“You and I are both old enough to remember how difficult it was for the Golden Globes originally . We are just trying to launch the Hollywood Film Awards for TV and hope we can grow into possibly an annual event (for CBS), ” CBS chief Les Moonves told me in keeping expectations in check just moments before Friday night’s inaugural broadcast of the Hollywood Film Awards was to begin . Moonves, a Motion Picture Academy voter himself who appeared to be having a good time throughout the show, was seated with wife Julie Chen at one of the two Weinstein tables at the event between Harvey Weinstein and his The Imitation Game stars Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch who both would go on to receive trophies for, respectively , Hollywood Supporting Actress and Hollywood Actor though both are British (full disclosure: I also happened to be seated at the other Weinstein table ). The film also nabbed two more awards including Hollywood Director for Norway’s Morten Tyldum and Hollywood Composer for France’s Alexandre Desplat making it indisputably the big winner of the evening out of 18 category champs selected by HFA founder Carlos De Abreu and a mystery committee of 12 members who supposedly see everything, even in rough cut form, before the films can be considered for one of these awards.
The network , placing it smack in the middle of November ratings sweeps period , is counting on the early movie awards season show to be what the Globes is to NBC and, to an obviously lesser degreee what the Oscars is to ABC. CBS has the Grammys and Tonys every year and the Emmys once every four years but they have not successfully cracked the movie awards sector and the hope is HFA ( which sounds uncannily close to the Globes’ org, HFPA just to add further confusion) can do that for them. Unlike any of those shows, the winners knew in advance they were winning, much like CBS’s long running People’s Choice Awards. The network certainly put all their resources behind it , stretching primetime to a 7:30pm red carpet pre-show as well as a 10 pm hour post show with the stars of CBS This Morning (which also did a preview segment Friday AM). That’s a three and a half hour committment although I heard Dick Clark Productions , which also produces the Globes , is paying CBS a license fee for running the show in what is said to be up to a three year deal.Other sources tell us CBS is paying a license fee. But whatever the case, it’s no secret that when Dick Clark Prods,NBC and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association were embroiled in a legal battle Clark won that CBS salivated at the thought of stealing the Globes away.
That didn’t happen, so it was natural they would try to compete on a new playing field. The problem with this mid-November date is that many of the winners haven’t even opened yet – or even registered as a blip in the minds of most national viewers of the telecast. Imitation Game , the big winner, doesn’t even open on a limited break in New York and L.A until November 28th and isn’t exactly popcorn fare. Other winners like Wild (Breakthrough Director) , Still Alice ( Actress for Julianne Moore), Top Five (Comedy for Chris Rock) and others don’t even open until December but they were shown to the committee as they have been readily available on the Fall Festival circuit. Ensemble Cast winner Foxcatcher only finally just opened Friday so that was some nicely timed publicity for Sony Pictures Classics. Hollywood Newcomer Jack O’Connell was presented with his award by his director Angelina Jolie for December 25th release , Unbroken which hasn’t yet even finished post-production. There was no mention of films like Interstellar or Into The Woods (except briefly in an intro to presenter Johnny Depp) or Selma or Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper since their respective studios did not make them available for viewing by deadline for HFA which goes so early so it can say it “launches” awards season and fully two months before the Golden Globes and Critics Choice Movie Awards are broadcast in January. All of these awards are the result of a negotiation between studios and distributors and their awards consultants with De Abreu and his group who were, more often than not shown films at the private Dick Clark Productions screening room in Santa Monica. One prominent awards contender considered a major Oscar possibility, Boyhood, may just have been too “indie” for this iteration of the Hollywood Film Awards as there was no mention of it on Friday’s show although I heard at one point it was discussed for the Hollywood Screenplay award but reps for the film declined , instead holding out for Director for Richard Linklater (who won the Screenplay prize last year for Before Midnight). UPDATE: A Boyhood source reports they were “at the last minute” offered Director for Linklater but due to a variety of reasons decided to pass. In the end Screenplay went to Gillian Flynn for Gone Girl which also took the top Hollywood Film award and Director went to Morten Tyldum for Imitation Game.
When the show was a non-telecast private event over the last 17 years, acceptance speeches were more loose and you often heard recipients thanking “Carlos”. It’s not exactly like thanking the Academy but you have to hand it to the affable and savvy De Abreu for nurturing this show into a network deal when essentially it is mostly his handiwork . And he does deliver the star power , steadfastly refusing to give any award or have any star appearance beamed via satellite or on pre-recorded tape. They must appear in person at the Hollywood Palladium or no award for them.
There is no question organizers tried their best to get recipients very “happy” by loading each table with champagne and wine, not to mention open bars. But most winners’ remarks were pretty dry and serious despite the spirits at their disposal. At one point after the Irish O’Connell let loose with a lively thank you , host Queen Latifah said it was about time the booze started kicking in and people started to party. She emphasized that word “party” a lot in what was a blatant imitation of the appeal of the Golden Globes, yet unlike that show the majority of the audience other than the front rows seemed made up of dress extras or seat fillers. Presenter Johnny Depp seemed to get the party message though with his completely incoherent intro to the Hollywood Documentary winner, Supermensh. He even had the evening’s big bleepable moment when he asked “what the f**k was that about?” as he attempted to read the telepromter. But leave it to Chris Rock to really set things straight when he came out and jokingly implied that the Hollywood Film Award was the ultimate honor. “Wow do you feel the excitement in the room?” he cynically asked the otherwise pretty restrained crowd. That’s the kind of thing we’ve heard in the past and it was great that the HFA show could make fun of itself. After all this is not about peers honoring peers. It is about trying out your future awards show speeches and being seen holding a trophy just as the season gets rolling.
Whether it gets to continue on CBS I guess depends on what ratings (UPDATE: they were very weak) and “excitement” they were indeed able to whip up on a Friday sweeps night.