February 1, 2004
As the Associate Director for the DGA Annual Awards Dinner, R. Peery Forbis' domain is usually behind the scenes helping to spotlight the award winners. But this year he took center stage to accept the Franklin J. Schaffner Achievement Award, which is presented to an Associate Director, or Stage Manager or Production Associate in recognition of career achievement in the industry and service to the DGA.
"We considered having me accept the award from a stool in the control room or using a taped acceptance speech," Forbis says, "but in the end the team decided I should go on stage and have a fellow AD fill in for me for a few minutes."
A proud member of the DGA for 33 years, Forbis has a long history of dedicated service to the Guild and to his craft. While his career progressed from Stage Manager on a wide range of talk and variety shows to 2nd AD working in film and television, he served on numerous boards and committees — among them as a DGA National Board Associate Board Member (1983–1985) — and was several times elected to serve as a delegate to the DGA National Convention in Los Angeles. Over the years he's frequently served on the Western AD/SM/PA Council, and is a member today.
"Peery has been involved, for as long as I can remember with our Council," said Western AD/SM/PA Council Chair Scott Rindenow. "He has always been there with an open mind and a very objective look at issues that have faced our category, and he's volunteered whenever we've needed him. You can always count on Peery whenever you ask him to be on a committee or to come up with ideas. Peery always asks the right questions and looks at both sides of the issue to come up with solutions to problems we're having. He plays the devil's advocate which is great."
This dedication to the Guild is important to him. "I realized, early on, how short-sighted it is to have an every-man-for-himself attitude," he said. "We must talk to each other; otherwise, our problems don't get solved and our interests won't be served. It's also important for us to stick together and for working members to be involved in Guild affairs and leadership rather than have tunnel vision and focus only on our individual careers."
Forbis' career began back home in Deerfield, Ill., where he developed an interest in theater as a member of the stage crew at Highland Park High School. He also became interested in photography, pursuing both theater and photography at the University of Colorado in Boulder. After serving as a commissioned officer (Reserve) in the Army Air Defense Command, he enrolled at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and earned his M.A. in TV & Film. While job hunting, he received a call about an opening at GTR Productions, a DGA signatory commercial production company in Chicago. Even though his job as a staff AD and associate producer was short lived, he became a member of the DGA as a provisional Midwest staff AD.
He worked briefly as a copywriter at an advertising agency before teaching TV & Film at the University of Connecticut for two years. In 1973 he moved to Los Angeles, originally to work in film, but the requirements then wouldn't allow him to work on a major studio lot. Instead, he set out to find work in video and broadcast production at the networks.
Except for working one summer as a temporary staff member in switching central for NBC, he has since worked steadily as a freelancer for the rest of his career. Initially, he landed a job as a Stage Manager on the game show Baffle at NBC, which allowed him to change his DGA category to Stage Manager. He worked on other game shows before moving on to stints on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, The Today Show and The Tomorrow Show, as well as ABC News coverage of the 1996 Republican National Convention in San Diego. Eventually he changed his primary category to Associate Director and later he added the category of 2nd AD where he worked on feature films such as Dave, directed by Ivan Reitman, and Pretty Woman, directed by Garry Marshall, as well as many television series including Hill Street Blues, Cagney & Lacey, Life Goes On and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
"I'm thankful that I had such a varied career and got to work on so many different types of shows. If I were on a baseball team, I'd be the utility infielder," he said.
While he enjoyed the freedom and variety freelancing offered, there were drawbacks. "Freelancing can be lonely," he said. "You don't meet a lot of the other people who are on staff at a network. Generally, you're there a few hours on the lot and you're gone. You only see other freelancers when you're on the same show."
That feeling of isolation may have motivated him to attend his first Western AD/SM/PA Council meeting. "Suddenly, I was brushing shoulders with other people who had the same concerns and problems. I found the camaraderie inspiring," he said. He continued to attend Council meetings and over time learned about the constitution and bylaws. As he became more involved, he also began to champion involvement to other working members.
In order to deal with what he perceived as "member lethargy," he got involved in the category's Newsletter Committee, which published Your PL Is Open. He wrote articles and in the Spring 1988 issue took over as editor, where he remained until the publication's final issue, Fall 2000.
About the newsletter and his work on various Guild committees, he says, "I feel members need to be more involved. In the first place, the DGA doesn't have a huge staff, and if we aren't willing to do some of the work ourselves then we can't complain too much."
As a member of the Directors Guild's Internal Complaints Committee, he became aware of potential problems in other categories, as well. He participated in two contract negotiations with the AMPTP, and it was during that time he met DGA Past President Franklin Schaffner.
"Franklin Schaffner was highly respected by the opposition," he recalls. "It was considered bringing in our big guns to have him fronting the negotiations. Because of that, I'm very honored to receive this award in his name."
Forbis has been working on the DGA Awards Dinner since 1987 when DGA President Jud Taylor asked him to assist in producing the show. That show has evolved into an elaborate multi-camera, multi-screen high-tech closed circuit television show with close to 2,000 members, guests, celebrities and press attending at the Century Plaza. "When I started pulling clips, there was still wide two-inch tape and people who knew how to edit videotape with a razor blade, but now we have an AVID system for editing and a FLAME for the graphics," he says. "About half of the process now is done on computers."
While he's lived through many changes in technology, he's also experienced many of the issues facing the DGA and, if anything, remains more committed to the philosophy he began living so long ago.
"Having done this work for a long time, it's clear to me that if we didn't have the DGA, we wouldn't have any protection," he said. "Typically the employers are these huge companies, and it's not remotely practical for one person to complain and make that much of a difference. So, we can't just sit back on our hands. We either hang together or hang separately."