Director/Writer Philip Kaufman, a Man who has ‘The Right Stuff’

by Melanie Gilarsky 10/16/2013 13:16 (UTC-08:00) Pacific Time (US & Canada)

Today is the 30th anniversary of the world premiere of the space epic, The Right Stuff. To mark this occasion, which aptly took place here in Washington, D.C. at the Kennedy Center in 1983, the MPAA hosted a screening and discussion with the film’s director and writer, Philip Kaufman. The Right Stuff, adapted from Tom Wolfe’s best-selling novel of the same name, tells the story of the breaking of the sound barrier and the Mercury space program. The film was nominated for eight Academy Awards®, including Best Picture, and won four.

The Right Stuff has been an inspiration to a generation of astronauts and scientists. In his opening remarks, Senator Christopher Dodd, Chairman and CEO of the MPAA, shared the story of Astronaut Mike Massimino, part of the team that made the final repairs to the Hubble Telescope. Dr. Massimino once said that while looking out the window on his first mission he thought to himself, “This is the view that I imagined in that movie theater all those years ago.”

The moderator for the discussion was Columbia University Film Studies Professor Annette Insdorf, who has written a number of books on filmmaking including her monograph, Philip Kaufman. During the discussion, Insdorf lauded the achievements of Kaufman, "It is an honor to be in the same room with someone with such integrity, modesty and really the 'right stuff' as Philip Kaufman."

Kaufman first began working in film in 1962 with his directorial debut in the mystical comedy Goldstein. In addition to The Right Stuff, Kaufman has directed such classics as 1977’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers; 1990’s Henry and June; 2000’s Quills, which was nominated for three Academy Awards®; and last year’s Hemmingway & Gelhorn, which was nominated for 15 Emmy® Awards. 

Prior to the screening, Kaufman shared his philosophy on filmmaking and his approach to The Right Stuff.  In translating Tom Wolfe’s novel to the big screen, "I tried to be true, in my way, to his book…but…we tried to make the film in an artistic way."  Kaufman said his goal in portraying the characters was that "virtually every scene in the film is about the quality…of the right stuff….I like films where the characters are the plot; I think a lot of great movies are made that way."

Philip Kaufman and Annette Insdorf

Philip Kaufman and Annette Insdorf

Photo Credit: Joy Asico

‘Lights, Camera….Music?’ An Evening with Music Supervisor Randall Poster

by Melanie Gilarsky 10/11/2013 13:26 (UTC-08:00) Pacific Time (US & Canada)

The MPAA hosted GRAMMY® Award-winning Music Supervisor Randall Poster as part of our ‘Evening with’ series. Poster is one of the most active music supervisors working in film and television today, with upcoming work in Labor Day and Carrie.

Over the past twenty years, Randall Poster has worked with some of the biggest filmmakers in the industry including Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, Harmony Korine, Todd Haynes, Richard Linklater, Todd Phillips, Sam Mendes, Jason Reitman, and Wes Anderson whom he has collaborated with on all of his films to date. In addition to his work on the big screen, Poster has expanded into television as the Music Supervisor for HBO’s hit period drama, Boardwalk Empire.

Senator Chris Dodd, Chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America, introduced Poster at this week’s event. “This is a highly innovative and imaginative industry and tonight you are going to get one piece of that,…the great emotional driver in many ways.”

Poster began his presentation on music in film by taking the audience back to the silent era. "In January 1923 there were 15,000 silent movie houses in the United States, and the music was left to the theater owners to provide." The advent of 'talkies' and their accompanying sound track made the music an integral part of storytelling. Poster demonstrated the use of music in film by treating the 'Evening with' audience to live music with a pianist, playing scenes from Boardwalk Empire with and without music, as well as clips from other movies. 

Poster summed up his passion for the role of music in film during the Q&A. "I’ve been very lucky that I still have an amateur's enthusiasm for music."

Randall Poster and Senator Chris Dodd

Randall Poster

Photo Credit: Joy Asico

Parkland, The Ordinary Thrown into the Extraordinary

by Melanie Gilarsky 09/30/2013 12:18 (UTC-08:00) Pacific Time (US & Canada)

Last week the MPAA and Exclusive Media co-hosted an advance screening of Parkland with writer/director Peter Landesman. Parkland is the story of ordinary people thrown into extraordinary circumstances surrounding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.  From the cameraman who happened to film the actual attack and whose name is now forever linked to the visuals from that day – to the local Secret Service agent responsible for organizing the President's security – to the young medical staff who found themselves battling to save the life of the nation's leader and then, just a few short days later, his assassin as well.
The screening was followed by a discussion and Q&A with Landesman moderated by Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC’s “Hardball with Chris Matthews.” Matthews is a renowned authority on presidents and politics, and author of six best selling books, the latest being, “Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero.”
During the Q&A, Landesman shared his vision and process with the audience. He approached this project as an examination of the human stories of everyday Americans who were thrown into American history by way of chance. In his discussion, he reflected, “When Tom Hanks and I first conceived this movie four years ago we decided on two things, two principals. One is there is nothing in the movie that anyone has ever seen before… and two everything in the movie be verified by truth.”
Throughout the Q&A Landesman stressed that this story was about all of us. MPAA Chairman and CEO Senator Chris Dodd wrapped up the evening by reminding the audience “that the 'us" is why film is important.”
Landesman spent more than four years researching and writing the screenplay for Parkland, which is based on Vincent Bugliosi’s 2008 book, Four Days in November: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Landesman made the transition to film from a background as an award-winning novelist and investigative journalist for the New York Times.
Parkland will be released on October 4th to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the American tragedy that took place on November 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas. The film premiered at the 70th Venice International Film Festival and was also screened at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival. The cast includes James Badge Dale, Zac Efron, Marcia Gay Harden, Ron Livingston, Billy Bob Thornton, Jacki Weaver, and Paul Giamatti.

MPAA “Moonstruck” Over Norman Jewison

by Melanie Gilarsky 07/23/2013 13:49 (UTC-08:00) Pacific Time (US & Canada)

Last night, the MPAA and guests were treated to an evening with award-winning director, producer and Founder of the Canadian Film Center, Norman Jewison. Honored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences with the prestigious Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award for his lifetime contribution to the art of film, Jewison shared reflections on his career as well as his hopes for the future of the industry. Jewison is well-known for such acclaimed pictures as: The Cincinnati Kid (1965), The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming (1966), In the Heat of the Night (1967), The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), Fiddler on the Roof (1971), Jesus Christ Superstar (1973), And Justice for All (1979), Agnes of God (1985), Moonstruck (1987), Other People’s Money (1991), The Hurricane (1999) and The Statement (2003).

The evening was moderated by Alyssa Rosenberg, Features Editor of Gary Doer, Canada’s Ambassador to the United States, was also present to welcome his fellow countryman and laud the accomplishments of Jewison. “We are very inspired by all of his work; his films were nominated for over 46 Academy Awards®. Even for Canada, that is a lot of Oscar nominations.”

MPAA Chairman and CEO, Senator Chris Dodd, praised Jewison for his contribution to the industry, “For over five decades, Norman Jewison has captivated film and television audiences.  From his early years at the CBC to his time at CBS on The Andy Williams Show and directing specials that featured the likes of Harry Belafonte, Danny Kaye, and Judy Garland, and of course his decades of work on the silver screen – Norman has a versatile and critically acclaimed body of work to his name. Norman Jewison tackled controversial issues of racial injustice and violence in America.”

Jewsion captivated those in attendance with career anecdotes and reflections. He recalled Bobby Kennedy telling him that In the Heat of the Night would be an important film – “timing is everything.” He shared a memory of narrating the film In the Heat of the Night to Ray Charles, who Jewison was hoping would agree to sing the film’s theme song. Charles’ response to a wealthy white man being slapped by a black man was that picture portrayed something truly revolutionary, remarking, “that’s maximum green, man.”

Jewison summarized his career philosophy and approach by saying the films he is most proud of are those “that truly seem to affect people. In other words, the letters they write me, references made, the invitations I get to international film festivals where I get to see there is great excitement about a specific film. I am interested in communicating. I love to communicate with people and I use my films to communicate.” 

Senator Chris Dodd and Norman Jewison

Norman Jewison

Norman Jewison and Alyssa Rosenberg

Photo Credit: Joy Asico

Geena Davis, in “A League of Her Own”

by Melanie Gilarsky 06/03/2013 10:22 (UTC-08:00) Pacific Time (US & Canada)

Academy Award®-winning actor and advocate Geena Davis was back in Washington on Wednesday, but not as the President of the United States (her character from the award-winning television series Commander in Chief). Davis was the special guest of the MPAA for a discussion focusing on her outstanding acting career and her ongoing advocacy work, which was moderated by Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro [CT-03].

During an acting career that has spanned over 30 years, Geena Davis has played many strong and iconic women – the title role in the consummate female friendship movie, Thelma and Louise; the team leader in the celebrated women’s baseball drama, A League of Their Own; Muriel, the part for which she won an Academy Award® for Best Supporting Actress in The Accidental Tourist; and the first female President of the United States in the television series Commander in Chief (2006 Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series — Drama).

A long-time advocate for women, Davis is becoming as recognized for her tireless efforts on behalf of girls and women as for her acting accomplishments. In 2004 she founded the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media along with its programming arm, See Jane. The Institute conducts research, education, and advocacy programs to spotlight gender inequality and works within the entertainment industry to alter how girls and women are reflected in media.

Davis used Commander in Chief as an example of the power of positive female roles. “There was a study done after the show was over; people familiar with the show were 68% more likely to vote for a female candidate for president. Just seeing me behind the desk 18 times was enough to massively transform people’s thinking. That is why what we see on the screen is so important, because it makes it normal.”

Cong. DeLauro lauded Davis and the Institute, reminding the audience that change starts with them. “It [the entertainment community] is not unlike the Congress, there are lots of people internally that are doing the right thing; Geena Davis is doing the right thing. She has put an Institute together to provide the data to change policy, but it is external pressure on these institutions that make change. That is absolutely clear in the Congress. When you shut the system down and overwhelm it with letters and calls then change happens.”

CEO and Chairman of the MPAA Senator Chris Dodd concluded the evening praising Davis and Cong. DeLauro and their work in championing women’s equality. He spoke on Davis’s fight for women in the film industry by saying, “in the case of Geena, you have just been terrific, all the work you have done, all the startling statistics you have uncovered; we all need to become more familiar with this information.” Dodd also thanked Cong. DeLauro for all her hard work, “Rosa, not only did you work for me as my Chief of Staff, but because of you, the very first piece of legislation that President Obama signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, thank you Rosa DeLauro.”

In addition to her work with her Institute, Davis was recently appointed Special Envoy for Women and Girls in ICT for the UN's International Telecommunication Union (ITU).  She is an official partner of UN Women and Chair of the California Commission on the Status of Women.


From left to right: Senator Chris Dodd, Geena Davis, and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro [CT-03]

From left to right: Girl Scouts of America, Geena Davis, and Congresswomen Rosa DeLauro [CT-03]

Photo Credit: Joy Asico

Mighty Times: The Children's March

by Melanie Gilarsky 05/02/2013 13:51 (UTC-08:00) Pacific Time (US & Canada)

Fifty years ago today was the first of the four days of what is now known as the “Children’s Crusade” when hundreds of students in Birmingham, Alabama took the streets to challenge the prevailing segregation laws. Last night the MPAA and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) co-hosted a panel discussion and screening of the Academy Award®-winning documentary short Mighty Times: The Children’s March about this pivotal event of the Civil Rights movement. The Children’s March is a joint production of the SPLC’s Teaching Tolerance program and HBO. Special guests included Julian Bond (Former Board Chair of the NAACP and SPLC’s first President), Richard Cohen (current SPLC President), Rev. Gwendolyn C. Webb (Founder, Foot Soldiers International), Ebony Howard (SPLC Attorney), and Lecia Brooks (SPLC Outreach Director).

MPAA Chairman and CEO Senator Chris Dodd shared with the audience that the MPAA theater exists “not only to screen movies; we use this room and this building to educate, and to motivate, and to stimulate.” Through this documentary and the panel discussion that followed, the MPAA and the SPLC transported the audience back to a time of extreme uncertainty, upheaval, and violence in America; a time when heroic school children braved fire hoses, police dogs, and repeated arrested for their equality.

The SPLC has sent this award-winning documentary and corresponding teaching materials to over 100,000 schools across the country through its Teaching Tolerance program – free of charge - showing once again the power of film to educate and to inspire. Richard Cohen, with his Oscar® in hand explained, “There is something else that we receive in connection with this film every day, and that is envelopes with letters and cards from teachers all over the country, talking about how the film is making a difference in their classrooms." A teacher is North Carolina wrote, “The film opened the eyes of their students to how much power they really had.”


From Left to Right: Lecia Brooks, Julian Bond, Rev. Gwendolyn C. Webb, and Ebony Howard


Photo Credit: Jon Black

How Just Saying “NO” Changed Chile

by Melanie Gilarsky 03/27/2013 14:04 (UTC-08:00) Pacific Time (US & Canada)

The MPAA, together with the Inter-American Dialogue, National Democratic Institute, Participant Media and Sony Pictures Classics hosted a screening of “NO”, the 2013 Oscar® Nominee for Best Foreign Language Film on Tuesday evening. “NO” is a historical feature that tells the story of Rene Saavedra (Gael Garcia Bernal), a fictional young advertising executive, who was given the charge of creating the opposition campaign for the 1988 plebiscite.  As a result of the “NO” campaign, the Chilean people took back their nation by voting out military dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet. 

Leading strategists from the “NO” campaign took part in a panel discussion to provide viewers with an insider perspectives on the landmark Chilean referendum of 1988 and how the lessons of the “NO” campaign continue to remain valuable to others working for freedom and democracy around the world. The panelists were:  Genaro Arriagada (Former National Director of the “NO” campaign, Former Ambassador from Chile to the U.S., Former Minister of the Presidency of Chile), Ken Wollack (President, National Democratic Institute), Sergio Bitar (President of the Foundation for Democracy (Chile), Former Chilean Senator, Cabinet Member and President of the Party for Democracy (PPD)), and Frank Greer (Partner, GMMB).

Wollack, Bitar, Arriagada, and Greer took the audience back to Chile in the late 1980s and discussed the emotions, challenges, and decision process that culminated in the groundbreaking “NO” vote. Wollack said, “We look back at that democratic struggle 25 years ago as though its success was inevitable, although in fact at the time it was improbable.” Sergio Bitar added that “the main obstacle was fear and you cannot vanquish fear with fear or with despair, you have to be optimistic.” Arriagada discussed how he and the Chilean opposition came to creating the “No” campaign. “If we want [ed] to have a country for everyone it was necessary to have a program, a product of society that would be in place for everyone.”

Greer spoke from the American perspective, and how our “duty [was] to make up for the mistakes of foreign policy of the past. We were there because we believed.”


From Left to Right: Ken Wollack, Honorable Sergio Bitar, Honorable Genaro Arriagada, Frank Greer

Photo Credit: Joy Asico

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