OSCAR: Academy's Bruce Davis To Retire

EXCLUSIVE: This is truly the end of an era. I’ve just learned that Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences executive director Bruce Davis announced at this evening’s Board Of Governors meeting that he intends to retire on June 30th, 2011, after 30 years working for the world’s preeminent film group. Davis has run AMPAS with an increasingly iron fist in recent years and become a controversial figure to say the least. While he has many successes under his belt, the least of which is that AMPAS is still a rich and vital organization whose prestige remains high, Davis also had notable failures in recent years. Most glaringly, he couldn’t get an Academy Museum Of Motion Pictures off the ground, with AMPAS spending tens of millions of dollars to buy the property for the proposed 8-acre campus without first raising the necessary funding and now having nothing to show for the money because the project is postponed indefinitely. He also allowed AMPAS to lag behind in technology, which means administrators will have to start from ground zero to ensure Academy voters can receive the films in competition on their computers and vote online if the 2012 Oscars are moved up to January or early February as the Board of Governors is considering. He also presided over a smugly arrogant organization shrouded in secrecy (favored staff were sworn to silence when they received large raises despite the global financial crisis) and accustomed to bullying outsiders and even employees (there continue to be attempts to unionize staff dispirited over bare minimum cost-of-living pay increases, pension changes, and few merit raises).

This will be a coveted job in Hollywood when the board looks for his successor. A native of Washington DC, Davis was the chair of the Theater Department at Pennsylvania’s Juniata College when in 1980 he decided to moved to California to pursue a writing career. In 1981, he was hired by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and was named executive administrator in 1983, overseeing the Academy’s Herrick Library, its film archives, and its public programming. He became executive director of the Academy in 1989. While the Board of Governors is responsible for corporate management, overall control, and general policies for AMPAS, it also appoints an executive director to supervise the Academy’s administrative activities including a staff of 200+ to conduct the day-to-day business. I’ve obtained the communication Davis just sent to his employees:

To The Academy Staff:

At this evening’s Board meeting I announced to the governors my intention of retiring from my position as executive director at the end of the current fiscal year (June 30, 2011). I wanted the staff to have a clear statement of my plans as well.

When I leave I will have spent thirty years at the Academy, and more than twenty as its executive director. That seems like enough. Organizations and individuals both benefit from periodic shifts in perspective.

A decision about a successor has not been made yet of course, but the Board will take that up shortly and I have no doubt that they will select a new head of staff who will have a clear understanding of your importance to the organization and a deep respect for it.

This change is still a full eight months off, so I’m hoping that I, and all of you, will be able to hold off on doing anything maudlin for the time being.


  1. “which means administrators will have to start from ground zero to ensure Academy voters can watch competing films on their computers and vote online”

    I don’t know why you make this sound like it’s a failure. Do you really want the cinematography of a film like Avatar or the performances in The Town to be judged by someone watching it stream on their laptop???

    Trust me, it is NOT so great to watch a low-rez Flash or Silverlight stream of something nominated. A generic resolution DVD on an HD TV is a better experience than streaming.

    1. I really doubt the AMPAS would be dumb enough to encourage voters to watch the films online— downloading HD versions of the films ala iTunes/Netflix would be more likely.

      Also, it’d be nice if the NOMINATED films had either online or short video adjuncts highlighting the work being considered (Costumes, Makeup, Hair, Cinematography, Screenplay).

      Either way, it will FINALLY be great to have the AMPAS dragged into the 20th Century. Then maybe we could drag it into the 21rst.

  2. >>> “Organizations and individuals both benefit from periodic shifts in perspective.” <<<

    Yeah, change is good. The Academy really is an old-boys club and can do with some fresh leadership. I guess 20 years could be considered "periodic" change in some circles.

  3. I’ll take the job!

    I’ve already got a number of improvements and solutions in mind:

    1. The Oscars will be made of chocolate, wrapped in gold foil.

    2. The museum will be “temporarily” housed in a trailer in the AMPAS parking lot.

    3. Oscar voting will be done by touch tone phone, i.e. Press 1 if you want to nominate Meryl Streep for something, press 2 if you don’t wish to nominate Meryl Streep (this button will be deactivated, of course), press 3 if you wish to deny the existence of Meryl Streep altogether.

    A man with a plan, that’s what this organization needs!

  4. I just don’t understand land ownership in Hollywood. It’s one of the last cities to still have run down buildings in prime real estate areas. It has long started but can’t seem to finish a true urban renewal, and the economy doesn’t help. The museum is a great idea even in this economy; think of how many great buildings that were erected despite rotten economic times.

    H’wood can’t just be known for a fun but tacky wax museum and a sign up on a piece of scrub land. The museum will be a great addition.

    1. Agreed. You can’t even let your grass grow too long in some other cities much less allow a building to rot. Don’t know why L.A. and NYC too can’t be more strict about these things.

  5. Davis is the same guy two years ago who was at a public meeting in Hollywood produced by the Academy. When it was suggested that the Academy should strive to have the best films possible submitted for the Documentary awards category, Davis said “We don’t want the best films. We already have too many submissions.” He has run the Academy as if it was his own. He can be charming, rude, and dictatorial. Good riddance!

  6. I can speak for every current and former employee safely when I say:


    Bruce will be exiting with a wonderful golden parachute after he spent 20 years protecting his throne using his overpaid bulldog assistant, sleazy executive team, and dozens of miserable management techniques that created a toxic work environment.

    For the sake of the organization, I can only hope they hire an executive search firm to find the next executive director, as nobody in the upper-levels of the organization is capable of taking over.

    It’s a great day for the organization, which managed to thrive in spite of itself.

  7. There is no man better for the job than Ric Robertson, who has been Bruce’s second in command for almost all of his reign. He knows the Academy like the back of his hand, enjoys very positive relationships with the Board and the members and is due his time on top. An outsider does not need to come in and start over – Ric know how things need to change and needs to b given the chance to put everything in order.

    1. They will NEVER let Ric be the new executive director. The board hates him. This was all staged so that Bruce Davis can leave with his legacy still intact. As soon as he is gone his successor will pull the plug on the museum project. To be fair, a major fundraising drive for the museum was to take place until the recession hit and effectively ended that idea. I believe that they will strongly consider Andy Maltz to replace Bruce Davis — Andy is the director of the Academy’s Science and Technology Council. I’m putting my money on him. He’s beloved by both board and staff alike.

    2. @ Marcy: Either your last name is Robertson, or you already drank the Kool Aid… or perhaps you’re thinking of another Academy? Ric Robertson is so inundated with work he can’t even keep up; things sit and rot on his desk like the gingivitis in his mouth. He hasn’t got the chops, sweetheart.

  8. Anyone who knows ANYTHING about The Academy knows that Ric Robertson is so NOT the right guy for the job. Give me a *#$&@#^ break.

  9. Why not put a woman in charge? Considering the staff is predominately women anyway (have you seen the finance and communications departments?).

    I vote for Leslie Unger.

    1. Leslie Unger? Are you kidding? That chihuahua is a nasty little witch, and COULD be the most hated woman in Hollywood. She doesn’t do anything for the Academy except further tarnish their reputation. And remember, too, that she ascended her own throne because of her association with Ric Robertson. I can’t think of two people LESS QUALIFIED to take the job of Executive Director.

  10. My own experience with Mr. Davis has been fairly positive.He has been responsive to queries and attentive, if not responsive, to suggestions. He performed admirably in many ways.

    Overall, the Academy runs well and each year manages to organize the viewings in an ordered and professional way.

    Unfortunately, too much Academy business is done only by the Board which is elected in a very odd manner, by very few of the members, and has a policy of eliminating any members from New York. There has been no attempt to engage the membership in defining the goals of the organization and no effort to make the opinions of the membership, heard. There is a disproportionate number of Board members – certainly of Board officers – who are not in the creative fields of moviemaking like writing, acting , designing or directing, but in marketing. There is a disconnect between the aesthetic goals of the Academy and the way success seems to be calculated. Is a TV rating the only consideration?

    I thought it unwise when a seperate category was instituted for animation since the net result was to minimize the impact of an animated Best Picture nomination.In that vein, I thought it atrocious when these few members decided to deflate the value of a nomination – built up over 70 years – by doubling the number of nominees. This crass and desperate change was pushed through without soliciting a vote – or even the opinion – of members. In the age of the internet, such is inexcusable.

    Hopefully, the forthcoming change in the Directors office will filter down through the organization and appropriate changes will be solicited and acted upon.

  11. You have got to be kidding me Andy Maltz beloved by staff. How about deeply hated by staff. I think that is by far a way better word choice. He is a pretentious turd who treats his staff way worse than Bruce or Ric. AMPAS would be best suited cleaning house and going outside to hire for the position!

  12. Leslie is the #1 female in the ORG. The Oscars is essentially a media event, and she runs it from head to toe.

  13. Whomever is appointed, we who work at the Academy hope they understand the situation as stated in the article: ” . . . staff dispirited over bare minimum cost-of-living pay increases, pension changes, and few merit raises.”

    If people only knew how little we get paid, they would be shocked and the Academy might possibly be embarrassed (although it is doubtful such an arrogant organization can feel shame). From what I understand, even the Board of Governors, who decide what kind of salaries we get, are ignorant not only about how little we are asked to survive on, but also about what happens to the raises they approve for the staff — substantially most of that money never makes it into our hands.

  14. Ric Robertson is very bright and dedicated to the Academy, but he’s also passive and has been under Bruce’s thumb for years. It would be good to see him in an interim director role, to see whether he’s got the chops and any vision for the position.

    The open-secret relationship between him and Leslie Unger has done a number on employee morale though. Considering Leslie for the job would bring howls of protest.

    Maybe the Board’ll step up to the challenging task of choosing Bruce’s replacement with more decisiveness than they have shown on anything else, like reforming the show. Mostly, they just act as lobbyists for their own branches. The fact that someone on the board informed you about employee salary decisions makes it clear that they don’t have any idea what their Board role is.

  15. Today is a great day. We now know that Bruce Davis’s reign will finally end. He ia an arrogant man who thinks he has made a great contribution to our industry. Not many people like him but all who do are scared to death of him. The academy should clean house and fire the rest of his minions.
    Edourdo montague Sr.

  16. Actually the fact is Leslie ascended after working for 15 years under the esteemed Communications Director John Pavlick. Ric Robertson from my experience working there, is a good person too, who is equally entitled to be Showrunner. And though I dislike canine analogies, Pit Bull is more appropriate.

    1. If you believe that garbage, you have no idea of the inner workings and ugly politics that govern the Academy’s day to day operations. The only truth in your statement is that John Pavlik was esteemed. HE should have been executive director. And he’s sorely missed among the staff.

      1. Well, of course there was nobody like John, and yeah he should have been ED. I love the guy and I agree. But to say I have no idea about the ugly politics or the day-to-day operations is a little terse.

        What I’m saying is that maybe a woman should run the Academy, and I voiced my choice. Just because you and others don’t like my choice, but seem at a loss to submit another name, with equal experience and qualifications, doesn’t mean “I don’t know what I’m talking about.”

        Finally, the fact you spelled Pavlik’s name correctly, while I did not, means you’re probably just a bitter employee.

        1. @ John:

          1) Get a clue; the Academy is full of bitter employees! Or maybe you couldn’t glean that from this diatribe.

          2) Employee bitterness has nothing at all to do with the ability to spell Pavlik. Your inability to spell Pavlik just shows that you don’t really know him at all. Try Google.

          3) I agree, having a woman run The Academy would be a wonderful idea… but if Leslie Unger is your best suggestion, then I’m sorry…. but you really are clueless.

          And just so you know, I’m not at a loss to suggest a suitable female to take over the Academy. However, there isn’t a single woman currently under the Academy’s employ that has the experience or qualifications for the Executive Directorship. Not one.

  17. O, the Academy’s 7th floor. What a pack of snarky, entitled, paranoid wolves. They rule through fear and intimidation and thoroughly detest–and deserve–one another. A smug, self-satisfied group, but not a happy one.

  18. Thank Goodness. Bruce needs to retire! The man is so out of touch, antiquated!!! Bruce actually DOES very little work day to day other than read the newspaper. The failed Museum project was his pet project & millions were spent without a proforma on the ROI = not good business sense! People – Bruce Davis refuses to use a computer! He doesnt even have a computer in his office – he makes his 2 assts read and respond to his email – its sooo stupid. he writes memos to his staff located 2 doors down from him and Bruce & Ric take it upon themselves to re write letters and memors written by other staff as if they are school teachers. It’s so sad that the Academy Sr Mgmt are largely made of of executives who have ZERO career experience anyywhere else, including film or any business. They’ve all worked at AMPAS like 15-20 years – its frightening their lack of career expertise. Ric Robertson isnt qualified for the ED job either. Ric has no experience working anywhere else. He is a terrible manager of employees. Ric is SLOW to respond to everything and drags the entire mode of business there to a snails pace. & yes it is true Ric Robertson had an affair with his now head of PR Leslie Unger. & yes Ric makes advances on every female in the bldg. ICK. And yes it is also true – the entire staff – on every level of mgt – are very poorly paid. It’s short sighted, hypocritical for such a wealthy organization & hinders their ability to secure and retain talent. The Bruce Davis/Ric Robertson attitude is YOURE LUCKY TO WORK AT THE ACADEMY

  19. Much agreed about Mr. Pavlik. John Pavlik was a rare bird in Hollyweird. A person more folks should emulate. But unfortunately for Hollywood, Mr. Pavlik knows that the value of life is not about fame or prestige… it is about enjoying the heck out of life. One of the classiest men I have ever had the privilege of knowing!

  20. Had John Pavlik not left the Academy to go to the Motion Picture Home and Hospital, he would have been executive director.

    He is a great person and consummate pro.

    I think he is enjoying his well earned retirement…I sure hope so.

    John…you are the best!

  21. Knowing Bruce Davis & Ric Robertson – they probably issued an internal AMPAS written memo this week stating that if any Academy employee(s) posted any further comments on deadline.com they’d be fired. wish someone would publish or post all the dumb ass Bruce Davis memos and letters Bruce (& Ric) have written over the past 20 years ~ those letters would really give the world great insight into the stupidity of those two.

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