December 16, 2016
The Aldrich Award was established in 1984 to recognize extraordinary service to the Directors Guild of America and to its membership. The recipients of this honor are a prestigious list of individuals who have gone above and beyond in their service to the Guild. At the 69th Annual DGA Awards on February 4, 2017, DGA Third Vice President Thomas Schlamme becomes the twenty-eighth member ever honored with this accolade.
“From the boardroom to the bargaining table, Thomas Schlamme exemplifies the service and dedication upon which our Guild was founded – all while maintaining a successful and demanding career,” said DGA President Paris Barclay upon announcing the award. “For more than a decade and a half, we have all benefited from his laser-focus on the creative and economic rights of directors. We couldn’t be more proud to honor him for his steadfast commitment to our members and extraordinary contributions ranging from his leadership in our negotiations as co-chair, to his service on our National Board and Western Directors Council.”
A DGA member since 1978, Schlamme is currently the Guild’s Third Vice President and Co-Chair of the 2017 BA/FLTTA Negotiations Committee alongside Michael Apted. He has been on the DGA National Board since 2005 and previously served as Fifth Vice President, Co-Chair of the Negotiations Committee in 2014 and as a member of the Negotiations Committee since 2008. He has been a member of the Western Directors Council since 2003, a member of the Creative Rights Committee since 2001, and is also a founding member of the DGA Political Action Committee’s Leadership Council.
He recalls a lunch he had with then president of the Guild Michael Apted. “I am forever thankful to him for taking the time to explain to me the virtues of being involved in the Guild. He could not have been more accurate. I saw the way members like him, and Gil Cates and Taylor Hackford balanced their lives, their careers and their commitment to this extraordinary organization and it was very inspiring.”
On top of his dedication to the Guild, Schlamme has built an impressive resume of remarkable projects. Known for his groundbreaking work in television dramas, he began his career directing cutting-edge music videos and concert films for Bette Midler in the 1980s, moving from there to directing Whoopi Goldberg and Robert Klein comedy specials for HBO. He recalls being drawn to the industry while growing up in Houston, Texas, where, ironically, he didn’t get to watch much television.
“The way I ended up in this business was probably because of air-conditioning,” Schlamme recalls. “I was a jock in high school; it was Houston, hot and humid, and tough to do two-a-day practices in football. I found out the only air conditioned room in our school was the drama class. There I met a teacher and director named Cecil Pickett, who became enormously influential. His talent and passion ignited a curiosity in me to tell stories that is still there to this day.”
Since launching his career, Schlamme has built an impressive resume with feature film directing credits including So I Married an Axe Murderer, You So Crazy and Miss Firecracker; and movies for television such as Kingfish: A Story of Huey P. Long and Crazy from the Heart. But he is best known for his work in the realm of television where he got his start producing and directing the critically acclaimed series Tracey Takes On..., for which he received an Emmy Award. After that he began directing numerous episodes of hit television series including Mad About You, Friends, Ally McBeal, The Practice, Chicago Hope, and ER, for which he garnered an Emmy nomination for direction of his episode “Ambush.”
He also directed and is credited with creating the look of such hit series as Spin City, The Larry Sanders Show and Parenthood, along with Invasion, Boston Public, Mr. Sunshine, Sports Night, The West Wing, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, Jack & Bobby, Murder in the First, Pan Am and Manhattan. In addition to directing episodes of other TV dramas such as The Americans and the mini-series When We Rise for ABC, he continues to develop projects under his company Shoe Money Productions. His latest project Snowfall will premiere on FX in 2017. While he also wears the hat of Executive Producer, helming projects is still his first love. “I’m happiest and most fulfilled when I’m directing.”
For Schlamme, it’s not so much about the quantity of the work, but the quality. That factor has been recognized by his peers and he was nominated for DGA Awards in Dramatic Series for the pilot episode of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip in 2006, the “Two Cathedrals” episode of The West Wing in 2001 and the pilot episode of that series in 1999. He won the DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Dramatic Series in 2000 for his episode of The West Wing, “Noel.” No stranger to the genre of comedy, Schlamme also won the DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Comedy Series for both his 1998 pilot episode of Sports Night and his 1999 episode of that same series, “Small Town.” He has further earned DGA Award nominations in Musical Variety for his 1997 episode Tracey Takes On…, “1976” and his 1996 episode Tracey Takes On..., “Romance.” His work as a director has also brought him three Emmy Awards along with another four nominations.
While his work has brought him accolades aplenty, Schlamme recognizes how special it is to be the recipient of this award given for his service to his fellow members.
“I am very humbled to receive this award especially when I look at the list of past recipients. It has been my honor to give back to this remarkable Guild, which has protected and provided so much to so many.”
photo by Scott Council
Past recipients of the DGA Robert B. Aldrich Award:
- Steven Soderbergh (2014)
- Michael Apted (2013)
- William M. Brady (2009)
- Paris Barclay (2007)
- Taylor Hackford (2007)
- Jeremy Kagan (2004)
- Jud Taylor (2003)
- Edwin Sherin (2002)
- Robert Butler (2001)
- Tom Donovan (2001)
- Arthur Hiller (1999)
- Martha Coolidge (1998)
- Delbert Mann (1997)
- Daniel Petrie (1996)