Given Hollywood’s obsession with press, it may come as a surprise to learn that the 80-year-old Academy of Motion Arts & Sciences created its own inhouse press office a mere 15 years ago, in 1992.
Until this past April, the department was run by John Pavlik, the Acad’s first director of communications, a role now filled by his former No. 2, Leslie Unger. She is an L.A. native who joined the org when the department was formed, having worked for the agency that handled press duties before the change.
Naturally, Unger’s duties extend to the Acad’s big night, Oscar Sunday, skedded for Feb. 24, but she underscores that her office does more than just deal with the bald, gold guy.
“The Academy Awards are a huge part of what this organization is and does,” she says, “but the Academy is a much larger organization than that. Our activities are wide-ranging and include public film programming here and in New York — and even elsewhere. We really are seeking the public’s awareness that we do other things, like film preservation. And we have a world-class cinema library, the Margaret Herrick, which is a public resource related to all aspects of filmmaking.”
Yet Unger acknowledges that Oscar dominates her calendar and even requires additional seasonal staff — in fact, the entire Acad grows from about 170 to 200 employees, according to the org’s exec director Bruce Davis.
“It’s everything from additional administration support to a dedicated Academy Awards publicist, and also someone for our photography department,” says Unger of her department’s growth. “We are an office of 10 generally, including three people who oversee and manage our year-round website. When we bulk up, we add another six or seven people.”
Unger is especially eager to promote the Acad’s website, oscars.org, which she oversees. “There are more and more things about the organization there,” she says. “It’s a daunting task to keep it updated, but I think we do a pretty good job. It contains events resources and the Academy Awards database, which is used for a variety of purposes. There’s also a credits database. As time goes by, the website becomes a more important tool to convey who we are.”
Unger’s biggest challenge may be the Acad’s forthcoming museum project, which has yet to break ground. “We really see this as a very collaborative process,” she says. “It’s something people have talked about both within and outside this organization. And it’s our fervent hope that we will deliver that thing, that place that so obviously should be here. But we do have to raise a lot of money — we’re not taking anything for granted.”