The significance of the Oscars in terms of box office bumps, career-making strategies and general ego-stroking has been so hyperanalyzed this season — often incorrectly — that there’s little left to say. Yet for all the intense scrutiny that the Academy Awards generate, the ceremony itself represents a fraction of what the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & does each year. After all the pomp and prognosticating ends — at least until Cannes starts in May — AMPAS can go back to the day-to-day business of educating the community about filmmaking through its media outreach program, preserving and archiving film history at the Pickford Center, chronicling cinematic arts at the Herrick Library and providing grants to up-and-coming screenwriters through the Nicholl Fellowship.
Newly installed CEO Dawn Hudson, whose 20 years with Film Independent made her no stranger to the business, recently told Variety that she has been pleasantly surprised and overwhelmed by the magnitude of resources and programs the Academy wields outside awards season.
Nearly all of it is funded by the roughly $80 million AMPAS earns every year for licensing the Oscars to ABC. The Oscars represent the commercial action movie an actor might take for the big payday in order to spend the rest of the year practicing his craft on arty indie films.
There’s another ambitious project that will likely be at the top of the agenda when the Academy’s governors have their first board meeting of the year on March 6: the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, which will display the Acad’s exhaustive collection of movie memorabilia and film artifacts. The museum — the highest-profile consumer-facing endeavor the Academy has outside of the Oscars — will require the nonprofit to raise funds for the first time.
The notion of a museum has been on-again off-again for decades, but when the org announced in October a partnership with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to lease the former May Co. building to serve as the museum’s home, plans seemed to be finally on track. Disney chief and fund-raising chair Bob Iger is rumored to have a target of well over $100 million; the Academy will endow the museum with $50 million.
While fund-raising is well outside AMPAS’ comfort zone, reusing existing buildings in the city is not. Both the Pickford Center and the Herrick Library were historic buildings in disrepair before the Academy brought them back to life in their respective neighborhoods. Having the Academy make its museum mark on the May Co. building, which has been an iconic part of the Miracle Mile since 1940, will preserve the past of the city while bringing the industry’s history to the community.
The museum project comes at a time of incredible change for the 85-year-old organization. Challenges for the coming year include augmenting all of the ongoing programs, settling-in new leadership (in addition to Hudson, Ric Robertson was promoted last year to chief operating officer) and continual handwringing over the unsurprising but headline-grabbing L.A. Times study finding that the majority of voters are over 50 and Caucasian.
But the easiest way to get through the turmoil is to address it head on.
As soon as the Oscars conclude, the Academy should work to announce a staffing plan for the museum. When it comes time to review the rules for next year’s awards, the org should take a cold, hard look at the music and foreign-language rules — the same examination the documentary rules received last month.
When the list of new membership invitees are announced in July, for Pete’s sake, make sure it’s multicultural and skewing younger.
And, above all, don’t be afraid of the inevitable criticism. Sift through it without emotion to learn what’s important to the community, the industry and the people who are heavily invested in one of your greatest assets.