Tom Sherak is now in the second year of his presidency of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. He and his organization are active on multiple fronts, including the search for a new AMPAS Executive Director since Bruce Davis plans to step down later this year. Sherak can only run for another one-year term before stepping down himself when he is termed out on the Board of Governors. But right now he has a certain awards show on Sunday that is taking up most of his time. Deadline’s awards columnist Pete Hammond interviewed him:
DEADLINE: How are you feeling about the way the Oscar show is progressing this week?
TOM SHERAK: The energy is at fever pitch. It’s fun. It’s so hard to put a show like this on but it’s exciting. I am like a kid in a candy store.
DEADLINE: Is the show more ambitious this year?
SHERAK: Last year was very ambitious but this year Don Mischer is unbelievable. He has cameras everywhere. I think the broadcast he and Bruce Cohen are putting together is something special. There’s just something about this year’s show. There appears to be an energy more than usual.
DEADLINE: Do you think the ratings will be higher?
SHERAK: Look, the 10 nominated movies grossed $1.46 billion domestically between them. That’s a lot of people that saw those movies. And there’s a lot of competition in a lot of interesting categories even including Documentary. Who would have thought that? The media is making it exciting with all the questions about Banksy (the mystery director of Exit Through The Gift Shop). I think it’s all good and if he shows up, he shows up. I won’t stop him.
DEADLINE: The Academy is getting more interactive and involved with new media than ever before.
SHERAK: I think we needed to do it. It all ties in with Oscar.com. You are going to see stuff backstage, on the Red Carpet, and everywhere, that goes further than ever before. It’s really going to drive the telecast and we will see how it works, then make it even better next year. The question is how do you stay relevant to a younger audience — and ABC and the Academy have gotten together to do that.
DEADLINE: And there is a charge of $4.99 to consumers for an optional special “all access” premium feature.
SHERAK: I learned about it when you did. We’ll see what happens. Once you pay, you hope it will be worth it to the viewers. If not, next year it will be 99 cents. You don’t want to rip people off. But I think it will be great.
DEADLINE: You were instrumental in making the controversial move from five to 10 nominations. This is the second year for it. Do you think it is working the way you hoped?
SHERAK: Yes, I was happy when the board voted to let us do this. We needed to figure out a way to keep the public interested. Look, we read what you guys write. We listen. We realize that we needed to become more relevant. Well, how do we do that?
DEADLINE: How DO you do that?
SHERAK: One thing we’ll never do is we’ll never lose the history of this organization. What that awards means. No matter how many places you go and when you are introduced, if you’ve won the Academy Award, they start out with “Academy Award Winner”. So we’re never going to lose that. Our goal is to award excellence with all those 24 categories we have. But we also know we have to put on a show. The public is who’s watching that show, and it’s what keeps us going. But the Academy does more than put on a show. We’re out 365 days a year. We put out grants. We’re doing outreach. We’re giving out student awards. We’re doing screenwriting awards. We’re trying to promote the science of the motion picture business. There’s a huge science that needs to be constantly thought about because of all that’s happened with all the technology. We spend millions of dollars doing all that stuff. So we have to keep the organization alive. We all know that this one night’s important. Ratings are important. If we are going to continue our goals, we have to have the money to be able to that. This show provides that.
DEADLINE: You took the honorary awards out of the telecast and turned them into a non-televised evening. Do you think the Governors Awards should continue in that way?
SHERAK: I would say that anyone that came to last year’s Governors Awards, and again this year, walked in and said ‘Whoa!’. Because nobody really knew what last year was going to be. And then this year you got to see old Hollywood and young Hollywood there. And everybody started writing, ‘Oh, all those people are trying to get nominated. They all just showed up because they want press.’ And I’m saying to myself, ‘Yeah, but watch their faces when people get up to get those honorary Oscars. They’re a part of history!’ Bottom line is you saw all those young professional talented actors who everyone said were there for notoriety and to get ready for the awards season, and I’m watching them watch Eli Wallach and Francis Coppola, and I’m saying to myself, ‘That’s Hollywood, guys. This is what you’ve chosen to be your profession. And some day you’ll either win one because they’ve voted you, or if you are lucky enough to have a career then someone will vote you one this way through the board.’ That’s Hollywood. That’s who we are.
DEADLINE: You hired Don Mischer and Bruce Cohen to produce the first Governors Awards and now they are doing the Oscars.
SHERAK: And when I sat with Don and Bruce to do the show, we talked about what the Oscar show was going to be this year. Especially how do we meld the past and present. And the one way to do that is to look for talented performers. You’ve seen Anne Hathaway perform at the oscars already, but the bottom line is you’re going to see James Franco perform, too. You’re going to see him get up there in front of all those millions of people and you’re going to say to yourself, ‘Boy, no wonder it’s so hard to find somebody who would want to do this. It’s hard!’ I’m telling you, it’s hard. Bottom line is he’s so talented and she is so talented. And I think together you’re going to see them bring their glamour and their talent. And you’re going to get to see Hollywood the way you remember Hollywood. You are going to get touches of past things in the show. I think that you are going to say ‘Wow!’ But it’s also going to be very, very energetic.
DEADLINE: There’s obviously been talk by the Board Of Governors about moving the Oscars to an earlier date and controversy within the Academy about actually doing that. Do you feel a lot of competitive pressure from all of the competing precursor awards shows?
SHERAK: No, I don’t feel any pressure at all. There are a lot of opinions about it. I think a lot of opinions are really good. You’ve got to listen to all of them. The Board has not voted to do that yet. The presentation to the Board to do that has not happened yet. The only thing the Board has agreed on is to find out whether we could we do it if we wanted to do it. And if we did, then where would we do it? And we have spent almost a year now making sure that, if the Board voted to do this, we could do it effectively. We have to make sure that nothing in our organization is given short shrift. We have to make sure that our members that want to see the movies on the big screen have the time to see them on the big screen. We have to make sure that the integrity of the voting can be not compromised at all. I know a lot of people have talked about moving the voting online. We are still going through that process of making sure, if the Board voted to do this, you couldn’t compromise our voting. If you compromise our voting, we would be gone. We can’t do that.
DEADLINE: So do you think it’s still a possibility?
SHERAK: The answer to that question is we actually slowed ourselves down a little bit. We did! We were not pressured, but we were doing a lot of stuff and finally had a meeting and we talked at the meeting and said, ‘What’s our rush?’ Some of us want to do it, but we better have it right before we take it to the Board. That Board is a board of questions and smartness and history and you better have it right if you are going to present them something. The one thing you don’t want to do is present it, get something wrong, and then have to bring it back to them again. By the way, I learned this now having been on the Board now for 8 years and being President for my second year. I learned that when we made the presentation for the Governor’s Awards, not an easy thing. And for the 10 pictures. You better have it right! Everybody has an opinion and everybody is not afraid to express an opinion. And I think that’s what makes the Board what it is. I think this year we have 22 Oscars on that Board. Hello!
DEADLINE: You chose not to make a President’s address on the Oscar show in your first year. Will we be seeing you on the Kodak Theatre stage Sunday night?
SHERAK: Yes. It won’t be long. I will be saying something. There’s a specific reason I am going to get up and say something. My mom and dad in heaven will be very proud of me.