Tuesday, February 24, 2009

And I'd Like to Thank...

When I was a little girl I practiced two things: crying when I won the Miss America competition, and accepting my Academy Award. My mother told me, when she caught me in front of the mirror choking back tears for my Miss New Jersey response to my award, that I shouldn’t waste my time because I could not smile long enough to win Miss America—so I didn’t have to worry about shedding tears. Unaffected by her comments but realizing that was probably true (I was not a happy child), I shelved that effort and turned to the Academy — which I felt had many more possibilities for me. After a few years of reading my list of ‘thank yous’, I lost interest. How many times can you thank your Barbie dolls for their votes and confidence? But still, every year when it is Academy time, I critique the acceptances as compared to the one I would have given. Mine is, of course, always much more elegant and relevant—regardless of the category.

There have always been a number of reasons to watch the Award shows. Not among them has been the show. Whether it is the Oscar, the Tony, or the Emmy, they rarely distinguish themselves as creative or, for that matter, entertaining. It does seem ridiculous that the people who provide us with so much extracurricular entertainment have always choreographed a less than interesting presentation of their acknowledged “best in show”. The Oscar show Sunday was a bit different because it was actually entertaining. Although my favorite part of the show, the “in memorium” with the cameras zooming non-stop in and out, may have worked live in the theater, but on TV you could hardly see who was dead. Admittedly, we don’t have a giant screen, but I love to see who we lost, and it was very hard to do that.

Going to the theater, whether it be movie or stage, is my favorite activity. Over the years, long after I stopped making acceptance speeches, I thought I might get involved in some backstage related occupation. Actually, I thought I would make a wonderful director or producer but my career path went in a different direction and I wound up in the White House instead of on Broadway or Hollywood. But I have never stopped hoping for my big break. The closest I have ever come to being an active participant in the movie business came when I produced the world premiere of the film Gandhi in New Delhi, India.

It was an overwhelming, unparalleled experience. While most people agree that the quality of the movie and the appeal is what matters in making it a success, I think that the quality of the ‘launch’ and the timing for the opening also positions the film for success. I made three preparatory trips to India before the final trip when I stayed to do the hands-on production of what turned out to be four major launch events. There was the UNICEF fundraising big premiere, then there were two press premieres and a giant press conference. In addition, I was supposed to create a series of pre-premiere press receptions for the most important movie critics in India. Design a Premiere Press kit. Create a Press screening guest list. Find an adequate site for a Press conference to follow the Press screenings. Handle all technical details including equipping areas with sound and lights -- not easy in a country that had no way to provide outdoor electricity. Produce and deliver 1200 Press invitations four days before the screening. Without benefit of addresses or a mail system that understood the term delivery. I had to make all hotel arrangements for stars, VIPs, and staff. Coordinate logistics for fundraising benefit (World Premiere) including, decorations, seating, sound, lights (they had never seen a Klieg so we substituted with 10,000 candles: figure out the timing for lighting 10,000 candles. Work out the politics, security, press, refreshments, motorcades and transportation, special guest arrangements, site details, and budget. Handle all sensitive political negotiations regarding the attendance of President Singh, the President of India, and Indira Gandhi, the Prime Minister. Plan a post premiere dinner reception for director Sir Richard Attenborough and his guests. Secure proper American and Canadian visas for Indian performers. The good news is that I never ran out of rupees or people, the bad news is there were only 24 hours in a day.

Slumdog Millionaire” like Gandhi, took the majority of prizes. This little film about love and hope was truly both inspirational and deserving. Rumor has it that the film was supposed to go directly to DVD but Warner passed it to Foxlight and they made it a commercial success. And wasn’t it wonderful to see all those talented young people on the stage to accept their Best Picture of the year award. My only complaint about the whole thing was, what does it say about the Academy that none of the actors in that film were nominated for their performances? Maybe with their victory the members of the Academy will think beyond the ususal suspects. We’re just sayin’.... Iris

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