This story first appeared in the Oct. 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
To those working in the entertainment advertising and communications industry, The Hollywood Reporter's Key Art Awards, to be announced Oct. 17 during a ceremony at Hollywood's Cinerama Dome, are akin to the Oscars. "Within our little niche of the entertainment world, it certainly is that honor," says Mark Woollen, whose firm Mark Woollen & Associates won last year's Grand Key Art award for The Social Network's trailer. "In its reach, our work is so vast but so anonymous. What's special is being recognized by your peers, who sometimes fiercely compete with you through the year."
In the 41st year of the contest, 59 judges serving on five juries -- for audiovisual, display, print, digital and integrated campaigns -- chose 223 winners from 2,008 entries in three rounds of voting during August and September.
The Key Art Awards not only present the best in the industry to the outside world, they also remind insiders of the impact of their work. "A lot of people in this business see themselves as passionate and creative. They say: 'I cut cool trailers. I make cool stuff,' " says Mark Trugman, a Key Art judge and the president and CEO of Aspect Ratio. "In fact, what we're doing is creating very distinct advertising for a group of consumers who find it more and more difficult to find reasons to want to come to a theater, creating a form of advertising that people aren't rejecting. They like to see trailers in theaters or online." Who isn't eager to see Aspect Ratio's trailer for Django Unchained that comes out Oct. 19?
"It's an art form in itself," says Trugman. "We just have to have a better idea of who we are and what we do. The awards bring a new level of legitimacy to the work we do."
That goes double for the Key Art winners hungriest for legitimacy -- the students. "Unlike other award shows, ours uses the same judges for students as for the professionals," says CLIO Awards director Karl Vontz, THR's Key Art partner. "One kid will come up for a Gold Award. This guy's going to be shaking a lot of hands. If he's charming and affable, he may have a job offer by the end of the night."
Beside the 223 regular awards (one Grand, 20 Gold, 62 Silver, 72 Bronze and 68 Honorable Mentions), two special Key Art laurels have been announced ahead of the ceremony: an Honorary Key Art Award for photographer Frank W. Ockenfels 3 and the inaugural Saul Bass Award for BLT Communications founding partner Dawn Baillie, creator of promotional imagery for such films as True Grit, Out of Sight and Moneyball.
For THR, Ockenfels has shot Brad Pitt, Jennifer Lawrence and this current issue's cover. He will go to any length to capture a charged moment: For a Mad Men teaser, he built a replica of Don Draper's office in a tank on the Paramount lot and flooded it with hundreds of gallons of water. "Everyone's become very reliant on Photoshop," says Ockenfels. "A real piece of light is a moment in time." Ockenfels' moments stand the test of time.
Vontz says it was tough to come up with the first recipient of the award named for Bass, whose graphic designs and titles for Alfred Hitchcock, Martin Scorsese and Stanley Kubrick are celebrated in daughter Jennifer Bass and Pat Kirkham's landmark 2011 book Saul Bass: A Life in Film and Design. "This award isn't just about glitz and glamour," says Vontz. "It's about your craft. The word associated with Saul Bass is 'iconic.' So we picked somebody who does iconic work." Even her first poster, for Dirty Dancing, shows Baillie's Bass-like gift for graphically defining a film's identity at a glance.
"The poster for The Man With the Golden Arm is permanently burned in every art director's brain," says Baillie. "You simply cannot get more iconic than that. Mr. Bass' work is singular, focused, clean, simple and elegant, and his work for film posters is often imitated. I strive to reach those adjectives in the designs my team creates. Winning the Saul Bass Award, especially the inaugural one, means that my efforts as a designer, creative director and collaborator over the past 27 years haven't gone unnoticed. This award means that while I was buried under deadlines, wrestling with a concept or flailing with a current layout problem, someone noticed the work that somehow turned out OK."
In fact, someone with a good eye noticed Baillie's work early. "I met Mr. Bass the day he received the lifetime achievement award from the Key Art Awards. It was the same year that Silence of the Lambs won awards also." Her poster for the quintuple Oscar winner is Baillie's most famous. "Mr. Bass sought me out after the event to congratulate me and to tell me, 'You are a talented young woman.' "
Baillie will get a chance to pass on such a compliment to this year's winners during the post-awards party at Boulevard3. "It's wonderful to see the work screened at the Cinerama Dome," says Woollen, "but the best part is the party afterward."
For more information, go to www.keyartaward.com.