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Artits Rendering of the new Academy Museum
I may be the only working journalist who is also a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, the 'Oscars' film group, and thus I was present on Saturday morning at the unusual first-ever all-member meeting held simultaneously at the Academy home, the Samuel Goldwyn Theatre in Beverly Hills, the Lighthouse International in New York and the 71-seat Pixar Studio in Emeryville-San Francisco -- all connected by a a huge video screen-simulcast setup which worked perfectly and allowed frequent interchanges between the three venues. Called by the organization's Board to quell rising discontent among the membership, the meeting was intended to explain the group's recent actions and discuss its future, since members have been questioning the actions of the board on many fronts. You may recall my recent Huffington Post blog calling for more "transparency" on behalf of the organization... like selecting the Oscar producer, its host and related matters. In fact, as I entered the gathering on Saturday, Academy President Hawk Koch greeted me by saying, "I hope you will be nicer to us today than you have been in the past." This despite the fact that I have written a dozen Huffington Post blogs in the past year applauding Academy activities and screenings, from Chaplin and Clockwork Orange to Kubrick. Well, Hawk, you need not worry... this meeting delivered in spades, and alleviated much of the concern which most members had felt about its activities. Yes, there were a few raucous moments when members on the floor in all three locations questioned the various executives on stage, but it was a civilized exchange between adults, something which has long been called for. A combative member kept insisting from the floor in the question-and-answer period that the members of the Executive Committee in charge of Foreign Film selections were not revealed, and C.O.O. Ric Robertson onstage explained that it was to prevent them from being unduly harassed...and it would be handled.
Video Conferencing between the three cities worked perfectly.
During the meeting it was revealed that, for the first time, all voting members of the Academy would be getting DVD's of the five foreign film finalist selections and thus be able to vote for the winner, as well as getting the documentary shorts and being able to vote for them.....so now members will be selecting all 24 winners in the various categories. "This change continues our efforts to expand our members participation in all aspects of the Academy's activities, including of course voting for the Oscars," said Koch. He later revealed for the first time that over 90% of the members voted in the recent election, both by written ballot and on-line. He revealed that despite some early snafus, the on-line balloting will continue and expand in the future.
Academy Member Engagement poster.
The 1012 seats of the theatre were filled only with members for the first time in the 85-year history of the organization, although I was rather surprised at the people who were not there...so many celebrated actors, directors, producers who should have attended but didn't. The event was handled beautifully, with a nice breakfast served first in the lobby (omelette, bagels with cream cheese and smoked salmon, cookies and delicious strong hot coffee.) Outgoing President Koch began the meeting by paying tribute to Faye Kanin, the former Academy president who died in March, quoting her as saying that "We are part of a medium that allows us to be creative, daring...and once in awhile. extraordinary." CEO Dawn Hudson, my favorite exec there who came here two years ago from the independent film world, said to the audience, "This meeting is about you, our members. You are the backbone of the Academy." She went onto describe some recent activities of the Academy, the breathe of which surprised us all. From the recent Wayne's World reunion screening to its VFX series and its Charlie Chaplin collection restoration. Grants to 25 film festivals were detailed. Actress Shohreh Aghdashloo spoke about he Academy's international outreach efforts that have sent some Academy delegations traveling to Iran (which sent its first film to compete), East Africa, Cuba and Vietnam.
Stanley Kubrick's Oscar in the lobby.
Powerful and persuasive producer Kathleen Kennedy (98 Oscar nominations in her 28 films!), who chairs the Academy's museum planning committee, outlined the Academy's developing plans for the Academy's new 290,000 sq. ft. Museum of Motion Pictures which is scheduled to open on the site of the old May Co. building on Wilshire Blvd. and Fairfax, next to LACMA, in 2017, and each member received a color photo of the artist rendering of it as we exited the meeting (see above). The museum, designed by prize-winning architect Renzo Piano and innovative Zoltan Pali, will feature three theatres, including a spectacular soaring spherical one at the northern end of the original building. Representing the marriage of art and technology, it will feature state-of-the art projection technologies. (She ended her talk with a humorous reference to her many Star Wars movies, "May the 4th be with you.")
Sci-fi guru and board member Bill Kroyer (with whom I worked many years ago on a film about shooting down errant satellites by laser) brought us all up to date on what the Academy is doing about the new digital technologies which are upon us. Yes, it is a new world, and we must be ahead of the curve. (Interesting sidelight: the Academy had developed early on the 'header' for films, you know...the nunbers counting down before the actual film appears..and Bill displayed the new digital version, just stunning.) Environmentalist Ed Begley, Jr. (who played a cop in my Billy Wilder film, Buddy, Buddy), told us what the Academy is doing to keep abreast of environmental issues, including less-power consuming generators. "Green kilowatts" was the expression he used.
Hawk revealed that the current rules for Best Picture voting, which can result in from five to ten candidates, will remain in force this year. Later, he noted that while the producers of last year's Awards show had been rehired, no decision has been made on whom will host it. (My choice, of course, is Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.) The question of making the Academy more diverse in its membership arose and was addressed by Koch, who noted that basically we have to change the industry, for the Academy is merely a reflection of the industry. (I noted only one black face in the entire audience, and few Asians.) But he did note that the path to membership is being reviewed by a committee, although he assured us that the standards will not be lowered. The recycling of DVDs which are sent to members is being discussed; I must confess that I bring mine to the West L.A. Veteran's Hospital, where only bed-ridden veterans can see them. The 'In Memorium listings in the Oscar show were discussed -- selecting the 40 few from the average 350 possibilities will always be difficult. The Nicholls Writing Fellowships to help young screenwriters was explained by Susannaah Grant, herself a winner -- "investing in our future" -- there were 7,280 candidates' scripts this year which had to be read and evaluated, but winners have generated some $5 billion in earnings thusfar.
Yes, it was a powerful and very productive meeting which was essential to providing the members with assurances that their voices were being heard. I, who have been somewhat critical over the years, feel mucb better about my Academy and its future. But we all will be watching and talking and exhorting, which is the nature of what we do as filmmakers. I look forward to next year's meeting.
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