“I feel sort of a disconnect. It’s overwhelming. Very surreal,” the Fulfillment Fund Stars 2013 benefit gala honoree Chris Meledandri told me as he made his way around the Beverly Hilton ballroom last night. “There are some very interesting machinations intertwined in the room.”
It seems like every studio executive — current, fired or in limbo — that had great success with Meledandri’s brand of filmmaking was there. There was a Fox contingent honoring the man who brought them the Ice Age franchise including Chairman Jim Gianopulos, former co-Chair Tom Rothman, Peter Chernin and creative advertising whiz Tony Sella who may, or may not, be staying at Fox under the new re-structure. And of course a Universal contingent that included Ron Meyer, Donna Langley, new Chairman Jeff Shell, old Chairman Adam Fogelson, and Comcast’s Steve Burke among others.
Meledandri’s latest hit is Despicable Me 2, and when your movie makes over $800 million it’s not surprising to see thankful executives turn out in force. But as Meledandri said it was an “interesting machination”: Fogelson was one of the event co-chairs with Chernin, Meyer and Langley (among others) but sat a few tables away from the Uni power center. Another former Universal chairman, Marc Shmuger, was also in the room making for one of those uniquely ironic Hollywood nights — but a fun one with Ed Helms hosting. Presenter Steve Carell, who voices Gru in DM2, got the biggest laugh of the night in introducing Meledandri. “Chris now enjoys a successful partnership with Universal Studios and has provided them with a string of hits. Conventional wisdom tells us that he will soon be fired,” he said. I checked: The Universal table was laughing too.
In the spirit of the evening Meledandri in his remarks spoke to the collaborative nature of making movies. “Great things happen only because great people work together and lift each other up. My life is a living testament to this principle, ” he said before thanking his “exceptional” partners at Universal “past and present” (he actually mentioned Fogelson by first name twice in his speech) and several others including the Fox group and personal associates. He spoke eloquently about the Fullfillment Fund’s mission of empowering under-resourced high school students and enabling them to go to college, calling it an “indispensable” organization.
Legendary actor Sidney Poitier and philanthropist Josh Klinefelter also were honored — Poitier with the Founders’ Humanitarian Award and Klinefelter with the Distinguished Service Award. Poitier received a standing ovation and acknowledged Fulfillment Fund’s Dr. Gary Gitnick standing behind him onstage. “He takes good care of me. He’s my doctor. I have been with this organization for at least 40 years, and I shall be here god willing for another 40 years,” he said.
New L.A. Film Czar Tom Sherak, another co-chair of the evening, was also there (wearing a baseball cap) having completed his final chemotherapy treatment and readying to start his new gig. As Gitnick had done earlier in the evening Meledandri also singled him out. “Tom, you have dedicated so much of your life addressing the needs of others. You have done so even in the midst of your own personal challenges like staring down cancer. You are an abiding inspiration for me,” he said. Before that moment a spirited Sherak had been a very big voice in the room during the live auction pointedly putting many of the top execs present on the spot including Ryan Kavanaugh, David Ellison, Burke, Shell, Chernin, Rothman, Sella, and even Meledandri who all donated generous amounts. Kavanaugh even won the raffled-off Subaru and turned it back in at Sherak’s urging so it could be re-auctioned. The evening officially raised $1.6 million.
Related: Tom Sherak Q&A