They all talk about the phone calls — Will Smith, Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks. What binds them is the relentless prodding they’ve all received from Hollywood’s most bullish fundraiser, Jeffrey Katzenberg.
At the fourth-annual Governors Awards, inside the Ray Dolby Ballroom on Saturday night at the Hollywood & Highland Center, Katzenberg was about to receive the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for his many philanthropic efforts. American Film Institute founding director George Stevens Jr., stuntman and director Hal Needham and documentary filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker also received honorary Oscars.
But for Smith, Spielberg and Hanks, the ceremony was a chance to give the audience a glimpse into Katzenberg’s methods of persuasion.
Smith said he can tell he's in trouble whenever the DreamWorks Animation CEO greets him with, "Hey, big Willie." Smith knows what’s coming next: "Hey, look buddy, no pressure. George is in for 750, Spielberg is in for a billion, but you do what you’re comfortable with."
Katzenberg is chairman of the Motion Picture and Television Fund Foundation, and with his wife, Marilyn, donated the multimillion-dollar Katzenberg Center to Boston University’s College of General Studies and funded the Marilyn and Jeffrey Katzenberg Center for Animation at USC. He sits on the board or serves as a trustee for a host of charities, including AIDS Project Los Angeles, American Museum of the Moving Image, California Institute of the Arts, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Geffen Playhouse, Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, USC School of Cinematic Arts and the Simon Wiesenthal Center. That means a lot of phone calls.
But as Hanks pointed out, "It's not just the phone call, it's an invitation to breakfast, to a lunch that lasts exactly 47 minutes. It's a visit to the office, a tour of the facility and a letter reminding you of the tours and the breakfast."
AWARDS: Oscars 2013
Katzenberg, upon receiving his award, said simply, “Mostly all I did was pick up the phone. It's you who did the giving.”
From 102-year-old animator Ruthie Tompson, who worked on “Sleeping Beauty” and “Dumbo” and now lives in the Motion Picture Home for which Katzenberg devotes much of his fundraising efforts, to 9-year-old “Beasts of the Southern Wild” child star Quvenzhané Wallis, the Governors Awards, hosted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, is one of the few award shows where people actually seem to have a good time.
It’s early enough in the season that not all the Oscar front-runners have been decided, which means award fatigue has yet to set in and the people at the ceremony seemed interested in seeing one another.
Before the show began, George Lucas was hanging with Spielberg, “The Dark Knight” trilogy director Christopher Nolan was deep in conversation with “Les Misérables” filmmaker Tom Hooper, while newly appointed Disney Chairman Alan Horn was engaged with animation honcho John Lasseter, and Tom Brokaw chatted up Elisabeth Shue.
“The Impossible” director Juan Antonio Bayona and his young star Tom Holland were psyching up to introduce themselves to Spielberg: "We are literally going up to him now," Holland said.
“I was crying inside,” said "Middle of Nowhere" star Emayatzy Corinealdi, overwhelmed at meeting one of her heroes after she and her costar David Oyelowo went up to meet Sidney Poitier, who was seated at one of the long tables in the center of the ballroom.
Just before Kathryn Bigelow introduced her “Zero Dark Thirty” star Jason Clarke to producer and academy governor Gale Anne Hurd, she talked about how it felt strange to be finished with her epic film about catching Osama bin Laden: “I've only been done for a week and a half and it was such a huge story — the kind of story that comes around once in a millennium,” she said. “I felt such a responsibility to the material. So to be finished is a whole different thing.”
U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), who spent the first part of the evening grilling Kristen Stewart on national policy, paid tribute on stage to D.A. Pennebaker, 87, the documentarian who was one of the founding fathers of cinéma vérité and in more recent years chronicled Franken's decision to run for Congress in the 2006 film "Al Franken: God Spoke."
Michael Moore also honored Pennebaker, the man who took the camera off the tripod and changed moviemaking forever.
"You see me on the Oscar stage and you expect a 10-minute rant on the fiscal cliff,” Moore said. “Well, I'm sorry to disappoint, I'm here as a governor of the documentary branch of the academy.” Then, he quipped, “By the way, there is no fiscal cliff."
Pennebaker was being honored for his more than five-decade career, during which he explored the lives of such rock 'n' roll artists as Bob Dylan, Jerry Lee Lewis, Jimi Hendrix and David Bowie. He landed his first Oscar nomination for “The War Room,” the documentary he and his wife, Chris Hegedus, made about Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign.
Pennebaker gave a warm, rambling acceptance speech, reminiscing over his experiences with Dylan, Franken and Roger Friedman, who once brought Aretha Franklin to his birthday party. He paid special attention to Hegedus, not only his wife but his filmmaking partner of more than 30 years. "When we sit down at the edit bay we get divorced about four times a week. Even though we are practically choking each other, it's my favorite thing to do."
Annette Bening introduced the clip reel created by documentary filmmaker Davis Guggenheim for American Film Institute founder George Stevens Jr., a man who often lived in the shadow of his father, George Stevens, a two-time Academy Award-winning director.
Poitier sat for his tribute to 80-year-old Stevens Jr. and talked about how he starred in films for both father and son. "When you work on a film with George, it was for causes we believed in. Art and activism are never far apart,” Poitier said. “In 1967 he had a vision and it was very clear. It was the American Film Institute and I served as the inaugural vice chairman along with Gregory Peck."
In accepting his honorary Oscar statuette, Stevens Jr., who is also the co-founder of Kennedy Center Honors, said, "I wanted to be a sportswriter. Perhaps it was self-preservation, not wanting to be the second-best filmmaker in the family.”
Needham, who never turned down a stunt in his life, was lauded by producer Al Ruddy and Quentin Tarantino, who praised the 81-year-old stuntman-turned-director for all his work, including the stunts for one of Tarantino’s favorites, "Little Big Man."
During his lengthy stuntman career, Needham broke 56 bones and punctured a lung. He also came close to burning down a studio or two with rockets, according to Ruddy, who regaled the crowd with Needham tales. But it was after Needham wrote “Smokey and the Bandit” and handed it to his longtime friend and stunt double Burt Reynolds that his life changed. Reynolds agreed to star in the film if Needham got the cash. Needham went on to direct such populist films as “The Cannonball Run” and “Body Slam” plus several TV movies.
"I've never worked with you," said Tarantino. "I've ripped off a lot of your shots and today I say, thank you."
“People didn't think much of me,” said Needham. “I'm a sharecropper’s son from Arkansas with eight years of education, growing up during the Depression. My mom is looking down tonight with a big smile."