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New Film Academy President David Rubin Talks Member Morale, Museum Delays and Hostless Emmys

Incoming Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences president David Rubin took his stately new desk today in Los Angeles, and it’s pretty easy to guess his very first order of business — sorting out the Oscars.

Variety caught up with the casting director, whose 100-plus film credits include “The English Patient,” “Get Shorty,” and “Men in Black,” and who replaces the outgoing John Bailey. Rubin is the first in his relatively young branch to serve in the office, and comes aboard after a controversy-packed year for the  annual Hollywood ceremony — to say nothing of the enduring delays for the group’s mission to mount a landmark museum dedicated to the history of film.

He’s optimistic, here’s why:

What’s priority number one for you? 

The first priority is to get the Oscar broadcast sorted, because we’ve designated an earlier broadcast date. But really, it’s to connect with the membership and work together with the board of governors on a strategy to fulfill the Academy’s mission. That’s always been to celebrate filmmaking on a global stage.

Last year was tough. How is morale on the board and in the membership at large? 

I think morale is fantastic in the board of governors. In fact, and this may come as a result of the changing culture of the academy in our increased diversity and national outreach. I find it to be a tremendous collegial atmosphere.

As a casting director, you’re at the forefront of representation in Hollywood. Will you extend that in your role as Academy president?

The responsibility of casting directors, in our collaboration with filmmakers, is to reflect the world as it is. What the Academy has attempted to do with our A2020 diversity initiative is to reflect the world of film as it really is.

You may have noticed the Emmys are taking a note and going hostless. Will Oscars do the same again this year, and is Donna Gigliotti coming back to produce? 

We’re prepared to take credit for anything good that happens to award shows. All I can say is that we are completely fortunate to have Donna Gigliotti now as one of our governors on the board. There is no question that she will continue to be the Oscars consigliere this year and for years to come. How the show ultimately comes together is still to come, the first order of business.

Where do you fall in the debate of preserving the theatrical experience versus all the boundaries being pushed by streaming? 

I’m very interested in that dialogue. What I’m hoping for in the year to come is to bring the best and the brightest of our filmmaking colleagues to have a conversation about what a motion picture is. It’s a changing landscape and personally I want to protect and promote the joy of sitting in a packed theater. I think it’s an essential way in which communities connect, but we have to look at the future with our eyes open and see the Academy as living, breathing organism that reflects the world as it changes.

What will your role be in the completion of the Academy museum and what is the timeline now that you’re out there looking for a new director? 

My role is to lend my support in any way that I can. The museum has come far thanks to the great work of Kerry Brougher, focusing on the exhibits and what’s inside. It’s a thrilling prospect to represent historical film and the nature of contemporary film for a mass audience. I look at the opening of the museum like any film being produced. We’ll release it at the moment it’s appropriate and announce that date when the time comes.

Did John Bailey have any parting words of advice? 

I’ve learned a tremendous amount serving on the board under John Bailey. I’ve learned what a great communicator he is, and I’ve inherited a very supportive atmosphere. In decades past there might have been contentions, but there really is not. I felt that in the board room on election night, and I saw the kinship there.

Did you receive any notes or calls from notable Academy members? 

I was particularly gratified to have a conversation with the legendary casting director Lynn Stalmaster (“Tootsie,” “The Heat of the Night”) who is my mentor. It was emotional. He’s such a pioneer in the field, To see a casting director in this position was really rewarding to him and gratifying for me.

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