Pete Hammond’s Notes On The Season: SAG & PGA Winner Predictions; How Elvis Helped Irwin Winkler Become An Oscar-Winning Producer


A column chronicling conversations and events on the awards circuit.

With the Academy Award nominations in hand since Tuesday it is now time to move on in force to Phase II of awards season, That means the focus turns to the all-important guild ceremonies which begin in earnest tonight with the ACE Eddies for editing, followed by tomorrow night’s Producers Guild Awards (both being held at the Beverly Hilton), and then Sunday’s televised SAG Awards from the Shrine. By about Sunday at 7 PM PT we should have a pretty good idea of where the Oscar race is headed — meaning coronation or confusion — since guild voters are often in lockstep with the Academy, where membership overlaps in a big way.

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Of course that isn’t always the case, and this year the tea leaves are a bit dicey since frontrunner La La Land which nabbed a record-tying 14 Oscar nominations does not have an Outstanding Cast nomination at SAG. Eagle-eyed pundits are quick to point out no movie since Braveheart in 1995 has gone on to win the Best Picture Oscar without at least being nominated in that key SAG category, which nevertheless favors larger ensembles of actors and not basically a two-hander like La La.  An individual win for Actor nominee Ryan Gosling or, more likely, Actress contender Emma Stone (as I predict will happen in the latter case) should go a long way in quelling those naysayers who may try to say the movie’s momentum would be stalled without at least some sort of SAG recognition. A complete La La shutout at SAG would spark negative media buzz after a likely big weekend elsewhere, but don’t count on it.


The ACE Eddies split their categories between Drama and Comedy/Musical, so La La is a given there. The Drama winner is more of a toss-up but a win for the little-engine-that-could Moonlight against bigger-budgeted entries like Arrival or Hacksaw Ridge would give that movie strong momentum since I expect it will take the SAG honors not only in Outstanding Cast but also for Supporting Actor Mahershala Ali. I would have said crowd- and SAG-pleaser Hidden Figures might have a shot at that ensemble cast award, but unlike Manchester By The Sea, Fences and Moonlight, both Hidden Figures and the other nominee Captain Fantastic did not send DVD screeners to the 120,000 or so eligible SAG voters — only digital screeners. That puts those two films at a disadvantage with that enormous guild — fair or not. Viola Davis’ SAG supporting win for Fences is assured, as is most likely Casey Affleck’s for Manchester in the lead actor race he has dominated all season long.

Upsets are what we look for to shake up the race so anything other than the expected La La Land win for the PGA’s equivalent of  Best Picture tomorrow night would be an earthquake on the level of The Social Network losing to The King’s Speech at PGA in 2010. Again, I don’t expect that to happen this time around. Last year the often-predictive PGA did go out on a ledge choosing The Big Short over more likely Oscar contenders The Revenant and eventually Oscar Best Pic champ Spotlight. Usually though it is, along with DGA, a pretty Oscar-predictive group as it proved with PGA wins for The King’s Speech, The Hurt Locker, The Artist, Argo and especially two years ago when Boyhood’s Best Picture mojo was completely stopped by a PGA victory for eventual Oscar winner Birdman. 


'Silence' film premiere, Los Angeles, USA - 05 Jan 2017

Speaking of the PGA shindig Saturday, one big winner we don’t have to speculate on is this year’s recipient of the David O. Selznick Achievement Award, Irwin Winker. It is an appropiate honor for this most distinguished producer who made his first film, an Elvis Presley vehicle called Double Trouble, exactly 50 years ago. Winkler is a Best Picture Oscar winner for 1976’s Rocky; a frequent collaborator with Martin Scorsese including producing credits on Raging Bull, Goodfellas and this year’s Silence; and a man who with and without longtime partner the late Robert Chartoff, has amassed some 60 producing credits in his long career — movies that also include classics like The Right Stuff (1983) and They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1969).

But when I hopped on the phone with him yesterday to talk about this singular honor from the PGA I just had to ask how he got his start by producing an Elvis movie. Turns out it was really a script meant to star Julie Christie — not that many movies could be pitched to both Elvis and Christie. Winkler said he was negotiating a deal for client Christie to star in MGM’s 1965 epic Doctor Zhivago with then-studio honcho Robert O’Brien, who also suggested to them they might try producing since there was a youth movement in the industry and O’Brien felt some younger producers would be good for the studio’s aging lineup.


Two days later, the MGM story department called and said they had the perfect script for Christie and asked Winkler to pass it on to O’Brien, who apparently never read scripts that they would send him. Next thing you know O’Brien said he liked it but wanted to make the movie with Elvis, not Julie, to which Winkler replied , ‘Great idea.’ Presto! He was off to Hollywood with a producing deal at MGM and a Presley musical that launched their career.

By the way, Winkler said Elvis was a dream to work with, always polite and on time but completely under the influence of manager Colonel Tom Parker. “When I did my second film at MGM, Point Blank, the next year Elvis came up to me on the lot. He said he had seen Point Blank and thought it was terrific. He said, ‘I wish I could do a movie like that, but the Colonel won’t let me,’ ” Winkler recalls.


His Oscar winner Rocky also had a legendary Hollywood story behind it. Sly Stallone was meeting with him as an actor when he mentioned he was also a writer. The script he had was not of interest, but he said he had an idea for a boxing film also and that turned out to be something they really liked. “Sly told us there was just one proviso. He would provide his writing services for free as long as he got to star in it, and thus Rocky was born,”  Winkler says, adding that while the studio United Artists hated the idea of having this unknown star the pair had a put deal for a movie and UA had to go along. It is the gift that keeps on giving as Winkler is still immersed in the world of Rocky, currently developing a sequel to their hit Creed which brought Stallone a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination.

As for his long relationship with Scorsese and Robert De Niro, it will continue at the PGA Awards where they will both be presenting Winkler the honor. “When we made our first film together, New York New York (which starred De Niro), we both thought we were outsiders. When I first came to Hollywood the great producers on the lot at MGM were people like Arthur Freed, Joe Pasternak, Pandro Berman, really great producers from the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s,” he recalls. “And when I came out there I always felt I was an independent, and Marty always felt he was an independent, so we both have that same spirit, and we come basically from the same area of New York and have the same cultural background.” They  are already working on their next film together: The Irishman.


Like Scorsese, Winkler also has the directing bug, but it didn’t come until his late 50s when he wrote a script about the Hollywood blacklist called Guilty By Suspicion, which had started as an idea with Abraham Polonsky, a blacklisted writer. But Winkler took on the project and decided he didn’t want to turn his script over to another director so, with encouragement from Scorsese and De Niro, who agreed to star, he became a rookie helmer at nearly 60. He went on the make other movies like DeLovely, The Net, Night And The City, and Life As A House which I consider to be a totally underrated gem that starred Kevin Kline as a man dying from cancer. When pressed, Winkler admits that one is his personal favorite of all the films with which he has been associated in his long career, one that has made him the only producer with three films on AFI’s list of the top 100 movies of all time.

So does he have a speech ready? “I am going to thank everybody and get the hell out of there — that’s the best speech you can make,” he says. “They are going to show the film clips. I think they will speak for my work pretty well.”


Cohen Media Group

Although companies like Sony Pictures Classics, The Weinstein Company, Music Box and others continue to be repeat visitors to the Academy’s Best Foreign Language Film lineup year after year, Charles S. Cohen’s Cohen Media Group has slowly, and impressively, been creeping up as a real player in that category. It nabbed its third consecutive nomination there this week with Iran’s entry The Salesman. from Oscar winner Ashgar Farhadi, which CMG is distributing for Amazon. It opens in theaters next Friday. In 2014, the company had a contender with Timbuktu, and last year a nomination for Mustang.

Not bad for real estate developer Cohen (he owns Pacific Design Center among other properties), a true film buff who not only has gotten into the business of distributing art house movies, he has amassed one of the largest libraries of them (particularly French movies) with the Cohen Film Collection, which has more than 700 titles and counting.

Cohen himself is a very knowledgeable film nerd (kinda like me) and will be hosting a new KCET and Link TV series on Friday nights called, appropiately enough, Cohen Film Classics, kicking off with  the acclaimed documentary What Is Cinema?  from Oscar-winning filmmaker Chuck Workman who will appear with Cohen to introduce the movie. Others coming up in his series are Sudden Fear with Joan Crawford, Fire Over England, Fritz Lang’s Hangmen Also Die and Luc Besson’s The Lady starring Michelle Yeoh — all movies to which Cohen owns rights.

At the risk of being accused of self-promotion, yours truly will be leading every week into Cohen’s new series. My own show that I continue to host on KCET, Must See Movies, is moving to a new time at 8 PM Fridays. Kicking off in the new time period is Judy Holliday’s Oscar-winning performance in the hilarious Born Yesterday, and coming up in this Oscar season are major winners and nominees like West Side Story, Some Like It Hot and The Great Escape. New movies are great, but you can’t beat the classics.

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