Jamie Lee Curtis turned up at UTA headquarters in Beverly Hills on Thursday to help the Producers Guild of America announce the recipient of a fellowship bestowed upon a producer identified as a next-generational talent. Before she handed over the certificate, the Oscar winning actress looked to the past to honor the fellowship’s namesake, the late Debra Hill, a beloved friend and colleague from the Halloween franchise.
Curtis, an early riser who joked that she was out past her typical sunset curfew, said the franchise has been dissected in everything from books to college courses (“literally, PhDs have been earned on Halloween“) as people have attempted to get to the root of its appeal and meaning. She credited director John Carpenter as a “great guy, a wonderful director,” who co-wrote the film with Hill, but noted that it was the female storytelling that also helped the movie rise above.
“I don’t know what their partnership agreement was. I don’t know how they split their jobs, but I guarantee you Debra Hill gave voice to Laurie Strode and her friends, and that’s the legacy of the movie,” Curtis explained of the first film, released in 1978, which brought her and Hill together. “Debra and I became absolute ride or die best friends. I was 19, she was 30, but we were ride or die. We were just incredibly close.”
Curtis got plenty of laughs from the intimate crowd gathered in UTA’s garden courtyard by recalling how much of a penny-pinching producer Hill proved to be. “Debra Hill would sit behind that desk with a super-sized Coke and every crew member would come in with their petty cash envelopes. She would dump them out on her desk and go through them and ask, ‘Three rolls of grip tape? Why’d you need three rolls of grip tape?’ I swear to you that’s true. Debra Hill would go through every single receipt to make sure that that budget was met,” explained Curtis, who also praised Hill as funny, smart and someone who loved people. “I know that she would be very happy that we have all reconnected here tonight.”
Curtis also seemed stoked to connect with another guest of honor, Lynda Obst. The veteran producer teamed with Hill on Hill/Obst Prods., a company that had a deal with Paramount Pictures in a groundbreaking pairing of two rising female producers. Curtis praised Obst as “legendary” at the podium and referred to the duo as “the first in a world of men who just didn’t want them around.” Hill’s other credits include The Fog, Escape from L.A., The Fisher King, Adventures in Babysitting, Clue and The Dead Zone, among many others.
Following the presentation, Obst told The Music news how thrilled she was to be at the event. “When this came up, there wasn’t a chance I wouldn’t go because I wanted to be able to applaud her,” she said of Hill, whose impact on Obst stretched beyond movie sets and development rooms. “She turned me onto ecology and climate change. I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ I was all about El Salvador, Central America and fascism at the time but Debra said, ‘Fascism is not the problem. Your planet dying is the problem.’ She was very early on to that crisis.”
PGA CEO Susan Sprung also took a moment at the podium to explain the history and purpose of the fellowship, which was introduced in 2005, the year Hill passed away from cancer. While it is designed to propel a young producer’s career, the grant, which varies in size and is meant to aid in the advancement of the recipient’s producing journey, is also meant to inspire them to lead with passion off set like Hill did as a champion of producers’ creative rights, female representation in entertainment, environmental issues and mentorship.
“The Debra Hill Fellowship has been presented to an emerging producer since 2005. What started as a collaboration with people who knew and loved Debra has blossomed into a diverse and dynamic community of the next generation of producers and production executives at a time when being a professional, creative person has never been harder in this industry,” Sprung said. “From the industry’s rapidly changing business model to the pandemic to dual strikes, there are just so many obstacles that young producers have to face. The Producers Guild understands how hard it is to get a foothold and start your career as a producer. With this celebration of Debra and the fellowship, the Producers Guild continues our commitment to shining very bright light on a pioneering producer and her legacy.”
Curtis has the honor of handing over the fellowship certificate and announcing the 2023 recipient, Zofia Sablinska. A native of Poland who flew in from Warsaw for the event, Sablinska graduated from the American Film Institute Conservatory, Milan’s Bocconi University and the Institute of Art of the Polish Academy of Sciences. She started on film sets more than a decade ago in Poland, working her way up from a costume assistant to the production office. She has worked with producers Ewa Puszczynska and Sean Bobbitt and held internships at Match Factory Prods., FirstGen Content and Paper Plane Prods. During her MFA she produced seven narrative shorts, including her thesis film.
“Zofia’s work stood out to us for several reasons. She’s a remarkable young filmmaker and the material she chose to produce shows a surprising maturity,” said Stephanie Austin, chair of the Debra Hill fellowship selection committee. “The films she submitted ranged from an exploration of conflicts in values of a recent immigrant father and son, shot in color; an experimental film about the nature of the modern workplace, with no dialogue; and a progressive adaptation of work by Truman Capote, shot in black and white. We do personal interviews at the end of the judging process and that was the deciding factor in Zofia’s case — she has the personality, drive, ambition and communication skills to carry on the Debra Hill producing tradition.”
In closing, Sablinska thanked her parents for supporting her dreams and all the mentors who held her up along the way. “In my mind, I keep going back to the mission statement of the fellowship, which is to support a producer as they embark on their career to change the world, which is huge shoes to fill,” she said at the podium in accepting. “I was thinking that the truth is no one can change the world alone, but we are able to change it together.”