Michael Apted: 2013 Robert B. Aldrich Award

DGA Awards 2013

December 17, 2012

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 65th Annual DGA Awards on February 2, 2013, former DGA President and current Secretary-Treasurer Michael Apted becomes only the twenty-sixth member ever honored with this accolade.

“The service and dedication of our members is our Guild’s greatest strength, and no one embodies these qualities more than Michael Apted,” said DGA President Taylor Hackford in announcing the award. “Michael has packed more Guild service into the 15 years since he was first elected to the Western Directors Council than most can do in an entire career. He is unflagging in his leadership and steadfast in his devotion to our Guild, and we are proud to honor him, through this award, for the extraordinary commitment and service he has graced us with these many years.”

A veteran feature and documentary film director from the UK, Apted joined the DGA in 1978 when he came to the United States to make his DGA and Academy Award-nominated feature Coal Miner’s Daughter. “Coal Miner’s Daughter gave me a place at the table here in the American filmmaking community,” Apted recalls. “It led to me joining the Guild and becoming an American citizen.”

Although he maintained a busy career directing features such as Continental Divide, Gorillas in the Mist and Class Action, as well as continuing his lauded documentary series that began with 7 UP, Apted didn’t become involved with the Guild until the studio wanted to make severe cuts to his 1992 feature Thunderheart. “They were going to cut it from 118 minutes to 91 minutes and I was beside myself. It wasn’t that I objected to being cut, but there was a bigger issue at stake. It was about Native Americans and I’d made a lot of promises to them because the subject matter was dealing with a very difficult period in their history. They were going to cut out all the cultural things that spoke about the spiritualism. I felt that dishonored the agreements I had made with the community.

“So I went to the Guild and talked to Warren Adler and he said ‘We should fight this.’ And fight it we did. The Guild backed me through quite a lengthy period of depositions, and proceedings in the lower courts until it went up the Ninth Circuit. We won every decision. It was decided they had cut my film unilaterally and that I had a right to protect the film that I had made and my obligations. I was allowed to put on the front ‘This film does not represent the intention of the director’ and as soon as I got that decision, Fox backtracked completely and threw in the towel. I was thrilled by the way the Guild had helped me and it showed me the power of the DGA in the area of creative rights. It was an epiphany. So I became more involved in the area of protecting creative rights and got to know people like DGA National Executive Director Jay D. Roth and then President Jack Shea and I was elected to a seat on the Western Directors Council.”

Elected President at the DGA biennial convention in June 2003, Apted would go on to serve for three terms, from 2003-2009, and enjoyed the longest consecutive presidential service since George Sidney in the 1960s. During his tenure, he oversaw collective bargaining negotiations for the Basic Agreement and FLTTA (including the 2004 round that successfully protected health benefits and the 2007 round that established jurisdiction and compensation formulas in new media); an increased focus on research; a new emphasis on reality television, including the formation of the DGA Reality Television Committee and the organization of nearly 350 shows in this genre; the development of the DGA Quarterly in 2005 to focus on the craft of directing and the DGA Monthly in 2004 to keep members informed about Guild news and events; and the Guild’s fight against digital theft.

“It wasn’t an easy time, but we did well. We never raised our dues and we never cut back on the things we offered our members even though we were in a recession. I liked being considered a part of the team of the continuing growth of the Guild. I think I managed to have a very strong relationship with Jay and the staff and that we understood each other and that we did a lot of things. We accomplished a lot of things that became part of the tissue of the Guild and I was honored to be asked to serve a third term as president and happy to do it. But by the time I got to the end I realized it was time for new blood.”

Even though he stepped down as president in 2009, Apted has remained extremely involved in Guild service, continuing to serve on the National Board including his current position as Secretary-Treasurer, as well as co-chairing of the Political Action Committee’s Leadership Council and shepherding the Guild’s year-long celebration of its 75th anniversary in 2011 as chair of the 75th Anniversary Advisory Committee.

Apted got his start in England at Granada Television as a researcher on the original 7 UP documentary. “Granada started recruiting people straight from university to become versed in the world of television and that ended up being a big break for me because otherwise I’d probably have ended up as a small town lawyer. I was promoted to director on a very low level doing magazine programs and the news before for I started doing small documentaries, but I also wanted to do drama, so I started working on a soap opera called Coronation Street which is still going on. So early on I sort of established a double career of doing both documentaries and drama work. Granada was a small company that had to be flexible to keep going and that allowed me to do different things. That’s why I could go from doing a documentary to doing a soap opera. I did everything from football matches to live entertainment shows and religious programs. If I’d been at the BBC, I’d have been put into a department and I would have stayed there in a narrow box. I went freelance in the 1970s making movies before I came to America to make Coal Miner’s Daughter.”

As well as the aforementioned films, Apted’s filmography includes the internationally-acclaimed, multi-award winning documentary sequels 7 Plus 7, 21, 28, 35, 42, 49 UP and 56 UP as well as the feature films The World is Not Enough, Gorky Park, Nell, Enigma, Amazing Grace, and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. In addition to his documentary and feature work, Apted has worked extensively in television, including directing the first three episodes of HBO’s epic series Rome for which he received the 2005 DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Dramatic Series. Additionally, Apted has received numerous other awards and nominations for his body of work, including a Grammy, a British Academy Award, and the International Documentary Association’s Career Achievement Award. By the order of Queen Elizabeth II, Mr. Apted was made a Companion of the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George for his work in the film and television industries.

Although his Guild service has been almost beyond measure, Apted still finds it humbling to be singled out to become the latest recipient of the Robert B. Aldrich Award and somewhat ironic as he is so used to being on the other side of this equation. “During my terms in office, I participated in giving this out to other members, so I know what goes into deciding who gets it. It’s not just the whims of the president, but also that of the other distinguished members of the Guild. So it’s a great honor.”

Past recipients of the DGA Robert B. Aldrich Award

  • 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)
  • Max A. Schindler (1995)
  • Burt Bluestein (1994)
  • Gene Reynolds (1993)
  • John Rich (1993)
  • Jack Shea (1992)
  • Larry Auerbach (1991)
  • Milt Felsen (1991)
  • George L. Schaefer (1990)
  • Gilbert Cates (1989)
  • Sheldon Leonard (1988)
  • George Sidney (1986)
  • Elliot Silverstein (1985)
  • Robert E. Wise (1984)