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Producer Michael Shamberg Sues Academy for Ignoring His Plea to Improve Social Media

Michael Shamberg
Eric Charbonneau/Invision/AP

Veteran film producer Michael Shamberg sued the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences on Monday, as he steps up his campaign to prod the organization to boost its social media presence.

Shamberg, 75, has been publicly decrying the Academy’s slide into irrelevance with younger viewers for several months.

An Academy member since 1981, Shamberg also has been working on the inside to try to get the Academy’s board to heed his warnings. According to the suit, he proposed an amendment to the organization’s bylaws in January that would have required the group to adopt a “state of the art” social media strategy and conduct an annual survey of its members.

Shamberg asked to attend the March meeting and was allowed to speak in support of his proposal. David Rubin, the Academy president, told him he would have 10 minutes to speak and that he would then have to leave so the board could discuss his idea.

Shamberg said that Rubin called him the next day to thank him for his feedback. He was advised that the board did adopt the amendment and did not put it to a vote. Shamberg ultimately sought and obtained the minutes of the meeting, which stated that “The meeting was opened to any motions regarding the proposal and none were made.”

The board then asked the Membership and Governance Committee to clarify the process for seeking amendments to the bylaws.

“Plaintiff requests declaratory and injunctive relief compelling the Organization to vote on Plaintiff’s Amendments,” the lawsuit states.

The suit also accuses the board of bias against Shamberg and seeks a vote of the full membership.

The Academy’s bylaws allow members to propose amendments, but they do not appear to require that a proposal be put to a vote. Instead, the bylaws state that amendments “may” be adopted either by a two-third vote of the board or — if the board chooses — by a majority vote of the full membership.

In a June 25 letter to the Academy’s general counsel, Shamberg’s lawyer, Matthew B. Learned, argued that the bylaws are “ambiguous” on this question, and stated that the board should have “shown him the courtesy” of voting on his idea.

Shamberg ran for the Board of Governors in the most recent election, but was not elected.

Attached to the suit is a 13-page presentation summing up his ideas, which he dubbed “The Relevance Project.” The proposal begins with a declaration that the Academy is “in crisis” due to declining viewership for the Oscar program.

The presentation includes a series of exhortations, including “Enough With the Past,” “Amp Up Instagram,” and “Get on TikTok,” and a suggestion that the Academy use GIFs of old films rather than still images and pay to boost its posts on Facebook.

While acknowledging that he is “hardly an expert,” Shamberg argues that the Academy should hire consultants who are up to speed on new technology.

“This revolutionary change in communication is like going from silent films to talkies,” Shamberg argues. “The Academy is stuck in a bland style of impersonal institutional communication which is so last century.”