First This Little Planet With Its Winds and Ways

by flaunt

Talking to Josh Wood, the creative engine behind the amfAR Gala
The last Thursday of the last week of October, amfAR—(The Foundation for AIDS Research), an international nonprofit organization dedicated to the support of AIDS research, HIV prevention, treatment education, and the advocacy of AIDS-related public policy—hosted the amfAR Inspiration Gala at Milk Studios in Hollywood. Their renowned Galas and events are an integral part of amfAR's fundraising strategy, to which end they are helped in their goal by Josh Wood of Josh Wood Productions, who has raised over 28 million dollars for amfAR so far. Presented by Harry Winston and M.A.C Viva Glam, the star-studded event featured cocktails by Belvedere in the midst of its worldwide James Bond Spectre spree—see our sultry feature with Bond girl Stephanie Sigman here—and bubbles from Moët & Chandon, which provided the perfect frame of mind to enjoy a performance by Lady Gaga with her jazz band.

In addition to amfAR, Wood has also organized Friends of Hudson River, an organization that helps with the ongoing care and development of the Hudson River Park. With a list of event attendees including Charlize Theron, Drew Barrymore, and President Bill Clinton, Wood is in just the right place at the right time to really make a difference in our world.

We sat down with Wood after the gala to talk about the what is, and what is yet to come.

I read that you started your career giving red carpet interviews in Hollywood. Now you throw one of the world’s biggest AIDS fundraisers with A-list stars. Is this something that you always imagined doing?

Not at all. My first job was interviewing celebrities for Entertainment Weekly back when they had a radio show. That’s how long ago it was. I think it taught me how to talk to people and think on my feet, but at the time I didn’t see the big picture of anything. My family on both my mother and my father’s side are very into charity and helping people so volunteering, marching, donating money was always part of my world. I never thought that I’d raise any money. If anything, I thought I’d be more on the political side as a gay rights advocate.

The 2015 amfAR honors Ryan Murphy, the creator of American Horror Story. How does he inspire you?

Ryan is a true inspiration. His representations of gay people, the disabled, minorities have completely changed the way people in far flung parts of America and the globe think about those groups. Suddenly for people in Alabama and China, it was normal for high schoolers to have same sex boyfriends and girlfriends. That was huge. That was the biggest change in my lifetime: just how quickly being gay became acceptable and mainstream, especially by youth culture.

You’ve worked with a lot of celebrities and artists. Is there one particular person that you are always awed by?

Last year, I worked with Diana Ross and I couldn’t talk to her. I was in awe. She was everything I wanted my fantasy of Diana Ross to be.

How did you transition from party planning to fundraising for charities? Was there a particular instance or situation?

I met Kevin Frost, the CEO of amfAR at the Life Ball in Vienna. He suggested that I propose some new event ideas for amfAR, the hook was that I had to raise the sponsorship money and donor money to get the green light on the event. amfAR was my dream client and I was at a period in my life when I really wanted to change from doing mostly parties to doing more serious fundraisers and events, so I decided that I would hopefully figure it out for myself by calling friends. For example, for our first big event in L.A., I called Kevin Huvane, whom I was friendly with, and asked him if he would Chair the event so we had a extremely strong powerful central figure. Kevin really helped get L.A. off the ground. I was lucky that my community of friends and relationships really helped get the fundraising off the ground from New York to Sao Paulo, we relied on amazing friends and leaders in the community to partner on our efforts. I definitely did not do it alone. Thank you Kevin Huvane.

How do you measure the success of an event; is it by much was donated, by people who attended? At the end of the night, what do you personally look for to feel like the night was a success?

I can tell at the very end of the night when the crowd gets up from their seats if the evening has been a success. I am not fullly happy unless an event is historical, unique, something the guests will remember forever. And of course, I have strict financial goals so if we don’t meet them or exceed them it’s a problem. It’s magical with the guests and donors feel strongly about the cause and the fundraising blows up in the auction, and then someone like Lady Gaga does a once in a lifetime 30 minute intimate set with her jazz band. That’s a good night.

Millennials are often criticized for an indifference towards politics and global causes. Do you find that to be the case?

I think that’s a lot of BS. The world is changing with gay rights, climate change, and human rights due to millennials, I think they are doing just fine.

You've produced events all over the world, New York, Paris, Rio de Janeiro, etc. How do you keep each event different, fresh, and exciting?

Good questions. I am not sure if I do. I try. I actually try on purpose NOT to look too hard at other organization or producer’s events because I don’t want to copy them. I try to make everything organic to a culture, idea, trends, for example, all the amfAR Inspiration Galas this year were inspired by street art, but really it wasn’t literal at all. Most people didn’t really see it, but our team knew it and the creativity grows from there.

Lastly, what did you have for breakfast the day after the amfAR gala in Los Angeles?

Three egg omelet at Chateau Marmont, a pot of coffee, and the NY Times.

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