The domestic media has long used Golden Globes week as an excuse to mock The Hollywood Foreign Press Association; but the tide is turning and US studios are increasingly coming round to the huge potential of the international market.
It’s Golden Globes week which means it’s the time when the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), the group of foreign journalists which hands out the awards, gets its annual bashing in the US media.
Having been a member of the HFPA for a decade, I have witnessed firsthand the contempt and loathing piled on the group by US media figures who claim the 90 or so members are either obscure, corrupt, opportunistic, dumb or all of those things. It’s always bewildering to me to read the vitriol pour out of Los Angeles Times columnist Patrick Goldstein or the redoubtable Nikki Finke, who clearly view the HFPA as some sort of satanic anomaly which has infiltrated the Hollywood system and cunningly hoodwinked all who associate with it.
I’ll be the first to tell you the HFPA is composed of a colourful bunch of journalists, some young, some old, some less impressive than others. Like any trade association, it’s got some strong personalities and rivalries; members from the same territory often compete for scoops.
“Having been a member of the HFPA for a decade, I have witnessed firsthand the contempt and loathing piled on the group by US media figures.”
But, sorry to disappoint any of those HFPA-haters out there, the vast majority are working journalists who spend their year covering movies and movie stars. They represent a variety of outlets from national newspapers to film titles to entertainment guides. Not many are critics, but they have never claimed to be a critics group; there are some excellent journalists in there.
The group has had an overhaul in credibility since it infamously awarded Pia Zadora a best newcomer Globe in 1981, a prize forever tainted because it was associated with a junket to Las Vegas paid for by a producer of the film who also happened to be Zadora’s husband.
As a member of the HFPA, you learn to roll your eyes when the incident is brought up. Here we go again. No matter that the Globes picks have a more mainstream bent than critics groups and therefore act as an indicator of Oscar choices. No matter that the HFPA has given away millions of dollars in donations, helped restore The Red Shoes and Jean Renoir’s The River or bailed out the LA County Museum of Art’s ailing film programme.
Perhaps what sticks in the throats of the US media is that the HFPA has, over 67 years, parlayed the popularity of the Globes show to give its members access and press opportunities that are equal to domestic. After all, for decades, international media weren’t considered in the same breath as domestic, always relegated to the bottom of the heap just as the international divisions of the studio were considered ancillary to domestic.
“International is where it’s at. You need only look at the Avatar box-office figures as of January 10 to see why the studios now embrace it.”
This resentment brings out some comic xenophobic tendencies. Members are called obscure. But just because nobody in LA County reads their outlets, it doesn’t mean they are obscure in their home countries. Members are mocked for their funny accents, overlooking the fact that most speak multiple languages and at least fluent English. Foreign journalists attend the same junkets, parties and festivals as domestic media. How dare they?
Of course it’s an unnerving time for US press. The tide is turning away from them as taste-makers and opinion leaders when it comes to Hollywood films.
And those pesky film festivals in foreign places like Berlin, Cannes and Venice are increasingly being used as global launchpads for sexy films such as Shutter Islandor Inglourious Basterds.
International is where it’s at. You need only look at the Avatar box-office figures as of January 10 to see why the studios now embrace it. Domestic gross after four weekends: $430.1m. International gross: $906.2m.