I received a rather strange email last week from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the "Oscar" organization of which I have been a member since 1972 (when a movie that I produced, the Diana Ross-starrer Lady Sings The Blues, was nominated for five Academy Awards.) Addressed to the 6,000 members of the Academy from Hawk Koch, President, and Dawn Hudson, CEO, the email asked us to hold the date of Saturday, May 4th, open for a general meeting in L.A., New York and San Francisco, to discuss the future of the Academy, the first such invite ever extended to us.
It's kind of ironic that I got this message since -- as my Huffington Post readers well know -- I have been generous in my comments and criticisms about the organization in these pages. For example, I railed against the poor choices and banal words of the recent master of ceremonies, Seth MacFarlane, on the annual Oscar show. Ratings were up, the quality was down. I then urged my fellow members to give the remarkable woman, Ms. Hudson, some leeway in running the Academy since I know she has been hampered by a plethora of interfering committee members. There are 16 such committees representing the different branches of the Academy, with each one having three members comprising the Board of Governors. She had been brought in two years ago from the independent film world to bring some light and air to a stultified organization. Yesterday the members received another communication about the May meet, stating that it will talk about plans and priorities for the future, update us on key initiatives such as the new museum, e-voting (I hate it!), programming, new collections and how we deal with new technology.
So I welcome the chance to share my opinions and hear from others in a forum of my peers in that upcoming meet. But I will herein treat my Huffington Post friends to a preview of some opinions and suggestions. First, and most important, is transparency. This is a word that has been made popular recently by the Obama administration, and it simply means to open up the process to the light of the world. I suspect that the biggest cause of distancing by the worldwide public from the Academy and its awards is that the public feels the process of selecting winners is somewhat corruptible... by the studios and big independents (Harvey, of course) buying the awards with massive ads and perks. "Oh, the Academy just rewards that which rewards them," said one friend. How to fix that, or at least mitigate it to a degree that makes the audience believe the system is fair? Transparency, through the process of how to vote for the winners. No one cares about the Board of Governors, but the public cares how the Academy votes, and why. Purify the system, and make that public. Studios can't give perks to voters. Screeners, yes, but no more elaborate parties, dinners, so many special screenings and question-and-answer sessions. Money wins here. Let the pictures speak for themselves. What I am trying to express is to make the Academy human. Put a face to it, put emotions behind it. Put real stories out to the public to hang their own emotional lives upon. Maybe have an Oscar 'Lotto,' where one person who wins gets to be an Academy voter. Come to Hollywood, meet and see, and appear on the show. Use the web to build this process. Someone wrote today that the 16 Academy committees meet in secret and warn their members not to disclose the topics discussed. Riidicuous. Open the meetings, discuss them endlessly, with transparency!
Second, the categories are awkward. You have to have more winners in film genres. The Golden Globes discovered this years ago. People, especially young people, get put off and simply turn off when their 'types' of films never get represented. So break down the categories more. Best Drama...Best Comedy...Best Animation...Best Sci-fi/Fantasy (effects-driven films, like Skyfall, The Dark Knight Rises, The Avengers. Best Visual Effects alone doesn't do it.) And, most important, Best Popular Movie. Then have The Best Picture. Why should Star Trek have to compete with The King's Speech? It makes zero sense, the way the awards are designed now. The madness of how many pictures to include in the Best Picture category would-be alleviated by having more categories. I still like the number of choices for Best Picture (10), as we had in 2009 and 2010; it gives the smaller fringe movies somewhat of a chance to win. (Beasts of the Southern Wild was my favorite film of the year. I believe the first national review of it was by me here on Huffington Post. As, I believe, was the first American review of Les Miserables, a film which I inordinately loved.)
I feel deeply about AMPAS because it truly represents the face of our motion picture entity to the world-at-large. We do so much that doesn't get any attention... the preservation of old movies, for one. So vital to our heritage. Last night I attended a screening at the Academy of Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, and the packed audience went wild all througb the screening of the newly-restored digital print. I have written here in my Huffington Post blog posts about the exciting screenings of so many classic films, from Chaplin to Wings to Wilder. (Yes, my proudest film moment in life was the year that I spent producing Billy Wilder's last film, Buddy,Buddy, with Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon. Billy was the most sophisticated, charming, talented man I have ever met.) So the film indutry has given me so much, and I hope that by being a bit responsive, I can reward it in turn.
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