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Oscar awaits new protector

Ganis' successor a mystery

There’s a job vacancy in town — a damn good job at that — but it’s not the sort of position you can simply apply for. You have to be a member of an elite organization if you want to campaign for it, but, in doing so, you must be especially cool and cautious. And you must avoid invoking Obama-like words such as “change” — the organization you’ll be running does not covet change.

The presidency of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has been ably filled these last four years by Sid Ganis, a man who deploys the mix of diplomacy and pragmatism favored by his conservative constituency. Ganis waited until the final days of his reign before unveiling a surprise package — the number of Oscar nominated films would go from five to 10 starting next year.

The announcement startled many Academy members who, as we said, never want to change anything, and also the studios, who resent the fact that they may now be expected to support more potential nominees. “Do you actually expect us to tap into our booming box office revenues to finance more Oscar campaigns?” the studios seem to be protesting.

After four terms, Sid Ganis seems ready to put Oscar battles behind him, but it’s unclear who will succeed him. The board of governors operates like the College of Cardinals — one of the 43 board members will be magically anointed. It could be a star like Tom Hanks or an executive like John Lasseter or a producer like Hawk Koch. Significantly, Hanks was elected to a new three-year term on the board in late July, while a precedent-setting runoff will take place after two potential governors, Edward Zwick and Gil Cates, tied for a seat repping the directors branch.

Whoever is anointed will confront two key problems. There’s the Oscar show, which supplies 80% of the Academy’s revenue and also most of its rancor. And there’s the problem of raising the almost $400 million needed to construct a new Academy museum, which will eventually sit on eight acres of Academy-owned land near the Arclight Theater. When the economy got clobbered a year ago, the museum was put on hold.

Though he receives no salary, the new Academy president will enjoy a few perks to compensate for these headaches. There’s the regal title and office. There’s also diplomatic visits to foreign countries — Ganis has spent time in Iran and China and invited deputations of filmmakers from those countries to visit Hollywood.

Ganis, a marketing guru who once ran a studio, found all this to be abundantly rewarding, but he is pleased to return to producing movies with his wife, Nancy, and to leave the noise of Oscar battles behind him.

His colleagues on the board of governors feel he’s been a smart balancing act between the grouchy older constituents, who defend the status quo, and the younger folks, who believe the Oscar must sharpen its act. Academy membership doesn’t terminate upon retirement or unemployment, which accounts for the tilt toward older members. And members tend to remain in their initial branch, whatever their circumstances.

As a case in point, I was first invited to become an Academy member when I was a studio executive. I later switched to producing, then back to the executive ranks and, finally, to my present status as a journalist.

In view of my changed status, I decided to test the Academy’s sense of humor several years ago by filing a request to form a new journalist’s branch. Since there were apparently no other full-time writers or editors in the Academy, I felt it would be cool to have my own branch and perhaps could even aspire some day to membership in the College of Cardinals.

The effort at humor did not fly, however. I got back a note formally rejecting my proposal and mildly castigating me for even advancing the suggestion. The Academy had enough branches, the note said, and, besides, a one-man branch was not up for consideration.

OK, I got the point. I’ll just cast my annual vote and shut up.

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