Katy Garretson: 2012 Frank Capra Achievement Award


December 14, 2011

Former Western Assistant Director/Unit Production Manager (AD/UPM) Council Chair Katy Garretson will become the 26th recipient of the Frank Capra Achievement Award, which will be presented at the DGA Awards ceremony later this month. The Capra Award is given to an Assistant Director or Unit Production Manager in recognition of their career and service to the industry and the DGA.

Reflecting on why Garretson was tapped to follow the footsteps of such legendary ADs as Abby Singer and receive the highest DGA honor the category can bestow, current AD/UPM Council Chair Marie Cantin said, “By recognizing Katy’s career trajectory and her exceptional record of service, this well-deserved honor speaks volumes about her talent and determination, but it says even more about her willingness to take risks when the stakes are high. She leads by example and is a tireless advocate for all DGA members.”

Capra award candidates must have at least 20 years of active membership and distinguished credits in the DGA, with at least 10 years of service, including elected positions, in the Guild. With credits on both television and feature films, and after having spent nearly a decade as either a member or an ex-officio of the AD/UPM Council — including three terms as Council chair, and having served as an Associate Member of the DGA National Board from 1999-2003, Garretson seems a natural selection. A life in the industry, however, was not her initial dream.

“I came from a military family and knew absolutely nothing in the business,” Garretson recalled. “I went to USC as a political science major and my original plan was to go to law school. I wanted to work in government, move to D.C. and change the world.” But a college job as a Universal Studios tour guide changed her destiny. “I kind of got sucked into the business, so as soon as I graduated I took the DGA Trainee test.”

After graduating from the Assistant Directors Training Program in 1990, Garretson was immediately hired to be the Key 2nd AD on a new version of Columbo. She recalls her first realization that she was on a special path: “During my first week, I was running through the halls of Universal’s 480 Building with my call sheets and literally bumped into Abby Singer. Abby said, ‘Hey kid, we voted you in last night.’ It was such a moment having Abby Singer tell me I was voted into the Directors Guild of America and was in the same club as people I so looked up to.”

Two years after receiving her DGA card, Garretson was elected to the AD/UPM Council. “I remember showing up for my first Council meeting, never having been in the 6th floor boardroom. I sat down at the table and was actually asked to leave by a staff member because nobody knew who I was. The first year I didn’t really open my mouth, but after a couple of years they couldn’t shut me up. When I was elected Council Chair I was absolutely petrified, but I grew comfortable in the position, and apparently others thought I did a good job, as I was re-elected twice by acclamation. I guess I was able to fulfill those early ‘government’ aspirations through my service to the Guild.”

In addition to her service on Council, Garretson also dedicated years to numerous Guild committees, including the Contract Proposals Committee, Working Conditions Committee, Administrative Committee, and she has been elected as a delegate to 10 consecutive Biennial Conventions. As busy as her Guild service kept her, Garretson was also able to rack up an impressive professional resume. She’s worked with some of the best Directors in features, episodic television and movies for television including Gil Cates, Ridley Scott, Blake Edwards, and James Burrows, to name a few.

“I didn’t really have any mentors per se, but there were people who gave me opportunities, and from whom I learned a great deal. Director/Writer David Lee, the creator of Frasier, saw something in me and moved me up from 2nd AD to 1st AD and also gave me my first shot at directing; Lee Shallat Chemel has been a good friend and advisor over the years. I’ve also benefitted greatly just from watching the incredible directors I worked with, like Jim Burrows. Being an AD allows you to observe whomever you’re working with, and if you’re working with great people, some of that’s ideally going to rub off. I’ve worked with a lot of great people and I’d like to think that I’ve benefitted from that experience.”

During her 20 years in the trenches, Garretson’s most proud of just having been able to work consistently. “I feel blessed, not having come from a Hollywood family, to have been able to join into this community. As an AD, I was lucky and never had any downtime — I went from one show to the next. Along the way, I was able to make choices as to how my career would evolve. I said yes when the sitcoms called instead of staying in features, even though it would have been easy to stay in single-camera work. The same week I got the call for Frasier, I also got called for The Bridges of Madison County. I chose Frasier. Some of my single-cam friends said I was ‘going soft,’ but it was a lifestyle choice. I chose to work in comedy so I could go to work and laugh every day. I was ready to stay in town and have time to devote to other things in life. So I went with the sitcom and spent 10 years on a show which would end up helping my career evolve further.”

Although the things she accomplished during her Guild service would polish any resume, for Garretson her best memories come from individual moments. “There are moments when I’ve been an outspoken and passionate advocate for causes within the Guild such as the PAC committee. I also know I’ve been instrumental in getting people elected to the National Board, as I was willing to speak passionately about them. I’ve never been one to not say how I feel and what I think, and that’s not always a positive for your career or your Guild service. I think people know that I have integrity when I speak and, hopefully, they respect me whether they agree with me or not. Living in fear doesn’t get you anywhere. When there’s an elephant in the room and nobody’s talking about it, chances are you’re not the only one feeling it. That doesn’t mean I’m not scared to open my mouth and voice an opinion, or that I don’t second guess myself afterward, but I’ve always made it a point to voice what I think is important, regardless. I do think that I’ve made a difference, and I’m proud of that.”

Garretson’s peers have apparently agreed with that assessment and she is touched to be the next name on a long list of legendary recipients of the Frank Capra Achievement Award. “It’s amazing because, even though I still do as much as I can through being a delegate or serving on panels, my service — for the most part — was at its most active period 10 years ago. So the fact that my peers remembered me and feel like I made a difference means the world to me. I am so touched by this award; I cried when I found out. It just validates all of the work that was done. It’s a special feeling being acknowledged by people you’ve worked with and I’m really thrilled.”

Although she’s now transitioned from her AD work to directing, Garretson admits, “I will always be an AD in my soul. It shaped who I am. The skills I developed as an AD are the skills you use in life.” 

Past recipients of the DGA Frank Capra Achievement Award

Cleve Landsberg (2010) • Kim Kurumada (2009) • Liz Ryan (2008) • Jerry H. Ziesmer (2006) • Herb Adelman (2005) • Stephen Glanzrock (2004) • Yudi Bennett (2003) • Burt Bluestein (2002) • Cheryl R. Downey (2000) • Tom Joyner (1999) • Bob Jeffords (1998) • Peter A. Runfolo (1994) • Willard H. Sheldon (1993) • Howard W. Koch (1991) • Stanley Ackerman (1990) • Alex Hapsas (1988) • Henry E. “Bud” Brill (1987) • Jane Schimel & Abby Singer (1985) • William Beaudine Jr. & William C. Gerrity (1983) • Wallace Worsley & David Golden (1982) • Francisco “Chico” Day (1981) • Emmett Emerson (1980)