Lee Blaine: 2014 Frank Capra Achievement Award

Jan 2014 News

December 16, 2013

DGA Assistant Director/Unit Production Manager (AD/UPM) Council West Alternate Lee Blaine will become the 28th recipient of the Frank Capra Achievement Award, which will be presented at the DGA Awards ceremony on January 25, 2014. 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.

“Lee Blaine makes everything look easy, which is only one of his many gifts,” said AD/UPM Council West Chair Marie Cantin when asked why Blaine was tapped to receive the highest honor that can be bestowed upon a member of his category. “He is the epitome of grace under pressure — someone who leads with intelligence, thoughtfulness, and humor. Lee’s advocacy on behalf of ADs and UPMs who work primarily in commercials has been a game changer for many DGA members. We owe Lee a debt of gratitude for his persistence in sticking to the long view, even when the odds are stacked. I am thrilled the DGA is honoring Lee Blaine with a much deserved Frank Capra Award.”

Blaine first became interested in a life behind the camera while still in high school in Texas. “Three friends and I had two super 8 cameras and we called ourselves ‘Bad Productions,’” he recalls. “We made films for student competitions and for teachers and students who had reports due. I carried that through to college where I majored in communications. When I got out of school, I was pretty much the first free-lancer in San Antonio.”

After moving to Los Angeles to pursue his career, Blaine set his sights on becoming a member of the DGA. “I knew of the stature of the Directors Guild and I just wanted to join. I thought it was the coolest club to be a part of. I’m a film nerd and the overwhelming majority of people who made the movies I grew up on were members of this Guild. It was a goal, so after a point in my commercials career, I made the conscious decision about what category I was going to work in to gain the days to get admission.”

It’s a long road from receiving your DGA card to a Capra award. Candidates must have at least 20 years of active membership and distinguished credits in the DGA, with at least 15 years of service, including elected positions, in the Guild. Since joining the DGA in 1990, Blaine has taken the time to put in extensive service to the Guild beginning more than 15 years ago when he joined the Western AD/UPM Membership Committee in 1997. Dedicated to increasing the profile and participation of DGA members working in commercials, in 1999, Blaine was elected chair of the Western AD/UPM Commercial Committee, a position he held for 13 years. During his tenure, members working in commercials increased their participation on Guild councils, committees and events. Blaine was also elected as an alternate to the Western AD/UPM council in 1999 and as a second alternate to the National Board in 2005, positions he continues to hold today.

He recalls his decision to get more involved stemmed from what he perceived as a lack of representation for Guild members in the commercials arena. “I was making 90 percent of my living in commercials and at the time we kind of considered ourselves the step-children of the Guild. We didn’t realize that it was up to us to put ourselves on the map. UPM Brian Latt kept urging me to attend the AD/UPM Council meetings. He and 2nd AD Allison Bliss were getting the Commercial Committee up and running. I finally decided to take Brian up on his suggestion and came to a meeting. I was floored because there were aspects of things that happened here that I had never known. This really is a guild run by its members. For example, when I put in my application to join I didn’t realize there would be 80 people there looking at it and voting on it. I thought it was just going into a filing cabinet. They needed somebody on the membership committee with a commercials background and someone made the suggestion that I work with Bob Lewis and it kind of went from there.”

After Latt and Bliss moved on, Blaine found himself tapped to be the new chair of the Commercial Committee. He has also served five times as a delegate to the Guild’s Biennial National Convention, in addition to positions on the AD/UPM Administrative Committee, the Navigating the DGA Committee and the Information Committee. Additionally, in 2002, Blaine moderated the AD/UPM Mentor Committee “Meet the Commercial Producers” event and for the past two years, he has participated in the interview process for Western Commercial Training Program applicants and was a speaker at the 2012 Commercial Trainee Orientation. However, it is what he and his fellow members accomplished during his four times on the Commercial Contract Negotiating Committee and his work on the Commercial Committee that he ranks among his proudest achievements, although he considers it more a team effort.

“In regards to the Commercial contract, the reality is if the other members hadn’t actively participated, we wouldn’t have gotten anywhere. I don’t know if it was a matter of things I did, or things I didn’t do, but commercial members started to realize they could come here and have a voice, so they started coming in greater and greater numbers. I’m a big believer in the idea that you can have a bunch of people in a room and they’re all looking at something one way, then someone walks in and looks at it from a completely different angle and it can change the dialogue. When the commercial ADs and UPMs realized they mattered, it went a long way toward improving morale. So in the 2000 Commercial Contracts Negotiations, a good-sized group of members from both coasts got together in a coordinated effort and we came back with some landmark gains. It wasn’t only financial. We got the Commercial Project Listing Form which changed a lot of things. So I think it was just the fact that for some reason, other people decided to come down and speak up.”

He’s also proud of the work he’s accomplished in the thousands of 30 to 60-second long films he’s been a part in making. During his career as a 1st or 2nd AD on commercials, he has interacted with a flip-flop wearing drumming bunny (Energizer); a talking Chihuahua (Taco Bell); cat herding cowboys (EDS); and beer stealing giant crabs (Budweiser). After decades in the industry, he still loves it all. “There’s rarely a job I’m on that’s not fascinating in some way because of the whole process. Everything changes. The circumstances are always different, the people we have to deal with are constantly changing and the technology has been evolving. It’s a combination of everything I loved when I was growing up — storytelling and magic.”

Blaine would love for newer members to follow his example of getting involved and encourages them to take advantage of all the Guild has to offer. “You’ve got to see it as an opportunity to network and it takes time, but you will get jobs. I’ve been offered pilots and television series from the people I’ve met just by being here. I’ve had the opportunity to rub elbows with directors whose work I really admire. I’ve been able to pick up some trade tips from different ADs and UPMs. I really am proud of the fact that you can come down here and be listened to. You have the opportunity to make a positive difference in your career and the career of everyone working alongside of you.”

As for his feelings about receiving the same award that has honored legends like Francisco “Chico” Day, Abby Singer, Howard W. Koch, and Bob Jeffords, Blaine is astounded. “When I sit there and look at the credits of everyone who’s received it in the past, coming from commercials I didn’t see my credits as having the same stature. I appreciate the fact that it’s not just about your career but also what you do for the Guild. You can have a conversation about anybody on that Capra Wall and the shows and films they have done, but when people ask me what commercials I’ve done, usually I get a ‘never saw that….’ So it is overwhelming. I’m flattered, but I see this as being more about what the commercial members have done.”  

Past recipients of the DGA Frank Capra Achievement Award
  • Susan Zwerman (2013)
  • Katy E. Garretson (2012)
  • 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 (1985)
  • Abby Singer (1985)
  • William Beaudine Jr. (1983)
  • William C. Gerrity (1983)
  • Wallace Worsley (1982)
  • David Golden (1982)
  • Francisco “Chico” Day (1981)
  • Emmett Emerson (1980)
  • Robert Caminiti (1999)
  • C.J. Rapp-Pittman (1998)
  • Joseph L. Dicso (1997)
  • Don Lewis Barnhart (1996)
  • Larry Carl (1995)
  • James E. Wall (1994)
  • James “Woody” Woodworth (1993)
  • Marilyn Jacobs-Furey (1992)
  • Chester O’Brien (1991)
  • Mortimer O’Brien (1991)