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Judy Solomon was beyond irritated when she read in December that Burlesque received Golden Globe nominations because members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association went on a trip to Las Vegas.
“It wasn’t an HFPA junket!” fumes Solomon, 79, an HFPA member for 56 years who writes for a magazine in Israel. “It was a junket for all international press. We went to interview Cher because we had no other opportunity. We flew in that afternoon, saw the show, interviewed her and left the next morning.”
As the Golden Globes unfold Jan. 16 to huge attention and ratings, the 83 voters behind the hoopla are chagrined by a feeling that they get little respect. Hollywood insiders question their credentials and purpose. Studio publicists who fly them around the world and ply them with gifts often complain about having to keep them happy.
“We have no choice,” one press agent says. “They became a lot more important about 10 or 15 years ago when the grosses from international began to be greater than the domestic take for a lot of movies. Now your campaign isn’t complete without them.”
But HFPA members believe they are unfairly maligned.
“We’re an easy target,” says Jenny Cooney Carrillo, 47, an HFPA member who has covered Hollywood for 21 years for outlets in Australia, New Zealand and the U.K. “We’re foreigners — people have accents. They make fun of them; it’s kind of silly.”
Adds Mike Goodridge, the London-based editor of Screen International and an affiliate HFPA member: “It’s kind of offensive. Each year, there is this incredible apparent xenophobia in some of the attacks from the domestic press, which can be just startling in its ignorance of other countries.”
An HFPA rules overhaul a few years ago limits gifting to items worth less than $100 (though some publicists say there are ways around those rules). Last year, on a junket for the Tobey Maguire starrer Brothers, members were given DVD players, which were returned.
Much of this year’s negative press came in reaction to the nominations given in the musical/comedy category to the pilloried thriller The Tourist and its stars, Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp. Cynics say the HFPA nominated Jolie and Depp to ensure their attendance at the Globes, but Solomon disagrees.
“I personally loved the film,” she says. “I walked out with a smile. Beautiful locations, beautiful people, beautiful clothes. It was two hours, and I didn’t take it seriously. It was entertainment.”
The HFPA admits no more than five new members each year. Two got in last year. “You read the Hollywood Foreign Press is composed of a bunch of waiters, which is a lot of nonsense,” says Philip Berk, 77, a 33-year HFPA member in his eighth and final term as president.
But not all members are full-time journalists. Russian Alexander Nevsky, a member since 2002, is a bodybuilder, actor and producer as well as a writer. “I absolutely consider myself a real journalist,” he says. “More than 400 of my articles and interviews have been published in Russia and ex-USSR during my nine years at HFPA.”
What gives the HFPA its juice is the Globes, which drew 17 million viewers in the U.S. on NBC last year and millions more worldwide. That clout gets members invited to hundreds of screenings annually, and they organize 45-minute news conferences open only to HFPA members for about 150 movies a year and many TV shows.
The HFPA receives more than $3 million a year from its Globes TV contract, and it has a nest egg of about $19 million. As president, Berk receives $5,000 a month plus Globes compensation for a total of about $72,000 in 2009, according to a federal tax filing. Board members make about $10,000 annually.
In many ways, the HFPA is at a crossroads. Berk and Solomon know their era is ending while the Globes show is more important than ever. For the first time, the HFPA is looking for an executive director to provide leadership and continuity.
Members also must work out the relationship with Dick Clark Prods., which has produced the show since 1983. In December, the HFPA filed a breach-of-contract suit that charged DCP with taking excessive expenses and negotiating a new TV deal with NBC without its consultation.
The 10-year NBC deal ends Jan 17. Globes voters might be sure of their taste, but the future of their big event remains uncertain.
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