Frank Gladstone Talks the Annie Awards
This year marks the 40th Annie Awards ceremony, the annual gala celebrating everyone and everything animated, where black tuxes rub ankles with red Chuck Taylors and even Weird Al Yankovic always seems a tad overdressed. I’ll admit I’m biased in my support of this annual event if for no other reason than someone actually goes to the trouble and expense to organize a rather classy gathering celebrating the work of creative types whom, for the most part, are well known only to their parents and their local Apple store.
In this case, that someone is ASIFA-Hollywood and the head someone is chapter president Frank Gladstone. And while there are more suits and less green spiked coifs than in years past, the Annie Awards, in my book, always seem to find the right mix of reverence and sacrilege, not too salty, not too sweet. Sometimes, as in the case of Brad Bird’s infamous taped Winsor McCay acceptance speech, it’s brilliant. Sometimes, such as when a clearly bemused William Shatner tried to match wits with John Leguizamo, it’s oddly surreal.
I recently had a chance to talk to Frank about the Annies, changes in the voting that brought Disney and Pixar back to the proceedings and what’s in store this year and in the years to come.
Dan Sarto: Regardless of what may have been going on within the ranks at ASIFA-Hollywood, the Annie Awards were always warmly embraced within the industry. The show seems to grow and get better each year. To what do you attribute this success?
Frank Gladstone: A couple things. First thing, historically, it has grown organically. It just didn’t appear on the scene, arriving like a bolt from Zeus. It grew from a little celebration of people who were retiring or had been in the business for a lot of years, held at the Sportsman’s Lodge, to an awards ceremony, to an awards show. It’s not a flash in the pan. The second, is that the community realized that as the Annies grew, this was the really the only way the community was congratulating its peers. Telling peers they did good work. The Annies became a reminder that this was the time of the year when everybody would look at what had gone on the past year… and celebrate that. That’s why they take it seriously.
You may read things in the press about how great any one person or show might be. But generally, our community doesn’t pat itself on the back. All communities need to look around and say, “Who has done the good work? Who has made a difference?” This is our way of doing that for the animation community. I think people realized that as time went on. It wasn’t just about old timers. It was about what we do in any given year. It became important for those two reasons.
“The Annies are the most important and prestigious award show within the world of animation. From humble beginnings, so many years ago, an ‘Annie’ is now a much sought after award and coveted by those fortunate enough to have been honored. Bravo to the organizational team that works so hard each year to enhance our industry by putting together this event’"
- Max Howard, Producer
DS: There really isn’t anything else done like this.
FG: No, there isn’t. In those early days, it was a really small group, everybody knew everybody else. We gathered, had an informal lunch or dinner. Today, it has grown to be this important thing. Not only us, but the rest of the motion picture community now looks at us seriously too. , People outside our industry look at us as a serious event, not in a patronizing or condescending way, which may have been the case early on. It’s a serious award, it gets serious coverage.
DS: Since you’ve taken over as president, what would say have been the biggest changes you and the board have made with the Annies?
FG: We haven’t done very much yet. The changes have been mostly cosmetic so far. The first year we were simply learning how to do it. The board was always involved in judging and things like that, but we weren’t really involved in the actual ceremony very much. We supported it, we went to it, sometimes were involved as a presentation substitute because a star fell out at the last minute. Other than judging, we weren’t heavily involved. Now, we’re more involved. That’s the first thing. Many more of our board members are much more involved in the ceremony.
The format hasn’t changed very much. I think it will. Putting on the Awards is a hard job. However, as we get used to it, and we see how we can improve the format, or how it’s presented, we will make some changes. You’ll see a few changes this year. A new set, different music, some different personnel than we’ve used in the past. We’re streaming it now online. This will be our second year. We learned a lot last year. We won’t make some of the same mistakes this year. We’re hoping one of these days a TV network will pick us up. We get closer to that each year. We made a better presentation to the networks this year than in previous years. We’ll make an even better presentation next year. Those are the kind of things we’ve done.
"I love the Annies! It is a chance for the entire industry to dress up and get together -- you see everyone! Old friends, past co-workers, current collaborators, friends... It is just a great night for the animation community to come together and celebrate each year's achievements."
- Heather Kenyon, Citizen Skull Productions
I think you’ll see more changes in the next couple years. I’m hoping to reformat the awards a little bit, make it a more elegant, streamlined program. I don’t know how we’re going to do, but I think we’re going to do that. We’re trying to engender more membership participation. We certainly have changed the way the voting works. That was a big deal. We changed how the voting is done. We’ve also changed the election interface this year. The ballot is way easier to look at, way easier to navigate. You can go through it quickly, or slowly, whichever one you want. The voting itself is much more intuitive than in the past.