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The Honorees at the 2017 PGA Awards

Variety logo Variety 1/25/2017 Paul Gaita
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A TV legend, big screen players, and one of the year’s most celebrated films earn honors.

James L. Brooks

Norman Lear Achievement Award in Television

To build a highlight reel of memorable moments from the television career of Brooks is a challenge that few editors would want to undertake. But the 20-time Emmy winner, whose CV includes such groundbreaking series as “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Taxi” and “The Simpsons,” and is this year’s recipient of the Producers Guild Awards’ Norman Lear Achievement Award in Television, was recently charged with just such a task. Brooks found that the easiest path to a solution was to recall the program where the collaboration between talent in front of and behind the camera gelled. “Everything is a marriage of actors and writers, and what makes those stories happen is that if it’s a good coupling,” he says. To that end, Brooks included moments from his most beloved and critically praised series, as well as a few that flew below the radar. “One would be the time I got to work with Mel Brooks on the ‘Tracey Ullman Show,’” he recalls. “He came up with stuff, and that was the time in my life when I was paid to roll around on the floor [laughing]. And, I would have to say, the end of ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show.’ But there are all these little pieces, like a monologue from the Reverend Jim on ‘Taxi.’ One of my favorite highs was on a series that didn’t make it called ‘The Associates,’ with Martin Short.’ The pilot came together beautifully, and it had a great closing joke that was explosive. I always thought of that as a night that was electric for me. As for ‘The Simpsons,’ Bart would open and close [the reel], and Homer would be in the middle”

Irwin Winkler

David O. Selznick Achievement Award

The Oscar-winning producer, who will receive the David O. Selznick Achievement Award in Theatrical Motion Pictures at this year’s Producers Guild Awards, believes firmly in remaining open to the possibilities that are present in every project. “Every film you make has the chance to be something really, really special,” Winkler says. “You can read something and think, ‘Oh, that’s a nice little script,’ but you never know if that’s going to be something that could give you a franchise and an Academy Award at the same time.” Winkler would know: he and producing partner Robert Chartoff took a chance in 1976 on a script by a then-unknown actor named Sylvester Stallone. “ ‘Rocky’ was a film that the studio didn’t want to make, and even though it was a ‘put’ film — they had no opportunity to say no — but they tried every way they could to put an end to this film. It would have been easier to just say forget it, but the script was good, so we made it.” Winkler has continued to apply that approach to countless films over the past four decades, from “GoodFellas” and “Home of the Brave” to “Creed” and most recently, “Silence,” his latest collaboration with Martin Scorsese. “ ‘Silence’ was a big challenge,” he says. “Marty worked for 20-some-odd years to get the financing and when I became involved in it, it was a challenge to get the rights, the budget had to be very, very restrictive, the casting had specifics “There were a lot of elements that were standing in the way of getting it made, but we got it made.”

Loving

Stanley Kramer Award

Of all the awards she might have received for producing “Loving,” Sarah Green says that the Stanley Kramer Award, which she and her fellow producers will receive from the Producers Guild, is among the most meaningful. The story of Richard and Mildred Loving, whose marriage helped to change national laws regarding interracial marriage, was first a “beautiful love story, and it spoke to us deeply as the most romantic story we’d ever come across.” But the Lovings’ legacy is also about, as Green notes, “quiet people who did not want to deny their love or the children’s legitimacy. That quiet determination led to an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and it reminds us that even if we are not activists, we can still change the world through love.” Producer-director Kramer reflected those same ideas in many of his most memorable films, from “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” to “The Defiant Ones” and for Green, the award “felt like such a fit” for their film. “I think about his films, and they hit the same note of entertainment and social commentary [as ‘Loving’],” says Green. Like Kramer, she believes that it’s “crucial to tell the stories that are important to us, and to tell the stories about rights that we’ve come to count on and might take for granted.” The current political and social environment more or less demands it. “This court case was only settled 50 years ago. I think that it was a great change, but today, it’s also a warning. These rights are hard won, and hard kept.”

Megan Ellison

Visionary Award

At age 30, the assiduously low-key Megan Ellison, receiving the 2017 Visionary Award, has become a major player in Hollywood in a mere seven years through her Annapurna Pictures.

Since 2012, her production-finance company’s films have racked up 30 Academy Award nominations thanks to “American Hustle,” “Her,” “The Master,” “Foxcatcher,” “Joy” and “Zero Dark Thirty.” Annapurna’s “20th Century Women” has been racking up support during the current season.

The PGA selected Ellison to receive its 2017 Visionary Awardin recognition of “unique or uplifting contributions to our culture through inspiring storytelling or performance.”

Ellison, the daughter of Oracle Corp. co-founder Larry Ellison, was an executive producer on 2010’s “True Grit” along with her brother, David. She founded Annapurna — named after the Himalayan massif she had climbed — in 2011 with a specialty in adult-oriented dramas. In 2012, Annapurna had four movies it had co-produced in release: “Lawless,” “Killing Them Softly,” “The Master” and “Zero Dark Thirty.” “Spring Breakers,” “Her” and “American Hustle” followed in 2013 with Ellison landing best picture Academy Award nominations for the last two. Annapurna has now evolved into a go-to destination for directors and actors seeking a home for high-brow material. It’s in post-production on Alexander Payne’s comedy “Downsizing,” starring Kristen Wiig, Matt Damon, and Jason Sudeikis, and on Kathryn Bigelow’s untitled Detroit riots project. The company is in pre-production on Paul Thomas Anderson’s untitled fashion project starring Daniel Day-Lewis in Day-Lewis’s first role since he won a lead actor Oscar for 2012’s “Lincoln.”Ellison, who doesn’t give interviews, has continued to grow her company. She recently launched the Annapurna Television and Annapurna Interactive divisions.

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