At the annual Pioneer Of The Year award dinner held each year during the CinemaCon convention, this year honoring 20th Century Fox Chairman Jim Gianopulos, it was quite the Fox family affair as the President of the Board Of Directors of the Will Rogers Motion Picture Pioneers Foundation is also a Fox employee. Distribution President Chris Aronson announced this dinner had raised $1.4 million for their charitable work in helping those in need in the industry. And although there was lots of serious talk about the real life saving efforts of this organization now holding its 74th annual dinner, there were a lot of laughs to be had at the feet of this year’s honoree. In fact one of the highlights was a gag reel showing Gianopulos attempting to do various duties around the Fox lot including sound mixing and security at the front gate where he screwed up an arrival by none other than Tom Cruise. In his acceptance speech Gianopulos said that “town hall” reel was meant to be internal and not seen outside the studio , but it’s public now – and very funny – showing the human touch of a major studio head who is clearly keyed into and concerned about the world of everyone he works with. “When I did the town hall for the employees a couple of years ago we made that movie to show the employees how valued their work was and by how totally useless I was in doing it. It was never really intended to prove to you how far people can fail upwards in this business. You can take back the award later, ” he laughed.
Among those participating in a reel extolling the attributes of the Greek God of 20th Century Fox were Hugh Jackman, Bruce Willis, Ridley Scott, Melissa McCarthy, Peter Chernin (who also attended the dinner in person), Roland Emmerich, Jessica Chastain , Tim Burton and James Cameron , director of the biggest movie of all time, Avatar , who clearly is grateful to Gianopulos for sticking with him on the project and its upcoming sequels. Among those in attendance was Oscar winning producer of Avatar and Titanic, Jon Landau. As someone pointed out, “in a town full of sequels, Jim Gianopulos is an original”. Jeffrey Katzenberg , whose Dreamworks Animation is now part of the Fox family and also , as head of the MPTF serves with Gianopulos on the board delivered a glowing speech about his friend and colleague but was clearly thrown off a bit at first since he had to follow the act of two comediennes, Jamie Denbo and Jessica Chaffin who brought down the house with their antics as less than cool fans of Jim G. They have appeared in the Paul Feig movies, The Heat and the upcoming June release, Spy and their director served as host for the evening – a tribute to Jim G whose studio is behind both films.
Ultimately though it was up to the man himself to set the evening straight with a speech that hit the heart and got to the point. He even saluted two of his predecessors, William Fox who founded the studio and Spyros Skouras, who brought the game-changing Cinemascope into the picture when he headed Fox in the 50’s. He pointed out that was a reminder that technological innovation is a must if the industry is to keep thriving. ” I am honored to walk in the footsteps of previous winners of this award and other film industry pioneers. Theirs are the shoulders we all stand on. And when you look back at the history of the film industry we see the birth of one reimagined future after another, ” he said. “It’s the story of advances made by people unafraid to set out to unexplored territory, to defy the constraints of the present and stake a claim to the future…Those are the pioneers we really celebrate here tonight . We would not be here without them.”
Showing what a film geek he is Gianopulos invoked the names of the greats – Chaplin, Wilder, Capra, Hitchcock, Kubrick , Spielberg, Scorsese. “There have been SO many others making investments in new theatres and technologies and innovations in digital projection, sound, 3D and other ways to make the audience experience even more impressive… The pioneers prologue is our past and the future is now…We are going to have some difficulties and scuffles along the way. But like the pioneers who built this business we will persevere and grow stronger together. Do we need to take some risks like those pioneers did with windows and new business models and pricing and in-theatre wi-fi and things we haven’t even imagined? ” he said indicating a definite yes.
In talking about the Assistance Fund he had high praise. “It recognizes and honors the men and women who have helped blaze the trails that we now travel and hope to expand. In the same spirit that Will Rogers himself meant to inspire when he said ‘if you want to be successful it’s just this simple: know what you’re doing, love what you’re doing and believe in what you’re doing’. .. I am proud to be honored tonight,” he said , ” by an organization that helps the hard working people in our business in a time of need, to get back on their feet and move forward towards a future filled with new hope and new fulfillment . And movies. Lots and lots of movies.”