DGA Awards Preview: Firsts, Two-Timers and A Unique Hat Trick
Alma Har'el
Nominations make history, reflect varied accomplishments
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One, two, three.

One--a number of firsts marked this year’s DGA Awards competition.

Two--a couple of those firsts saw nominees make career imprints on both the feature and commercialmaking fronts.

Three--and one director scored a rare trifecta, giving him career nods in the feature, TV and commercial disciplines.

Scoring a first while also making one of the alluded to marks across narrative features and spots was director Alma Har’el who earlier this month earned a DGA Award nomination for Outstanding Directorial Achievement of a First-Time Feature Film Director on the strength of Honey Boy (Amazon Studios).

This marked the second career DGA nod for Har’el whose “Love Without Bias” commercial for Procter & Gamble landed her recognition in the commercials category in 2018.

Har’el, who’s repped by Epoch Films in the ad arena, thus is the first woman in DGA Awards history to have commercial and narrative feature nominations during her career.

It’s a career which has seen Har’el help to open up opportunities for women in film. In 2016, she founded Free The Bid as a response to her own experience of the ad industry’s hiring inequalities. The Free The Bid pledge prompted brands and their agencies to include at least one woman among the three directors bidding for every commercial job. These commitments--furthered by a Free The Bid database of talent that the industry could tap into--led to measurable increases in the number of women creators considered and hired for major ads. Free The Bid has continued to evolve, looking to extend its reach as Free the Work which is designed to nurture more creators from underrepresented backgrounds, yielding new-to-the-world stories that bring diversity to creativity.

Har’el joins another female filmmaker whose work earlier made the DGA Award nomination grade in commercials and long-form fare. Lauren Greenfield earned DGA nods in 2013 for her feature documentary Queen of Versailles (2012) and two years later for her iconic P&G/Always “LikeAGirl” commercial. The latter was done during her tenure at Chelsea Pictures. She is now handled by Girl Culture Films, a company she founded with partner Frank Evers.

Ridley Scott
Har’el also shares a DGA Awards bond with Sir Ridley Scott who’s among the industry’s perennially most honored filmmakers. But unbelievably, his nomination this year for Hennessey X.O.’s “The Seven Worlds,” produced by RSA Films for DDB Paris, marks his first career DGA Award nod in the commercials category. It joins his other four DGA nominations for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures for Thelma & Louise in 1992, Gladiator in 2001, Black Hawk Down in 2002 and The Martian in 2016--not to mention his receiving the Directors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017.

“The Seven Worlds,” as well as a Turkish Airlines spot for Anomaly Amsterdam, were Scott’s first ad projects in 18 years. A shortened :60 version of the Hennessy piece debuted during the 2019 Oscars telecast. And a trailer promoting the Turkish Airlines film graced last year’s Super Bowl telecast. And of course, the Super Bowl became the marquee platform for ambitious advertising due in large part to Scott’s seminal “1984” commercial some 35 years ago introducing the Apple Macintosh computer. The Orwellian tale, among assorted other tour de force spots, made Scott’s recent return to commercialmaking a welcome back to hallowed ground.

This year Scott and Har’el join select directors whose work has been deemed worthy of DGA nominations in features and commercials during the course of their careers. This accomplished group consists of Alejandro Iñárritu, Garth Davis, David Fincher and Spike Jonze.

Iñárritu via Anonymous Content won the DGA spot award in 2013 for P&G’s “Best Job” and took the Guild’s feature honors in 2015 for Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014) and in 2016 for The Revenant (2015). His first career DGA nomination came in 2007 for Babel (2006).

Davis earned his first DGA Award nod in commercials (then via Anonymous Content) for U.S. Cellular’s “Shadow Puppets” in 2010. Then in 2017, on the strength of Lion, Davis garnered nominations for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in both Feature Film and for a First-Time Feature Film Director. Davis’ current spotmaking/branded content roost is RESET Content.

As for Jonze and Fincher:

Spike Jonze
This year Jonze joined Fincher in scoring a special trifecta. Earlier this month Jonze was not only nominated in the DGA commercials category for the MJZ-produced “The New Normal” for Medmen from agency Mekanism and Squarespace’s “Dream It” but also in the Variety/Talk/News/Sports--Specials competition for 2019 on the basis of Aziz Ansari: Right Now (Netflix). This gives Jonze a rare hat trick accomplishment, having earned DGA nominations in the feature, commercial and TV disciplines. Jonze now has five career DGA nominations, including three for commercials and one in 1999 for his feature film Being John Malkovich. Jonze won the DGA Award last year for Apple’s “Welcome Home” spot.

The Jonze-helmed “Dream It” for Squarespace features Idris Elba lip syncing to a rendition of “Que Sera Sera” as he envisions the different careers he could have ranging from boxer to astronaut, chef and fighter pilot.

“The New Normal” for MedMen, a cannabis retailer with operations across the U.S., depicts the complex history of cannabis, also known as marijuana, among other names.  The commercial chronicles society’s evolving perceptions of the plant, from pre-prohibition to the modern industry of today. While looking back through America’s history, from George Washington’s hemp farm, to Reefer Madness propaganda, “The New Normal” takes the audience on a journey through the injustices of the past and a hopeful view for the future. Jonze and actor Jesse Williams (Grey’s Anatomy) collaborated on writing the film, and saw that much of the commercial’s cast and crew had a personal real-life connection to the plant. Those individuals included military veterans who use cannabis to treat their PTSD, a former NFL football player who uses it as a substitute for opioids, victims of racial profiling and those who work in the emerging industry.

Framestore handled visual effects for “The New Normal,” which also featured the talents of Williams as an actor, Oscar-nominated cinematographer Bradford Young, and production designer James Chinlund whose credits include the recent Disney movie The Lion King.

Fincher’s nominations spanning commercials, features and TV begin in 2004 with a DGA Award win for Nike and Xelibri Phones’ commercials, and another spot nod in 2009 for work on behalf of Nike and Stand up to Cancer. That same year he received his first feature nod from the Guild for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), followed in 2011 and 2012 with nominations for the motion pictures The Social Network (2010) and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011), respectively. In 2014, Fincher scored a DGA nod for the TV series House of Cards (2013).

This year’s field of nominees for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Commercials consists of Jonze of MJZ; Scott of RSA Films; Fredrik Bond of MJZ for HP Elite Dragonfly’s “Lighter Than Air” from MediaMonks, Coca-Cola Light’s “Take It Lightly” out of Ingo, Stockholm, and Apple iPhone’s “Nap”; Mark Molloy of SMUGGLER for Apple’s “Underdogs”; and Dougal Wilson of Furlined for AT&T’s “Train” out of BBDO New York.

Wilson and Molloy are first-time DGA commercial nominees. This marks Bond’s ninth career spot nomination.

First Features
Joining Har’el in the field of nominees for Outstanding Directorial Achievement of a First-Time Feature Film Director are: Mati Diop for Atlantics (Netflix), Melina Matsoukas for Queen & Slim (Universal), Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz for The Peanut Butter Falcon (Roadside Attractions), and Joe Talbot for The Last Black Man in San Francisco (A24).

Like Har’el, several of her fellow nominees have production house affiliations for commercials and branded content. In the ad arena, Nilson and Schwartz are handled by RadicalMedia, and Talbot recently signed with m ss ng p eces.

DGA Award/Oscars
The awards season has again seen the emergence of at least one difference between the Best Director Oscar and DGA Award nominees lineups. In only five of the 72 years of the DGA Awards have the Guild nominations for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Theatrical Feature Film exactly mirrored their Academy Award counterparts.

This time around directors Todd Phillips and Taika Waititi are in line with that history. Phillips earned his first career Best Director Oscar nod for Joker (Warner Bros.) but was not among DGA Award nominees. Waititi, who didn’t make the Oscar cut, earned a DGA Award nomination for Jojo Rabbit (Fox Searchlight).

Four of the five directors vying for the DGA Award and the Outstanding Achievement in Directing Oscar are in sync this year: Bong Joon Ho for Parasite (Neon); Sam Mendes for 1917 (Universal); Martin Scorsese for The Irishman (Netflix); and Quentin Tarantino for Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood (Sony Pictures).

On the flip side of tradition if Phillips were to win the directorial Oscar, he wouldn’t be aligned but rather bucking history.  Only seven times has the DGA Award winner not gone on to win the Oscar. The most recent such occurrence was in 2013 when Ben Affleck won the DGA Award for Argo while Ang  Lee scored the Oscar for Life of Pi.

Even sans a DGA Award nomination, it’s been a stellar awards season for Phillips whose Joker garnered 11 Oscar nominations, the most of any film this year. Phillips is nominated in three categories--Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay (with Scott Silver). Joker is also nominated for Best Lead Actor (Joaquin Phoenix), Cinematography (Lawrence Sher, ASC), Costume Design (Mark Bridges), Film Editing (Jeff Groth) , Original Score (Hildur Guonadottir), Makeup and Hairstyling (Nicki Ledermann, Kay Georgiou), Sound Editing (Alan Robert Murray) and Sound Mixing (Tom Ozanich, Dean Zuipancic, Tod Maitland).

Upon news of the 11 Academy Award nods, Phillips said, “Joker began as an idea, an experiment really--could we take an ‘indie approach’ to a studio film by inverting it into a character study to reflect the world around us? Explore what we’re seeing and feeling in society, from the lack of empathy to the effects of the absence of love. I am deeply honored by the overwhelming recognition of the Academy.” Phillips went on to “thank the genius that is Joaquin Phoenix, and all my incredible collaborators. We are beyond humbled that our peers in the filmmaking community have embraced the film and its message.” 

And while Waititi didn’t score a Best Director Oscar nomination, he too fared well in the Academy Awards derby as Jojo Rabbit earned six nominations. 

Waititi is nominated in two categories, Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay. Jojo Rabbit also received Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actress (Scarlett Johansson), Costume Design (Mayes C. Rubeo), Film Editing (Tom Eagles) and Production Design (production designer Ra Vincent and set decorator Nora Sopkova).

Waititi said he was “humbled” by Jojo Rabbit’s six Oscar nominations. “Thank you to the Academy for embracing Jojo Rabbit and its message. My congratulations and thanks go to the entire cast and crew.”

(Editor’s note: Waititi directs commercials and branded content via production house Hungry Man.)

DGA Award winners will be announced and honored during an awards ceremony on Saturday, January 25, in Los Angeles.




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