Academy Meeting: Membership Standards Won’t Change

Full Houses Attend First-Time Outreach Session; Oscar voting is broadened

Oscars Academy Awards

Academy prexy Hawk Koch played to a full house — or, more accurately, three full houses — Saturday in the first town hall meet for members that covered such topics as Oscar voting procedures, membership diversity, electronic voting and the museum.

Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences CEO Dawn Hudson and COO Ric Robertson were also on hand at the org’s BevHills headquarters, with linkups to venues in the Bay Area and New York.

The most impressive thing was the turnout: Koch commented that it was the first time he’d seen every seat in the Goldwyn Theatre filled with Acad members, and the other two theaters were similarly packed.

Members were clearly interested in what the execs had to say. No one from the press was invited; I was there as a member of producers branch (since 1969).

On the issue of membership, the AMPAS team disputed media reports that the org will loosen   requirements to get more diversity in terms of age and race. The Acad will stick to its standards. The current makeup of the Acad reflects the facts of the industry, and it’s the industry that needs to change.

Two of the biggest questions about membership were never addressed, however. For years, many have wondered why publicists are allowed to vote, though agents cannot, presumably because they would have a vested interest in some winners. (Which is actually true in many branches.) The other question centers on the fact that a member can remain a voter for life, even though the person may not have worked in the industry for years, or even decades.

Soon after the start of the meeting at 11 a.m. PST, the Academy sent out a press release stating that the Oscar voting process has been democratized: Now every voter can weigh in on all 24 categories. Previously, members had to go to screenings of docu shorts and foreign-language films. Now, voters will have that option and will be be given DVDs of contenders in those categories as well as docu feature, animated short and live-action-short. Making the foreign-language nominees available on DVD is a major move for the Acad. Koch supported a suggestion that screeners should be “recycled” after the voting and sent to hospitals and other nonprofits and promised to explore the copyright issues.

The meeting was the first of its kind, one step in an outreach to provide transparency and give all members a chance to speak up. The next step will be a questionnaire sent to members in a few months. In the press release, Koch said the meet was part of continuing “efforts to expand our members’ participation in all aspects of the Academy’s activities.”

Robertson said that this past Oscar season saw a record 90% voter turnout. That was an interesting statement, because in past years, the Academy has been mum on details about voting patterns, including number of voters.

Koch said the ratings showed that the past Oscarcast was a big success, and that the Academy will stick with the plan that allows five to 10 best picture contenders: “The number of Oscar nominees will depend on the strength of the field.”
On this year’s Oscar show, he added, “The reaction to the Oscar show is always intense and divided. My Dad produced nine shows so I have lived through all this.”
Kathleen Kennedy said the museum will start construction in 2014, to open three years later. She predicted there will be intense competition to premiere pictures in the three theaters in the new museum.

Producer Mark Johnson also spoke, with an amazing amount of time spent on questions about the foreign-language category. Johnson explained that the Academy wanted to open up the selection process and predicted that this plan for distribution of the five top nominees in this category would ease concerns that the selections are made by a small group within the Academy.

 After the meeting I was asked: what question would you have asked had you had the opportunity. My response: I would have asked Hawk why he moved so fast in re-appointing the co-producers of the Oscar show. Why not wait until he received the results of the Academy questionnaire, and thus learn the attitude of Academy members to the show? Many members might have expressed reservations.