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Acad nixes vote rights for agents

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, already under fire for eliminating the Oscar categories for docu and live-action shorts, is drawing more fire from many top Hollywood agents, angered by the Academy’s recent decision to deny agents full voting membership in the organization.

Under a unanimous vote by the AMPAS Board of Governors last week, agents will continue to be allowed to apply only for associate membership, which means no voting rights for Academy Award competition.

The decision was made at the same time the Acad decided to eliminate the documentary and live-action short categories from Oscar competition next year, which drew sharp protests from filmmakers who work in the short-film field (Daily Variety, Nov. 19).

“Once again, what else is new?” asked ICM chair Jeff Berg. “We think it’s inconsistent with the contribution we make to the industry.”

William Morris’ senior VP Lee Rosenberg and exec veepee Roger Davis both lobbied the Academy’s long-range planning committee for the change, presenting their case six months ago.

According to Rosenberg, the Acad had a number of reasons for not changing the status of agents, including the opinion that agents don’t contribute to the filmmaking process, a fact hotly disputed by many, including Rosenberg.

“Members of our community have been putting films together, raising the money , finding distribution and getting them on the screen,” said Rosenberg, who points to CAA head Michael Ovitz’s role in getting “Rain Man” off the ground as an example. “Agents have a positive impact on screen.”

ICM’s Berg agreed. “Do executives and publicists participate?” he asked, noting that motion picture exex and publicists are allowed voting memberships. “This is a debate we’ve been having for 25 years. If they feel we’re not part of the process, then they may be out of the mainstream on that one.”

Rosenberg said AMPAS was worried that there would be a flood of agents streaming into the Academy, but he insists that with the membership criteria–five years as a motion picture agent and seven years overall –only about two agents a year have become Academy members.

In response, Academy president Robert Rehme said, “The recommendation was that they remain as they are. The (Board of Governors) thought, after a couple of years of discussion, that they should leave it the way it was.”

Rosenberg speculates that there’s another reason for the current treatment of agents by the Academy. “Agents are resented because they are middlemen. In many instances they are not respected for what they do and there’s kind of a prejudice that exists.”

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