creators and producers in the room to dig deep and don't give up: "We have a massive job before us, all of us, please don't forget this. Please reach beyond your comfort zones. Please welcome your own personal dis-ease. Please find the stories most untold and kill yourselves to tell them. We do not last, but I think the stories may."
A complete list of winners follows.
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