The Hollywood Foreign Press Association proposal has alarmed reform-minded members of the group and was discouraged as “unjustifiable” by a lawyer
Todd Boehly, the hedge-fund billionaire and interim CEO of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, is seeking to merge the nonprofit organization behind the Golden Globe Awards with his for-profit company MRC Entertainment, which produces the annual awards show, TheWrap has learned.
The proposal has alarmed reform-minded members of the group and was discouraged as “unjustifiable” by a lawyer the HFPA consulted in September, according to an email sent to the full membership and obtained by TheWrap. The proposed move, which would shield the HFPA’s finances from public scrutiny, comes as the embattled organization has been working to win back favor in Hollywood amid outcry over its historic lack of diversity and long-time self-dealing by members.
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The email expressed concern over Boehly’s potential conflict of interest as the new interim CEO of the HFPA and his ownership of MRC, which produces award-winning TV shows like “Ozark” and “The Great” as well as the Golden Globe Awards telecast — and shares the $60 million annual licensing fee paid by NBC to air the awards show.
“I think you will agree that his recent proposal of an acquisition of the Golden Globes by Boehly’s commercial concern lends itself to at least the appearance of potential conflicts of interest,” wrote Luca Celada, an Italian journalist and HFPA member, in an email obtained by TheWrap. “At the time our legal counsel gave a negative assessment,” he went on, “judging the proposal an unjustifiable unilateral forfeiture of control with no benefits that could not be pursued by others.”
But three individuals with knowledge of the conversations told TheWrap that the proposal has been revived by Boehly with an internal lobbying effort this week to win over members, telling them they could become shareholders in a future for-profit entity.
One of those members, Rui Coimbra, protested the idea: “Awards of merit should never be under the control of a private entity with skin in the game,” Coimbra said in an email to a colleague shared with TheWrap. (Celada declined to comment for this story; Coimbra did not respond to a request for comment.)
And a leading publicist who has been pressuring the HFPA to reform said Boehly’s presence as CEO, even on interim basis, was unacceptable given his direct involvement in producing films and TV shows that vie for awards consideration. “I find it a complete conflict of interest,” said this publicity executive, who is skeptical that the HFPA is serious about reforming corrupt practices that have been an open secret in Hollywood for years. Boehly “being brought in as interim CEO is all smoke and mirrors,” this PR exec added.
A spokesman for Boehly and the HFPA denied that there was a current proposal to turn the organization into a for-profit venture. “Any proposal like this would require board and member discussions and there has not been any. I don’t know who you’re (sic) sources are but this is false reporting,” HFPA spokesman James Lee, who was hired earlier this year to manage bad press over the group’s lack of diversity and history of self-dealing, told TheWrap via email.
Lee also asserted: “There is no conflict of interest. MRC does not have any interest or participation in the Golden Globes other than as production partner. Any other attempt to create such a perception is erroneous, false and misleading.”
But former members of the HFPA and other Hollywood insiders told TheWrap that Boehly’s role as interim CEO was such a serious conflict that it convinced them the group was not committed to real reform, despite adding 21 new members in recent months — more than half of whom are Black or Latinx — and hiring a chief diversity officer. (Another HFPA spokesperson declined to say how long Boehly’s interim term as CEO will last and the status of any search for a permanent top executive.)
“They keep talking about transformational change. That’s the magic word since February. If you want to truly change, then fresh, new leadership would be essential,” said Diederik van Hoogstraten, a Dutch journalist who resigned from the HFPA in protest earlier this year. “But to then hire arguably the most powerful man in Los Angeles as your CEO, someone so deeply entrenched, and to make him the face of your transformational change strikes me as odd.”
Van Hoogstraten noted that there are other candidates who would have been well suited for the opportunity to transform the HFPA, citing Keri Putnam, who recently exited as CEO of the Sundance Institute. “Someone like her would’ve been a great choice,” he said, “Experienced in films, in nonprofits, in philanthropy. And a woman.”
Many also noted that a move to make the HFPA part of MRC would remove all transparency from the organization, since its tax returns as a private, for-profit entity would no longer be public.
Ting Ting Xu, a Chinese journalist who also resigned from the HFPA this year, marveled at the boldness of Boehly and new HFPA President Helen Hoehne to make a power play in the midst of sweeping institutional change. “It’s a smart move for Todd, and it presents a conflict of interest — I’m sure everyone says the same,” she said. “Now Todd and Helen make all the decisions, including moving forward with the Golden Globes 2022. That was just decided on.”
Indeed, the group announced last month that it would still hand out awards this January despite an ongoing boycott by scores of leading Hollywood publicists and the cancellation of an NBC telecast of any awards ceremony.
Xu said self-dealing continues within the organization, with favored members still being paid to serve on internal committees, one of the practices called out earlier this year as corrupt. According to public tax filings, the HFPA has paid a total of $1.929 million to its 87 members in the fiscal year ending in June 2020 with a budgeted increase to $2.15 million in the fiscal year ending in June 2021.
Boehly is a billionaire investor in the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Los Angeles Lakers, the Los Angeles Sparks, Cloud9 and the betting site DraftKings as well as the Beverly Hilton, where the Globes are traditionally held.
After making his fortune in finance, he began dabbling in Hollywood, including buying the production company MRC and the live television producer Dick Clark Productions, the latter recently renamed MRC Live & Alternative.
MRC makes leading shows for streaming and broadcast including “Ozark” and “The Great,” and movies like “Knives Out,” which are eligible for Golden Globe awards. (MRC touts its Golden Globe awards on its website.) One awards consultant told TheWrap that this was a separate and troubling conflict of interest. “Where is the outrage?” wrote the awards insider to a colleague.
Meanwhile, the “live” division of MRC produces the Golden Globes on NBC along with the Academy of Country Music Awards and the Billboard Music Awards. It owns half of the Golden Globes telecast, which for more than two decades has been licensed by NBC, now paying a cool $60 million per year in the last contract. In 2018, MRC and the HFPA signed an eight-year deal with NBC to produce the show.
The cancellation of next year’s NBC show is potentially a huge financial hit to MRC, and the prospect of the Golden Globes not coming back is certainly an incentive to make sure the HFPA gets back on its feet.
A spokesman for NBC had no comment for this story.
It is unclear how NBC or the Hollywood community might react to the HFPA being formally part of a commercial enterprise, rather than a journalistic group.
Celada said in his email: “This could constitute the most radical reorientation of the mission and structure of the HFPA since its founding: from a non-profit association of journalists to a profit-oriented operation, possibly impacting our status vis a vis non-profit regulatory agencies. And it will have been accomplished with no member discussion.”