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The Untitled Gary Hilborn Project - A Blog

Premiere University: The Oscar Issue


At the age of twelve, I started paying attention to the business of showbiz. Premiere magazine made its U.S. debut in 1987, and I remember seeing it advertised on TV. I stood absolutely transfixed in our living room as images of the Toms (Hanks and Cruise) and Diane Keaton and Kelly McGillis and Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan panned slowly across the screen. A very classy and announcer-y voice implored television viewers to "call now for the new magazine about movies and the people who make them." With my heart in my throat, I ran back to my parents' bedroom repeating the toll-free number over and over to myself all the way down the hall so as not to forget it. My mother was putting on her make-up at their bathroom sink when I blurted out a breathless request for my first trade subscription.

Mom saw how much this meant to me. She has always been able to look straight into my heart and provide unwavering support for those things that spark joy in my soul. There may have been some discussion about my paying for the magazine out of my allowance. Honestly, I can't remember. The financial arrangements are a bit fuzzy in my mind, but I'm leaning toward the notion that mom and pop ultimately footed the bill. I certainly don't recall how much the subscription cost, but any expenditure of money in our house was made thoughtfully. My father's salary as an officer in the National Guard provided us with (what I assume was) a comfortable existence, but extravagances and impulse purchases were carefully considered. While mom OK'd the expense, she said I'd have to make the arrangements, myself. I called the subscription office and gave them the delivery address. As per my instructions, I asked them to please send an invoice so that we could pay the annual fee by personal check.

Within 4-6 weeks, my first issue arrived. Oh, it was so fancy and glossy and larger than the yellow-bordered National Geographics my dad received every month. Those were rectangular and about the size of a piece of loose-leaf paper. Premiere wasn't very rectangular at all. It was nearly square - a special shape for a special publication. The little white address label gum-affixed to the cover said "Mr. Gary Hilborn" above our street name and number. I pored over every issue the moment it arrived. Mom would leave them on my bed the day they hit our mailbox, so it would be the first thing I saw when I dropped my heavy backpack in my room after the long ride home from Jones Street Junior High. Integration ordinances were still in effect in Central Louisiana, so we were bussed where the Rapides Parish School Board dictated - even if that was several miles and a trip across the Red River away. Though the school day was long and the travel to and fro was wearying, I'd easily gain a second wind on days when my new issue of Premiere arrived. All of the sudden, I didn't mind some extracurricular reading.

There were very few ways to learn how the movie sausage was made in 1987, and I was hungry for an education. You have to remember there weren't 24-hour entertainment channels like E! at that time. And there were no DVD extras showing glimpses of the action behind-the-scenes...because there were not yet any DVDs. (Yes, we're talking the Stone Age, kids.) In addition to in-depth cover stories, pictorials, and reviews, Premiere afforded me a host of informative "courses" in filmmaking by way of its regular monthly columns with clever industry-referencing titles, such as: "The Backstory" - an introduction by the Editor-in-Chief, "Letter Box" - subscriber correspondence with comments from industry insiders, "Flavor of the Month" - a spotlight on hot new screenwriters, and "The Slate" - a roundup of recently greenlit projects.

There was even a satirical (and truly hilarious column) called, "If You Ask Me," written by the playwright Paul Rudnick under the pen name Libby Gelman-Waxner. That's how Libby always ended her columns, "...if you ask me." It was her witty rejoinder that came at every close. Libby offered comical comments on current movies by way of stories about her life in Manhattan, her Jewish mother, her gay best friend, and her husband the orthodontist. At one point in time, I actually owned a hardback compilation of Libby's essays; she was my Carrie Bradshaw long before sex found the city.

Each year, Premiere put out three special volumes: "The Power List," "Women in Hollywood," and the "Special Academy Awards Issue." It was this last one that really set my heart aflame. The Oscar issue had a pull-out poster stapled to the center - folded up into quarters so that when released it became roughly four times the size of the actual magazine. Around the perimeter of this insert were little square sections headed by the various awards categories with each nominee listed below in alphabetical order. The center of the print featured an artistically-rendered drawing of the Oscar statue - different every year. Each spring, I carefully released the staples and freed the prized poster, and then I just as carefully re-bent the fasteners to once again secure the pages of the publication. And each year, that poster was tacked up in my bedroom.

Mom hated thumbtack holes in the drywall, so - for a time - she insisted we use these gummy, sticky, putty things to hang any artwork in our rooms. I'll never forget my horror when within 24-hours of my Oscar poster having been hung with that tacky, white substance did I come home to find oily spots on my prized print! A meltdown ensued, and mom eventually relented on her no pushpin policy. I guess she decided a few tiny holes in the wall were a worthy price to pay if it meant dodging another irrational reaction to a greasy piece of poster paper.

I was certainly aware of the Academy Awards much earlier in life, but I'm not sure they held much interest during my first dozen years. I have a vivid memory of sneaking out of my bed to see C-3PO and R2-D2 make their first Oscars appearance at (what Google has assured me was) the 1978 ceremony. But I don't think I truly knew what I was watching. I just wanted to see those shiny robots from the movie Nana and Papaw G.W. had taken us with them to watch at the Showtown Twin Drive-In in West Monroe. I was only two years old at that time (and I know you may scoff), but I distinctly remember witnessing the flash of a lightsaber battle on a movie screen through a car window while my newborn brother was bundled to my right, and my grandparents flanked us on either side. So while that Late-70's Oscar moment may be my first memory of the broadcast, my love of the ceremony didn't really take hold until my first Premiere Oscar edition arrived.

Another Academy Awards ceremony will air this evening, and I'm looking forward to it just as much as I have since 1987. I've come to know and work with some Academy nominees and winners over the years, and I've also stood on marks next to actors who haven't yet gotten their gold-plated due. Their empty shelves don't mean they aren't every bit as talented as those who are accepting trophies on television tonight. Some of my friends in the business don't share my enthusiasm for awards shows - including (and sometimes, especially) The Oscars. Their reasons are as varied as the people who have them. And while I don't agree, I respect those folks, so I'll extend that respect to their opinions on the matter.

For me, awards season is a time to honor something I've loved since I was two and studied since I was twelve. For me, the Academy Awards are a celebration of artists who team together and diligently work to put a dream on a screen. Yes, there's big business attached to tonight's proceedings. But I'm not so cynical as to write off the whole endeavor as one big trip to the bank. Yes, for each of the five nominees in a performance category there are hundreds or thousands of deserving actors who haven't yet gotten their breaks (and maybe never will). We always knew this business wasn't fair, didn't we? That doesn't mean that the catch in the winner's throat as he thanks his mom and dad and high school acting teacher isn't genuine. The designer gown the "Best Actress" will wear doesn't mean her love of the transcendental space between "action" and "cut" is any less than mine. Their moments in tonight's spotlight don't dampen my glow.

My mother held onto those boxes of magazines I'd carefully catalogued and saved for many years after I left home. She kept them until they'd begun to disintegrate in the storage shed behind her house. She cared for them as long as she could. Maybe she remembered the joy they brought me every time she put one on my childhood bed. Maybe not. Most likely, she protected them for the reasons she protects anything that's special to her boys. If it's important to us, it's important to her. That's just the way my mom is.

Roughly thirty years on since receiving my first issue of Premiere magazine, I count myself very lucky to be working in the industry of which I dreamed while staring at thumbtacked posters and glossy covers. It would be cool to sit down and flip through some of those back issues today, but it's not completely necessary. When I close my eyes, I can still smell that printing press ink and feel the quality of the paper on my fingertips. Some three decades later, the lessons taught to me by "Premiere University" have gotten me very far down this fantastical career path of mine. And every year I get to travel back in time when the presenters ask for the envelope, please. I'm not standing on a stage in a tux tonight, but I'd like to take this time to thank my mom and dad for the many ways the've invested in my dreams - including the six years of subscription fees they paid for a special monthly movie magazine that made an indelible impression on my heart and my mind. Their support of my passion has been perfectly priceless...if you ask me.


featured photo credit: a collection of covers from the early days of PREMIERE Magazine

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