VETERAN entertainment industry and Hollywood executive Fritz Friedman can now very well rest on the laurel of his many accomplishments if he wants to.
A Boston native and graduate of the acclaimed Vassar College with a Master’s degree from The Annenberg School of The University of Pennsylvania, the exuberant and bubbly Filipino-American, whose first job was as an usher in Carnegie Hall, has had a nearly four decade career of triumphs and firsts in the entertainment industry.
Honored as one of the most influential Filipino-Americans in 2020, Friedman, until he stepped away in 2014, was Senior Vice President of Worldwide Publicity and Corporate Communication for two divisions of Sony Pictures Entertainment – Sony Pictures Home Entertainment and Sony Pictures Worldwide Entertainment. He oversaw worldwide publicity, corporate communications and media initiatives for Sony’s multi-billion-dollar global home entertainment company. Some of the most successful publicity campaigns under his tenure included those for “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “Spiderman” and “Men in Black” franchises, “The Social Network,” “22 Jump Street” and “Equalizer,” as well as iconic television hits “Seinfeld” and “Breaking Bad.”
Friedman also formulated and executed the global media campaigns that successfully launched several revolutionary technical entertainment innovations including the DVD, Blu-ray, 3-D and digital distribution formats.
Recently, the adjunct professor emeritus at The Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism of The University of Southern California was appointed to the San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture by Mayor Todd Gloria. This is in addition to his appointment to the California Commission on Humanities by past California Gov. Jerry Brown. He also serves on the Creative Advisory Committee for the Democratic National Committee’s Asian American Caucus.
As a commissioner on the San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture, Friedman and his 14 other colleagues act in an advisory capacity to Mayor Gloria and the city council where they are tasked with “promoting, encouraging and increasing support for the region’s artistic and cultural assets, integrating arts and culture into community life and showcasing San Diego as an international tourist destination.”
“It is our job to make our recommendations to the mayor’s office, as long as they’re aligned to the overall mission that Mayor Gloria has established. Having said that, the Commission is mandated to go out and develop equitable and innovative strategic programs that make use of the talents of its members as well as utilizing government programs and the latest technologies to disseminate information to teach and educate the diverse communities that make San Diego what it is,” Friedman told the Asian Journal in a Zoom interview.
According to the “Spirit of Inspiration” awardee, the commission’s mandate can include “helping to approve or making recommendations to approve public art, education through public art, raising spirits through public art, helping neighborhoods with their neighborhood arts policies, as well as the bigger projects like San Diego Opera, the San Diego Symphony, Balboa Park, which is a huge cultural space because you have all of San Diego’s major museums and the world-renowned San Diego Zoo located there. And all contribute to the general cultural and educational spirit of the city.
As a commissioner, Friedman is ready to extend a helping hand to his kababayans, especially in applying for grants within the city’s framework.
“I know that one thing I would like to do is to ensure that the Filipino American community in San Diego are heard… that that they have a voice in me to support their cultural initiatives,” Friedman stated.
“Part of my job as I have defined it will be to raise awareness of the cultural needs of San Diego’s Asian American community with a very special personal bias for the large and very significant Filipino American community. This group has many arts and cultural festivals mounted throughout the year but they do not know event know that the Commission for Arts and Culture is available to support their projects in some capacity. These are small, nonprofit organizations that don’t necessarily have the most sophisticated outreach program. It’s not what they do. And so you need someone who’s aware of them and sensitive to their needs and who wants to be an advocate for their projects. And that’s what I’m going to be on the commission,” he said. However, Friedman further clarified his position by also stating that he will also represent all the diverse communities in San Diego and that he is not relegated to purely Asian-centric issues.
The San Diego resident says that while the commission’s outreach efforts are important, that is only part of the equation. Community groups also need to learn how to ask for a seat at the table, and that includes soliciting grants and delving into the system.
“That’s one of my plans, to get word out that the commission is here, and to make clear what the commission does and what it can do to support various cultural groups. You need to reach out. And if that means that maybe one day I may have to bring a couple of the funding people out to some high school auditorium so they can talk to the cultural groups and explain to them how to solicit funds, what the process entails, and how the Commission can help them in the immediacy, so be it. I think one of my big projects is going to be to inform the Filipino community here as to how the system works and how they can get plugged into it,” Friedman said as he continued to explain that community groups need to be pro-active – ask or inquire – if they want to be considered for the grants that the commission gives out.
Friedman believes that San Diego, which has been designated as the eighth largest city in the United States, has become a very rich breeding ground for creativity, and this excites him.
The influx of money, as well as young and well-educated individuals in the tech and bio-tech industries have brough a high level of sophistication and a solid appreciation for arts and culture which has quickly made San Diego a significant cultural center, Friedman believes. Proof of this fact can be seen in the many great museums, indoor and outdoor public art and the plethora of performing arts venues like The San Diego Opera and The San Diego Symphony.
As a lifelong devotee to arts and culture, Friedman, and his fellow commissioners, believe “in the power of arts, culture, and humanities to transform and unify disparate communities.
“When people understand the significance of a different community’s culture and how it developed, and how its art is impacted and defined by a country’s unique ecology, and by its socio-political history, then people understand: ‘Oh, so that’s why their artwork is characterized by its colors, shapes and tones.’ When you start to understand how their respective signature looks were developed, you appreciate the culture and you appreciate the people who created it. Then, perhaps, you come to understand the community better. This new aesthetic becomes less foreign to you. I think the Commission really wants to ensure a city where they are unified in their respect and appreciation for other people’s symbols, other people’s art, or people’s cultures,” Friedman stated.
As one of the most successful Filipino-Americans in the entertainment field, Friedman told the Asian Journal that following his personal vision, and living a happy, content life have been the keys to his success. The unconditional love of his parents, who may have not understood his career choices but supported him nonetheless, was a blessing for him.
His first career as an usher in Carnegie Hall may have mortified many parents who spent a lot of money to send their child to an Ivy League school, but the social skills they gave him, coupled with his love for classical music, his innate outgoing and fun-loving personality and dedication, led him to being promoted to the Carnegie Hall Green Room where he was tasked with taking care of all of the world-class performers who appeared at the legendary venue.
After Carnegie Hall, he was hired at Columbia Pictures, and went on to Sony… and the rest is history. His affinity for entertainment marketing, which he had no experience with, fueled his desire and ambition to succeed. Having no training in publicity, Friedman was not afraid to ask friends for their advice or opinion to which he added his own spin on what he learned. He was not afraid to fail, and that ultimately led him to greater heights.
“I kept on growing until I got what I got. But I did it because I never second-guessed myself. I did it my own way,” Friedman said.
It also helps that he has had no attached scandal to his name in his more than four-decade career. Keeping his career squeaky-clean and a long list of accomplishments have afforded him the luxury of being respected in an industry where one disaster can push you out the door faster than you can say, “Action!”
Friedman has focused as well on giving back to the community via his philanthropic activities. This has included lobbying efforts to help gain veterans benefits for the more than 18,000 Filipino Veterans of World War II. For this, he was given a Presidential Citation by the Philippine Government which was awarded by former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo at Malacañang Palace in Manila. He was also a member of the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs, Chair of the Vassar College Asian Pacific Islander Alumni Association, and is the co-founder and President Emeritus of The Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment (CAPE), the largest entertainment organization for Asian Americans in the world.
These days, the 71-year-old Friedman is busy attending to the needs of his own business venture, The Fritz Friedman Company, which is a production and strategic marketing communications firm. His past and current clients include Sony Pictures Entertainment, Electric Entertainment (Independence Day: Resurgence), Invoke, the Boston-based tech company and Parrot Analytics, the L.A./New Zealand-based big data company.
He is working on several productions including “The Fear Chronicles,” an anthology of ghost stories around the world for digital platforms with his co- producers Rick Dugdale (“Blackway”) and, Tony Award-winner David Henry Hwang (“M. Butterfly”). He is also co-producing Korematsu Vs. the US, a bio-pic about Japanese American civil rights pioneer Fred Korematsu who was imprisoned for refusing to enter the U.S. internment camps for Japanese Americans during World War II, asserting that he was an American Citizen and that this act was an attack on his civil liberties. After the war, Korematsu sued the U.S. government and his conviction was ultimately overturned.
Additionally, Friedman is an associate producer for “Open Door,” a documentary chronicling the true – and little known – story of how then-Philippine President Manuel L. Quezon permitted more than 1,200 Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust of Nazi Europe to enter the Philippines.
He has associate produced several films including “The State of Marriage,” a documentary on marriage equality, and “Kid Kulafu,” the live-action biopic on world boxing champion Manny Pacquiao.
Friedman has enjoyed settling down in San Diego, where he and his partner, Dr. Jeffrey Krebs, and their Labradoodle, Walter, live. But as busy as he is, one thing is for sure: he wants to enjoy what time he has on this Earth.
“For now, the most important thing to me is to have fun. I just want to have a laugh, meet interesting people, and to make substantive contributions to my many communities. I want to talk to them about ideas, I want to make things happen,” he stated.
And his advice to Filipino Americans?
“Be loud and proud to be a Filipino American!” Friedman said.