By Mike Reynolds
Over decades the 78-year-old Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) has exerted incredible power, especially when it comes to other awards. Comments from Yahoo news stories about the HFPA, for example, go as far back as 2016, and include such observations as “[HFPA’s] Golden Globes can influence the Oscars by giving lesser-known films more recognition and Oscar buzz” and “Plenty of Oscar-nominated actors and films won Golden Globes.”
The fact is that the HFPA and its Golden Globe awards do have influence over the movie and TV industry’s other awards. At one time many of the older TV and Film Academy voting members didn’t (or weren’t able to) get out and see movies, or simply couldn’t keep up with all the TV contenders, but when their voting papers came in the mail they used the Globe nominations to dictate their ballot votes, with maybe a few other marks going to friends who had a movie or TV show out that year. This made it easier to vote and seem in touch with the present day. Studios and networks caught on and played on that powerful Globe factor. That scenario didn’t change much even upon the arrival of VHS tapes and DVD screeners.
Compared to other associations that dish out awards, the HFPA has always had a considerably lower number of members (just over 80 at press time). That said, the power wielded by the organization has been unprecedented and supported with lavish gifts, special flights overseas, special dinners, as well as photo and autograph opportunities with stars and directors.
Most professional journalists would never ask talent for their autographs or to have a photo taken with them as it reduces professionalism to fan worship, thus changing the dynamic. However, such incidents have become commonplace for HFPA members over the years, and it results in votes from the organization’s members for the celebs they meet and greet.
Some suggest that this behavior constitutes a cartel, and shows the world just what the HFPA can do with the money and power the organization has been able to wield over the years, especially since NBC/dick clark Productions first put the Globes on TV screens. The event has brought millions to the organization annually and the deal is now worth a reported $30 million a year.
Where is that money going? Currently, according to my sources, Ropes and Gray, the HFPA’s main consultants, have received a total of $2.5 million since March; PR firm Sunshine Sachs, which in the recent past was being paid $7,000 a month, is now receiving $37,000 a month; James Lee, a crisis PR expert, is receiving $425,000 for three-to-four months of work; and Leadership Lab International DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) consultants are set to receive $750,000. Add that to a payment to the law firm Latham Watkins, which purportedly charged the HFPA over a million dollars for the lawsuit against the Norwegian journalist Kjersti Flaa.
Fees for the law firms Kendall, Brill & Kelly and Ramsey & Ehrlich were not available at press time.
Other expenses include the just over $24 million to acquire two plots of land on Robertson Blvd. in Los Angeles, upon which a new HFPA home is to be built for around $60 million. Additionally, the HFPA’s digital team apparently gobbles up tens of thousands of dollars a month for work on its website.
While looking at the financial picture, how professional an organization is the HFPA when annual dues are less than $20 and what does that say about the income level of the majority of its membership?
Further, on the financial side, my inside sources reveal that while HFPA members were once allowed a monthly look at the financial figures, those treasury reports are no longer viewable. This means that payments to members and the board are now secret, as are the ins and outs of the lifetime payments of $1,000-$1,500 per month granted to all past HFPA presidents. (It is unknown whether payments to Philip Berk have stopped since his expulsion.)
Note: As the HFPA is a non-profit, anyone, even those not associated with the organization, is legally allowed to view the financial books and the law also states that specific financial documents must be made available to members at the company offices. Such a request would have been difficult of late, as members claim the office has been locked, as it was when I tried to visit.