I met Phil years back when we worked on a small, independent film in South Carolina, Staying Together, directed by the actress Lee Grant. He was a hoot, friendly, fearless and very talented, and for inexplicable reasons we performed an original rap song at the movie's wrap party. (Clearly, the joke was that a wrap party needed a rap song, but the inexplicable part was "why us?") This was made all the more bizarre when realizing that one of the actors in the movie performed, as well -- Levon Helm, the drummer and lead singer of The Band. Happily, we survived and stayed good friends since, me in Los Angeles, him in the far other end of the country up in Albany, New York, with his wife Kathy and kids Sarah and Vincent.
I'm not at all surprised that Phil got the Lifetime Achievement Award. That said, honestly though I thought that the first honor he would receive would be "Most Likely to be Beaten with a Stick by a Movie Crew" (Phil has a wicked, outspoken and hilarious sense of humor), but I guess when you've worked on such films as Forrest Gump, Casino, Parenthood, Backdraft, Analyze This, That Thing You Do, Twelve Monkeys, Wag the Dog, Meet the Parents, and Weekend at Bernie's, among so many more, it gets noticed sooner or later. And given that the iMDB records show him with 108 credits, I suppose that filmmakers find him endearing. And wildly talented.
One of the ways you can tell the level of quality of Phil's work, without even looking at his stills, is seeing how many filmmakers keep hiring him for repeat projects. Check out at his credits and you'll see repeat films with people like Ron Howard, Robert DeNiro, Martin Scorsese, Tom Hanks, Billy Crystal and others. They want him back. I don't quite understand it -- Phil after all is an acquired taste -- but I guess that when you're making a film and have so much on the line and so little time that you can't afford to mess up, you want the best, as well as people you can rely on, and those you enjoy working with. So, I guess I do understand it after all...
And there's another reason this Lifetime Achievement honor is so wonderful. Phil's father-in-law is the acclaimed Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist William Kennedy (who among many other things, wrote Ironweed, in his Albany series of novels). And Phil always speaks of him with great pride and immense affection, regularly telling tales proudly over the years of the many honors his father-in-law has received. It's just wonderful to have a conversation with Phil about awards and get the opportunity to make it about him.