Jim Tanker: 2018 Franklin J. Schaffner Achievement Award Recipient

DGA Awards 2018

December 20, 2017

Associate Director Jim Tanker will become the 27th recipient of the Franklin J. Schaffner Achievement Award, which will be presented at the DGA Awards ceremony next month. The Schaffner Award is given to an Associate Director or Stage Manager in recognition of their service to the industry and the Guild.

See video of Jim Tanker's speech below.

A DGA member for 40 years, Tanker has been active in the Guild for three decades, and has been the director of the DGA Awards show for the past five years. He has served as an alternate or member on the AD/SM/PA West Council nearly continuously since 2000 and before that from 1988 to 1990. 

A native of Morton Grove, Illinois, Tanker’s long career in live television began back when he was in college at Bradley University in Peoria.

“I was a speech and theatre arts major,” Tanker recalls. “While in school, I started working at a WTPV-TV, a public television station and decided that I would rather enter the television industry than pursue a career in theatre. My breakthrough came when I decided to move markets from a small TV station to Chicago, landed a job at NBC owned and operated station WMAQ-TV, and became a DGA member.”

Following the advice of a fellow staff director, Allan Kartun, Tanker moved from Chicago to Los Angeles and Kartun helped him get established on the West Coast.

“He was the only person I knew in the LA market and provided several introductions that resulted in employment. The rest is all about networking but you certainly need to have someone open the door.” 

Tanker also cites legendary DGA director-members Don Mischer and Louis J. Horvitz as huge influences on his career from the early days into the present. “They continue to be significant mentors. Both are giants in the live variety genre and were exceedingly generous in their time and trust to employ me on their huge high visibility programs like the Academy Awards and the opening and closing ceremonies of the summer and winter Olympics in Atlanta and Salt Lake City.”

In addition to the aforementioned productions, Tanker’s long career as an Associate Director includes numerous other high-profile award shows and events including: the Kennedy Center Honors, Golden Globe Awards, Grammy Awards, Emmy Awards, and he has worked extensively in sports, news. He has also worked as a director on the hit reality series Big Brother and counts amongst his proudest professional achievements being asked to direct the live episodes after the show became a DGA signatory.

“I am very grateful to the Guild for pursuing the reality television genre and signing many producers as signatories,” said Tanker.

Despite a very busy career, Tanker thought it important to give back to the Guild that gave him so much. “As I moved from mainly news and sports into variety, it became apparent that the Guild was very active on behalf of its members to assure a safe working environment on shows and respond to the needs of members regarding working conditions. Since I was lucky enough to work as an Associate Director on many large productions, I felt I could lend my voice to the AD/SM/PA Council as a representative of the variety community and was elected to the Council.”

Attending Council meetings is the one piece of advice he loves to pass on to his fellow members be they just starting out in the Guild or veterans. 

“They are a wonderful source of information regarding Guild issues, new technology and real world working conditions. Also, the networking opportunities these meetings provide is invaluable.”

In addition to his Council service, Tanker also served five times on the DGA Negotiations Committee for the 1987, 2008, 2011, 2014 and 2017 cycles. He recalls being both honored and proud when he was asked to serve on the 1987 Negotiations Committee when Franklin J. Schaffner, for whom the prestigious award is named, was a chair.

“I was able to witness his skill in negotiating with the producers. I was and continue to be amazed at the thoughtful approach the Guild takes in doing their homework and preparing for negotiations.”

Asked why Tanker was chosen to receive one of the highest honors the Guild can bestow on a member of his category, AD/SM/PA Council West Chair Valdez Flagg answered, “Jim Tanker — the consummate Associate Director (also now, DGA Director) — has been and remains outstanding in the field in the evolution of Variety Television premiere shows. Jim has been relied upon by and anchored the most excellent, creative, austere and demanding Directors of the last 35 years! Within Jim resides the experience and information that makes up a true professional. This, in addition to his longtime dedication and service to the DGA, makes him deserving of the 2018 Schaffner Award.”

And when Tanker himself was asked how he feels about being tapped by his peers to have his name added to the long list of notables who preceded him as Schaffner Award recipients, he admits he was surprised at the honor and modestly replied, “There are so many others who seem to contribute more of their time than I do and are worthy of recognition. But I am very grateful because we are a large guild of very active members and their esteem is very important.”

-portrait by Elisa Haber

Tanker accepts Franklin J. Schaffner Achievement Award

Past recipients of the Franklin J. Schaffner Achievement Award:
  • Tom McDermott (2016)
  • Julie Gelfand (2015)
  • Vince DeDario (2014)
  • Dency Nelson (2013)
  • Dennis W. Mazzocco (2012)
  • Maria Jimenez Henley (2010)
  • Scott Berger (2009)
  • Barbara J. Roche (2008)
  • Terry Benson (2007)
  • Donald E. Jacob (2006)
  • Stanley Faer (2005)
  • Peery Forbis (2004)
  • Esperanza “Candy” Martinez (2003)
  • Anita Cooper-Avrick (2002)
  • Robert N. Van Ry (2001)
  • Scott L. Rindenow (2000)
  • 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)