Laughs blended with tears tonight at the Beverly Hilton as many in Hollywood remembered late MGM Theatrical Distribution Boss and big screen champion Erik Lomis who was lauded posthumously with the Will Rogers Motion Picture Pioneers Foundation‘s Pioneer of the Year award. Lomis passed suddenly at 64 on March 22.
It was a fitting tribute for Lomis, who was a force to be reckoned with in fundraising for the org which assists those working in distribution and exhibition in need. One longtime friend and MGM colleague of Lomis described his fundraising talents for Will Rogers: “When Erik called you, you never said ‘No’.” It was only a year ago that Lomis served as the charity’s co-Chair and hosted last year’s fun-filled fundraiser which bestowed the Pioneer of the Year award to his longtime colleagues, 007 franchise producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli.
Paul Thomas Anderson, whose movies The Master and Licorice Pizza, were distributed by Lomis respectively at the Weinstein Co. and MGM, delivered a hysterical, moving and spot-on keynote speech about the exec, however, the entire evening was filled with showbiz wisdom, bawdy humor, and heartfelt moments on how Lomis touched everyone’s lives.
MGM/United Artists Head of Theatrical Marketing, Gerry Rich who worked extensively with Lomis at the studio, Amazon and at Weinstein, joked “We all loved Erik and his vibrant language and his endless supply of Dad jokes. The only one who didn’t appreciate his humor was the HR departments. This past year we changed ownership and in the past month, Erik had already been written up twice. Once before he actually started, which I didn’t even know was possible.”
“Erik was that guy whether or not you worked at the same company, or whether or not he was the one releasing your movie, he was the one we called to get his point of view on weekend grosses, tracking, release date changes, replacement bulbs for 70MM projectors — Paul Thomas Anderson, are you here?” shared Rich on how Lomis was a book of knowledge for stars, agents, filmmakers and rival executives on all things box office and distribution.
One of Lomis’ lines when people asked him how he was doing was, “Never had a bad day in my life, kid.”
Rich asked Lomis once when they were working at Weinstein Co., what happened to that upbeat expression.
Lomis deadpanned to him, “‘That was before I worked for Bob and Harvey.’”
Rich took the stage with Kevin Wilson, Head of Theatrical Distribution at Amazon MGM Studios, who grew under Lomis’ mentorship.
Quipped Wilson, “I spent so much time (with him), he’s the only person my wife became jealous of.”
When Wilson first got the job working under Lomis at United Artists via Orion, the distribution boss ended one of their first phone calls with “Welcome to the Underwear Club, kid!”
“Before I could respond, all I could hear was a dial tone,” said Wilson, “Was that a joke? A mafia term?” Wilson came to learn that “Underwear Club” meant waking up at 5AM in the morning to go over grosses and size up the competition with Lomis but “at separate houses, of course.”
“He didn’t hand out compliments often. You knew if he appreciated you and was satisfied with the work you were doing; on the flip side of that you definitely knew when he wasn’t satisfied,” said Wilson.
“Look around in distribution, and there are several executives Erik mentored early in their careers that are now leading teams of their own,” Wilson pointed out.
Paramount Domestic Distribution President Chris Aronson, who hosted tonight’s event, and worked with Lomis at MGM, had a story about how he once woke up from an emergency surgery, not knowing where he was, only to find Lomis sitting next to his bedside.
“‘What the F are you doing here?’” Aronson asked Lomis, “I thought you were in the hospital.”
“He said ‘Yeah, I was, but I heard you might die, so I thought I better get over here until you did.’ That was Erik Lomis, and that’s the way he was. The best and most loyal friend,” Aronson said.
In a reel, Courtenay Valenti, who arrived at Amazon as their new Head of Film, Streaming and Theatrical weeks before Lomis’ passing, expressed how she was aware of his “larger than life movie figure” and how he was a “father figure and uncle” to many. Her last memory of Lomis was his standing by an elevator at the Amazon offices, on his way to a recruited screening. Though she was under the weather, “He looked at me with his arms spread wide open and he said, ‘You take care.’ I will always remember him in his three-piece suit, and ready to embrace us all.”
Amazon Studios Head Jennifer Salke, also in a reel to dedicated to Lomis, emphasized his importance as “MGM and Amazon came together. He was really at the center of driving such enthusiasm and excitement about our future, and the role of theatrical films that would play in that very bright future. He was driving so much of the enthusiasm and education for really all of us across the teams.”
Lomis safeguarded the final Daniel Craig 007 movie, No Time to Die, from going on streaming during the pandemic; a course many studios were taking with their movies. When Amazon and MGM had finally merged, Lomis delivered the streamer their first big blockbuster hit in Creed III ($156.2M domestic, $275.2M WW) and convinced the powers that be to segue the Ben Affleck and Matt Damon movie, Air, from a Prime Video to a theatrical launch.
The evening ended with Lomis’ wife, Patricia Laucella, and daughters Nicole and Natalia, accepting the Pioneer of the Year award on behalf of Lomis, which was bestowed upon them by Philadelphia Eagles’ mascot Swoop; Lomis being a die-hard fan of his hometown NLF team.
This year’s dinner raised $1,200,007 for the benefit of the Pioneers Assistance Fund.
Summed up Wilson about the night honoring Lomis: “May he rest in peace, may he rest in power.”