In Memoriam: Steve Golin, Golden Globe Winner, 1955-2019

by Yoram Kahana May 29, 2019
Producer Steve Golin, Golden Globe winner and nominee

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Steve Golin, a successful independent film, television, and music producer, who died of cancer at only 64, was a unique player in American entertainment. In a business that can be cutthroat and acrimonious, Golin was both successful and loved.

Golin was a frequent visitor to the Golden Globes. Between 2000 and 2018 he garnered eight best production co-nominations (five in the motion picture categories and three in television) and collected the golden statuettes three times. It was the confirmation of his keen eye in selecting talent, and his willingness to bet on unusual, edgy projects - and often win.

Golin started his career in the 1980s, with low budget movies such as Hard Rock Zombies (1985). "The kind of movie that you don't want on your resume", said the HorrorNews review, "a film that can really kill your career. Yet Golin's career did not die, but rather reached the pinnacle of Hollywood success 30 years later, when, as a co-producer, he won a Golden Globe and an Oscar for two different movies in the same year, 2016.

Steven Aaron Golin was born on March 6, 1955, in Geneva, N.Y. He got an early introduction to the advertising business from his father, Jerry, the owner of an advertising agency.  He studied film in New York and attended the American Film Institute/ AFI -an HFPA grantee - as a producing fellow, graduating in 1981.

While doing production work on low-budget exploitation movies he met other ambitious young producers and independent directors and joined them in starting Propaganda Films in 1983.

The newly formed company took an active part in the emerging music video market, driven by MTV. Golin and his Propaganda colleagues produced videos and films for some top music acts: Madonna, Janet Jackson, David Bowie, and others. They also made high profile commercials, such as Nike shoes, Obsession perfume, and Coca Cola.

With the profits, Propaganda was able to have the freedom to finance movies they liked and believed in, even if they were risky. As Golin told the New York Times in 1990, when Propaganda was producing almost a third of all USA made music videos: “The only game plan we had when we started was to establish a (video and commercials) positive-cash-flow business, that would give us the ability to be more flexible, to finance our own development on our own terms,(generating) enough (revenue) to let us survive and to give us a certain credibility with directors who don’t want to take a project to a studio.”

The resulting track record bore him out: directors such as David Lynch, whose Golin-produced Wild At Heart (1990) brought Diane Ladd Golden Globe and Oscar nominations; Sidney Lumet, who directed A Stranger Among Us (1992), a Cannes Palme d'Or nominee; John Dahl with his Red Rock West (1993); Nicholas Kazan's Dream Lover (1993); Jane Campion with The Portrait of a Lady (1996), which brought a Golden Globe nomination for Barbara Hershey; or Barry Levinson (Sleepers, also 1996).

Music heavyweight PolyGram Filmed Entertainment acquired Propaganda in 1991, but when it was taken over by the Seagram Company in 1998, Golin left and founded his second, more ambitious company, Anonymous Content in 1999.

Golin's last film for Propaganda, the Spike Jonze-directed Being John Malkovich, a quirky fantasy comedy-drama written by Charlie Kaufman, brought him his first Golden Globe nomination.

Under his new banner, Golin would be nominated for the Golden Globe seven more times, and win three. First was another Charlie Kaufman sci-fi-drama-romance concoction directed by Michel Gondry, The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), was nominated for Best Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical, and also for Kaufman's script and the two leads, Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet.

Producers John Kilik, Steve Golin and director Alejandro González Iñarritu with teh Golden Globe for "Babel", 2007

In the backstage of the 2007 Golden Globes, Producers Steve Golin (center), John Kilik and director Alejandro González Iñarritu with the Best Motion Picture-Drama Golden Globe for Babel.

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Two years later Golin won his first Golden Globe, for co-producing Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu’s Babel (2006), starring Brad Pitt and Kate Winslet as a married couple running into a chain of troubles while vacationing in Morocco, a well-received movie that garnered seven Golden Globe nominations.

Golin's first Golden Globe nomination for his company's television production arm came in 2015, as the HFPA recognized his True Detective, a limited drama series for HBO.

The following year, 2016, marked the apex of Golin's career, with a trifecta of Globe nominations: a TV series and two dramatic movies, both competing against each other in the same category. The two films were very different from each other: Spotlight was a torn-from-the-headlines crime drama that captured the zeitgeist telling the true story of the Boston Globe journalists who exposed their town's version of the global, massive scandal of child molestation, abuse, and rape in the Catholic church.

Spotlight received two more Golden Globe nominations (Tom McCarthy for directing and co-writing), and also a Best Motion Picture Oscar.

The second film that Golin and his Anonymous Content produced and released in 2015, The Revenant, was a historical drama, about an early-19th-century frontiersman fighting for his life after being mauled by a bear. It won the Oscar but lost the Best Drama Globe to Golin's Spotlight, still winning Globes for best actor, Leonardo DiCaprio, and best director, Alejandro G. Iñárritu. Variety wrote that "Those films, though wildly different, represented the type of compelling human stories that Mr. Golin preferred to tell."

Golin made it a double win in 2016, also collecting a Golden Globe in the Best Television Series-Drama category, for co-producing the sci-fi thriller Mr. Robot, starring future Golden Globe winner Rami Malek as a computer programmer recruited by a band of anarchists.

His last appearance at the Golden Globes was earlier this year when his Limited Television series The Alienist was nominated for its 2018 season.

It was all part of Golin's Anonymous Content, successfully increasing its involvement in the surge of broadcast and streaming television production.

Battling cancer, Golin worked to the end, co-producing with George Clooney and others a six-part adaptation of Joseph Heller’s classical satirical World War II novel, Catch 22. It is streaming on Hulu, posthumously, a tribute to a producer like few others, whose career was bold and full but cut too short.

In a 2014 interview with Variety, Golin summed it this way: “You’re going to have your successes and failures, and to try to realize that it’s all about doing what you believe in and hard work. And when a movie’s not a success you kind of just have to dust yourself off, get up and go again, because there’s no logic to it. Nobody sets out to make a bad movie or a bad TV show. We all set out to do great work.”

Steve Golin, 1955-2019,  producer extraordinaire, who's done a lot of great work.