Sam Mendes Wins DGA Award For “1917”
Sam Mendes (center) directs in the trenches for "1917" (photo by Francois Duhamel/courtesy of Universal Pictures)
Alma Har’el tops First-Time Feature Director category on the strength of “Honey Boy”
  • LOS ANGELES
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If history is any indicator, Sam Mendes has to be considered the clear frontrunner to win the Best Director Oscar after last night (1/25) taking the coveted DGA Award for Outstanding Achievement in Feature Film on the strength of 1917. He topped a DGA field of nominees that also consisted of Bong Joon Ho for Parasite, Martin Scorsese for The Irishman, Taika Waititi for Jojo Rabbit and Quentin Tarantino for Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood.

Only seven times in the DGA’s 70-year-plus history has the Guild winner not gone on to take the corresponding Oscar. Mendes is among a group of Best Director Oscar nominees this year which also is comprised of Todd Phillips for Joker, along with Bong, Scorsese and Tarantino.

This marks the second career DGA win for Mendes who first took the Guild honor 20 years ago for American Beauty (1999). In his acceptance remarks, Mendes recalled that first award, admitting, “I didn’t feel like I knew what I was doing. I feel a little more that I do now.”

That first time in the DGA winners’ circle, Mendes reflected on directors from the past whose work he admired. He at one point intended to do the same this time around. However, upon reflecting on his current DGA experience, including the Meet the Feature Nominees symposium he participated in earlier in the morning, Mendes decided to stay current with his sources of inspiration, lauding each of his cohorts’ films, citing Waititi’s bravery and willingness to take chances, bringing humor and a child’s eye-opening perspective to the horrific in Jojo Rabbit, Tarantino for making a movie full of love--for its characters, Hollywood, the movies and the City of Los Angeles--in Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood, Bong for making Parasite, the best film he’s ever seen to depict the plight of the impoverished, and Scorsese for adding the brilliance of The Irishman to a life's body of work that continues to serve as a cinematic beacon to others.

Alma Har’el
Alma Har’el meanwhile won the DGA Award for Outstanding Achievement of a First Time Feature Film Director on the basis of Honey Boy. The film’s story is based on actor Shia LaBeouf’s childhood and turbulent relationship with his father. LaBeouf actually wrote the script as a therapeutic rehab exercise and wound up starring in the film.

In accepting the DGA honor, Har’el thanked LaBeouf for allowing her to tell the story, delving into what children of alcoholics go through and finding forgiveness as the only way to sanity and love. Har’el also thanked the DGA for “adding this category (for first-time directors) four years ago." She described it as an awards platform that includes and celebrates new talent, referring to her fellow nominees--Mati Diop for Atlantics, Melina Matsoukas for Queen & Slim, Tyler Nilson & Michael Schwartz for The Peanut Butter Falcon, and Joe Talbot for The Last Black Man in San Francisco-- as “big-hearted filmmakers” who serve as a shining a light to others.

Har’el also gave a shout out to Jessica Dimmock who’s leading an effort to change the DGA’s policy for new and expectant parents, making maternity leave allowances so that, for example, moms have additional time to meet their working days minimum to qualify for health insurance and other benefits. Har’el expressed hope that the DGA national board will do what’s right, supporting parents so “they can birth the new generation of audiences and filmmakers.”

Even before her DGA Award win, Har’el made a bit of history. As earlier reported in SHOOT, the nomination for Honey Boy made her the first woman to garner career DGA nods in the narrative feature and commercialmaking categories. Her spot nomination came in 2018 for Procter & Gamble’s “Love Without Bias.” (Har’el is handled by Epoch Films for commercials and branded content.)

Making inroads for women has been prevalent in Har’el’s career. 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.

Speaking of commercials, Spike Jonze of MJZ won the DGA spot award for the second consecutive year (see separate story here).

Highlights
Among other highlights, directors Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert took the DGA Award for their documentary American Factory

Nicole Kassell won the marquee TV category in the Dramatic Series category for the “It’s Summer and We’re Running Out of Ice” episode of Watchmen.

Topping the comedy series competition was director Bill Hader for the “ronny/lily” episode of Barry.

Johan Renck won in the Movies For Television and Limited Series competition for Chernobyl.

And James Burrows and Andy Fisher won for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Variety/Talk/News/Sports--Specials for Live in Front of a Studio Audience: Norman Lear's All int he Family and The Jeffersons.

Judd Apatow hosted the ceremony before an audience of 1,500 guests at the Ritz Carlton in downtown Los Angeles. 

Here’s a rundown of the winners at the 72nd annual DGA Awards:

OUTSTANDING DIRECTORIAL ACHIEVEMENT IN THEATRICAL FEATURE FILM
SAM MENDES
1917 (Universal Pictures)
Mr. Mendes’ Directorial Team:
• Unit Production Managers: Callum McDougall, Hannah Godwin
• First Assistant Director: Michael Lerman
• Second Assistant Director: Joey Coughlin
This was Mr. Mendes’ second DGA Award nomination. He won the DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Film for American Beauty in 1999.

OUTSTANDING DIRECTORIAL ACHIEVEMENT OF A FIRST-TIME FEATURE FILM DIRECTOR
ALMA HAR’EL
Honey Boy (Amazon Studios)
Ms. Har’el’s Directorial Team:
• Unit Production Manager: David Grace
• First Assistant Director: Sean Vawter
• Second Assistant Director: Colin Flaherty
• Second Second Assistant Director: Sarah Balboa
This was Ms. Har’el’s second DGA Award nomination. She was previously nominated in the Commercials category in 2017 for Love Without Bias (P&G).

OUTSTANDING DIRECTORIAL ACHIEVEMENT IN DRAMATIC SERIES
NICOLE KASSELL
Watchmen, “It’s Summer and We’re Running Out of Ice” (HBO)
Ms. Kassell’s Directorial Team:
• Unit Production Managers: Karen Wacker, Ron Schmidt, Joseph E. Iberti
• First Assistant Director: Keri Bruno
• Second Assistant Directors: Lisa Zugschwerdt, Ben White
• Second Second Assistant Director: Jessie Sasser White
This was Ms. Kassell’s first DGA Award nomination

OUTSTANDING DIRECTORIAL ACHIEVEMENT IN COMEDY SERIES
BILL HADER
Barry, “ronny/lily” (HBO)
Mr. Hader’s Directorial Team:
• Unit Production Manager: Aida Rodgers
• First Assistant Director: Gavin Kleintop
• Second Assistant Director: Kevin Zelman
• Second Second Assistant Director: Heather Kehayas
• Additional Second Assistant Director: Mikaela Mathern
This was Mr. Hader’s second DGA Award nomination. He won the DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Comedy Series in 2018 for the Barry episode “Chapter One: Make Your Mark.”

OUTSTANDING DIRECTORIAL ACHIEVEMENT IN MOVIES FOR TELEVISION AND LIMITED SERIES
JOHAN RENCK
Chernobyl (HBO)
This was Mr. Renck’s first DGA Award nomination

OUTSTANDING DIRECTORIAL ACHIEVEMENT IN VARIETY/TALK/NEWS/SPORTS – REGULARLY SCHEDULED PROGRAMMING
DON ROY KING
Saturday Night Live, “E. Murphy; Lizzo” (NBC)
Mr. King’s Directorial Team:
• Associate Directors: Michael Mancini, Mike Poole, Laura Ouziel-Mack
• Stage Managers: Gena Rositano, Chris Kelly
This was Mr. King’s fourteenth DGA Award nomination. He previously won the DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in this category for Saturday Night Live episodes, “Adam Driver; Kanye West” in 2018, “Host: Jimmy Fallon” in 2017, “Host: Dave Chappelle” in 2016 and “Host: Justin Timberlake” in 2013. Mr. King also won the DGA Award for Variety/Talk/News/Sports – Specials for Saturday Night Live 40th Anniversary Special in 2015. He was previously nominated for Saturday Night Live episodes in 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014, and in 2015 in the Variety/Talk/News/Sports – Regularly Scheduled Programming category for the Saturday Night Live episode, “Host: Tracy Morgan/Musical Guest: Demi Lovato.”

OUTSTANDING DIRECTORIAL ACHIEVEMENT IN VARIETY/TALK/NEWS/SPORTS – SPECIALS
JAMES BURROWS (‘All in the Family’ and ‘The Jeffersons’ – Directed by)
ANDY FISHER (‘Live in Front of a Studio Audience’ – Directed by)
Live in Front of a Studio Audience Norman Lear’s ‘All in the Family’ and ‘The Jeffersons’ (ABC)
Directorial Team:
• Associate Directors: Martin Pasetta Jr., Sara Niimi
• Stage Managers: John Esposito, Valdez Flagg, Alissa Levisohn Hoyo, Harvey Levine,
Doug Tobin, Richard Silva, Jenny Nolan Bailey
This was Mr. Burrows’ 22nd nomination. He is a ten-time nominee and two-time winner in the Comedy Series category for Cheers in 1982, 1983 (winner), 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1989, 1990 (winner), 1991 and 1992. He won the DGA Award in 1993 for the pilot of Frasier. He was nominated in 1995 for Friends, “The One with the Birth,” in 1997 for the Dharma and Greg pilot, and for episodes of Will & Grace 1998-2003 and 2005, winning the award in 2000 for his direction of the episode “Lows in the Mid-Eighties.” In 2014, he received the DGA’s Lifetime Achievement Award in Television Direction.
This was Mr. Fisher’s second DGA Award nomination. He was previously nominated in this category in 2013 for Jimmy Kimmel Live, “#13-1810.”

OUTSTANDING DIRECTORIAL ACHIEVEMENT IN REALITY PROGRAMS
JASON COHEN
Encore!, “Annie” (Disney+)
Mr. Cohen’s Directorial Team:
• Associate Director: Daniel Shultz
This was Mr. Cohen’s first DGA Award nomination.

OUTSTANDING DIRECTORIAL ACHIEVEMENT IN CHILDREN’S PROGRAMS
AMY SCHATZ
Song of Parkland (HBO Documentary Films)
This was Ms. Schatz’s eleventh DGA Award nomination. She has previously won five DGA Awards in this category for: An Apology to Elephants in 2013, A Child’s Garden of Poetry in 2011, Classical Baby (I’m Grown Up Now), “The Poetry Show” in 2008, ‘Twas the Night in 2001 and Goodnight Moon & Other Sleepy Time Tales in 1999. She was also nominated an additional five times in this category for Saving My Tomorrow, “Part 3” in 2015, Saving My Tomorrow, “Part 1 and 2” in 2014, Don’t Divorce Me! Kids’ Rules for Parents on Divorce in 2012, Hard Times for an American Girl: The Great Depression in 2009 and Through a Child’s Eyes: September 11, 2001 in 2002.

OUTSTANDING DIRECTORIAL ACHIEVEMENT IN COMMERCIALS
SPIKE JONZE
(MJZ)
Dream It, Squarespace – Squarespace
• First Assistant Director: Thomas Smith
The New Normal, Medmen – Mekanism
• First Assistant Director: Thomas Smith
• Second Assistant Directors: David Marnell, Jeff Tavani
This was Mr. Jonze’s fifth DGA Award nomination. He was also nominated this year in the Variety/Talk/News/Sports – Specials category for Aziz Ansari: Right Now. He won the DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Commercials in 2018 for Welcome Home (Apple Homepod). He was previously nominated in this category in 2006 for Hello Tomorrow (Adidas), Penguin (Miller Beer) and Pardon Our Dust (Gap). He was also previously nominated for the Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Film Award for Being John Malkovich in 1999.

OUTSTANDING DIRECTORIAL ACHIEVEMENT IN DOCUMENTARY
STEVEN BOGNAR and JULIA REICHERT
American Factory (Netflix)
This was Mr. Bognar’s first DGA Award nomination.
This was Ms. Reichert’s first DGA Award nomination

SERVICE AWARD RECIPIENTS

Duncan S. Henderson received the DGA’s 2020 Frank Capra Achievement Award, which is given to an Assistant Director or Unit Production Manager in recognition of career achievement in the industry and service to the Directors Guild of America.

Arthur E. Lewis received the DGA’s 2020 Franklin J. Schaffner Achievement Award, which is given to an Associate Director or Stage Manager in recognition of service to the industry and to the Directors Guild of America.

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