Kathleen McGill: 2019 Frank Capra Achievement Award

71st DGA Awards

December 19, 2018

UPM Kathleen McGill will become the 33rd recipient of the Frank Capra Achievement Award, which will be presented at the DGA Awards ceremony on February 2, 2019. 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.

A DGA member since 1995, Kathleen McGill’s career in the world of entertainment began after she studied acting and directing at the University of Michigan before moving to New York to pursue her profession. But as fate would have it, she would soon find a better fit that melded her passions with her strengths. She got her first real taste of the industry as an office manager at a commercial production company.

“I ordered equipment, helped with casting, I did everything and really started to learn the film business,” McGill recalls. While it was a solid introduction to the production world, she really became sold on this career path upon landing an assignment as the production accountant on John Badham’s Saturday Night Fever. “At that point I really had the bug. Working on that movie was so exciting that there was no looking back.”

McGill became more interested in the production management end of the business and credits her interactions with UPM Judy Stevens for mentoring her in the work of that category and inspiring her to join the Guild. “Judy asked me to co-UPM with her on a series in New York she was producing. While I had great support from a number of people, that really opened the door for me.”

In 1995, she formally joined the DGA as a UPM on the series Central Park West, and kicked off a new and rewarding chapter in her life. McGill also cites Stevens as the inspiration for her dedication to DGA service. “I got active right away. Within a couple of years, I was attending Council meetings, doing committee work and loving every minute of it.”

The fact that even though she has a busy career, she has also been able to make a solid contribution to her fellow members means a great deal to McGill. She is currently a DGA National Board Member, having been first elected to the Board in 2003 as an Alternate and served eight consecutive terms since then. Some of her various committee appointments through the years include: the New York Building Committee, First-Time Feature Film Award Screening Committee, DGA Honors Committee; as well as several Eastern AD/UPM Council Committees such as the Proposals Committee; Orientation, Education & Membership Committee; and the Eastern UPM Committee. She also served as a delegate to seven DGA Biennial Conventions; and is a member of the DGA PAC Leadership Council. But it is her efforts on the DGA Negotiations Committee for the 2011, 2014 and 2017 negotiations cycles that gives her the greatest sense of accomplishment. She remembers an example from a previous round of negotiations. “With my strong financial background, I was able to help analyze the effect and value of increasing benefits by fringing Completion of Assignment and Vacation Pay during our 2011 contract negotiations. Based on our findings, we set the goal and went on to win a great increase in benefits at the bargaining table. Being part of the team that helped strengthen our Health Plan as well as assisting many members who otherwise would not have qualified for health coverage, is a highlight of my work on the negotiating committee.”

Since she was first elected to the Eastern AD/UPM Council in 2000, McGill has served ten terms on the Council including service as Council Chair from 2014-2017. She recalls her early days on the Eastern AD/UPM Council where the effort to attract increased participation often ran up against the ordinary obligations of work and family, as well as the general view of “I’m okay, the Guild has me covered.” While the responsibilities of work and family were understandable, the view of “leaving it to the other guy” was not a reason to relax. “As I got involved we made a full court press to encourage active working members to participate. Little by little, we’ve achieved a real cultural change over the years that I feel really grateful for because I worked hard at it.”

The Capra Award is not only presented for service to the Guild and the industry, but it is also given in recognition of distinguished career achievement. In that regard, McGill is a perfect fit. While she was serving the DGA, she was also steadily working as a UPM on major motion pictures such as Ron Howard’s The Da Vinci Code, Frost/Nixon and his DGA Award-winning feature, A Beautiful Mind. Since 2012 she has been the UPM on the X-Men franchise including Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Days of Future Past and X-Men: Apocalypse, and is currently at work on Simon Kinberg’s X-Men: Dark Phoenix.

As a UPM, McGill thinks her ability to support the director’s vision in a very real way is her main strength and proudest achievement. “I inherited a very good sense of economics and finance from working as a film accountant for many years. I understand a budget and how to tweak it to make it work. On Frost/Nixon, Ron Howard really wanted to shoot at the actual ‘Western White House’ in San Clemente as it would vividly enforce the realities of the time and place we were seeking to recreate. We figured out if we cut one day, we could take the crew there on location. Over the years, those kinds of decisions have been the most rewarding to me and made me feel like I helped that movie be what it is. That means a great deal to me.”

As a veteran UPM, McGill is pleased that she can follow in the steps of her own mentors and put her focus on guiding and educating her fellow members. She encourages newer members to learn what the Guild can do for them. “Examine what the benefits are, how the contracts work and how the Guild can protect you. Ask the questions. Come to the meetings. And, of course, get involved. At the very least it may lead to job opportunities and connections. We had a mixer recently in New York and from that I hired a 2nd AD on my last X-Men film. If you’re there, you get to know people and good things happen. It’s amazing.”

Amazing is also the word she’d use for having been selected by her peers to receive the Capra Award. “It’s really overwhelming. I think the work — and certainly the service to the Guild — has been its own reward. Everything I’ve been able to contribute to a film project, or to a function of the Guild, has been my complete privilege. To have my peers – the people whose careers and services I’ve held in high regard for so many years – recommend me for this award is an unexpected and humbling honor.”

portrait by Kristine Larsen


Past recipients of the Frank Capra Achievement Award:
 
  • Dwight Williams (2018)
  • Marie Cantin (2017)
  • Mary Rae Thewlis (2016)
  • Phillip Goldfarb (2015)
  • Lee Blaine (2014)
  • 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)