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No time to waste for new Acad prexy

Koch has much to tackle in one-year tenure

Since his father was a central figure at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences a generation ago, longtime film producer Hawk Koch has been waiting for the opportunity to lead the org — and he knows that opportunity will be over practically before he can blink.

So the Acad’s newly elected president could hardly be more ready to dive right in to his new duties.

“I feel like a producer who’s been working for 20 years to get a movie made,” Koch told Variety on Wednesday, the morning after the Academy board of governors vote, “and I finally got the call: ‘You’ve been greenlit.’?”

Because he will reach the limit of nine consecutive years on the board in 2013, Koch can serve only a single, yearlong term as prexy before he must step aside (though he’ll be eligible for re-election after a hiatus). Despite that ticking clock, as well as the realization that he would have to take a leave of absence from his role as co-prexy of the Producers Guild, Koch was hardly deterred.

“I’ve been onboard for a long time and been on committees for a long time,” he said. “I was thinking, Does it make any sense (to become president now)? because I knew I only had a year. There was a moment I was thinking, a few months ago, even with just a year, there’s a lot of things I can do with the knowledge and experience that I have, that hopefully can help the Academy move forward.”

Ascending to a position that has become more labor-intensive than ever, as evidenced by the hands-on approach of outgoing prexy Tom Sherak, Koch said his priorities begin with finding a producer and host for February’s 85th edition of the Oscars. He also wants to enrich the period between the nominations announcement and the ceremony.

“There’s this old cliche that it’s great to be nominated,” Koch said. “I really want the nominees this year to feel like, ‘Wow, it really is great to be nominated,’ that by the time they sit in their seats at the Dolby Theater, they have had a great time being nominees and feel so honored.”

Koch said that any structural changes to the ceremony itself would be “something the producers and the host and myself will discuss internally.” He doesn’t see an immediate need to alter the year-old system that allows for as few as five or as many as 10 best picture nominees, depending how the vote unfolds.

“We tried 10,” Koch said, “and we felt like it really didn’t work, and we went to the ‘somewhere between five and 10,’ and we felt it did work. And so we’re going to continue. Everything’s an experiment, and things can change. … For now I like the idea, and we’ll see how that plays out over the next year or two.

“We’re not an organization that has to say, ‘This way is the only way.’ We’re open to change.”

The level of change that the Academy engineers for itself is always a point of discussion for the president, particularly the never-ending concern over the diversity of the Acad board and membership. Koch indicated that such evolution is a process that the Academy can best serve through its educational and outreach programs.

“The industry has to be diverse in order for us at the Academy to bring in members of different races, genders and ethnicities that have achieved excellence,” he said. “You can’t just all of a sudden pick people up, but if you saw by this year’s election of the new members of the Academy, we’re doing better. And we are aware of (the situation). Our heads are not in the ground. We know.

“I want the next generation and the generation after that to know there is a chance to make movies and the kind of movies that can win Oscars, and the Academy is preserving that knowledge, is educating and giving inspiration and aspirations to people — not just actors, producers, directors or writers, but to be the best animator, to be the next Ray Dolby, the next Gordon Willis, the next A..R. Rahman, the next Quincy Jones.”

Koch also believes the proposed Academy museum in the old May Co. building on the Los Angeles Museum of Art campus can play a constructive role, which is why another top priority for him early in his tenure will be “to make sure we have raised the $100 million by the end of October, so we can move forward.”

That deadline comes at the quarter-pole of Koch’s tenure, with the halfway point arriving just before the Feb. 24 Oscars, underscoring how fast time will fly during Koch’s presidency and how much he will have to attend to as it zooms along. Koch said his fellow elected officers — first VP Cheryl Boone Isaacs, veeps Kathleen Kennedy and Phil Robinson, treasurer Rob Friedman and secretary (and former prexy) Robert Rehme — will play a significant role.

“Tom Sherak did something the past few years that I applaud,” Koch said. “He really included the officers in a lot of decisionmaking and a lot of counseling, and I am so fortunate. … Any one of (our officers) could and should be president, and to have all of them to be my counselors and give me advice — I plan to use them a lot.”

That cooperation could prove particularly meaningful for Boone Issacs, who is also producing this year’s Governors Awards with Don Mischer and would seem to stand as a strong contender to succeed Koch as prexy in 2013.

“I’m thinking that I’m in production for a year,” Koch said, “and I’m going to do everything I can to (implement) the ideas that I have and the ideas from all the governors and all the committees I have heard over the years.

“I hope that the next president and the next board will say, ‘That’s a good idea — let’s do that again next year … and the ideas that don’t work, we drop.”

Without a doubt, the Academy is near and dear to Koch, whose father, Howard W. Koch, served as the org’s president from 1970-73 and 1977-79 and also produced eight Oscar telecasts. The younger Koch worked backstage on several of those ceremonies and was in the audience when his father received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 1990.

“He was up on the stage, and he was mentioning his whole family out at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion,” Koch recalled. “He looked at me and said, ‘I hope one day he can be up here.’ And I feel like I’ve achieved what he wanted and what I wanted. And now I want to hopefully do a good job.”

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