What really happened behind-the-scenes of the election for a new president of the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences tonight? Deadline’s Nikki Finke followed the twists and turns that led to Hawk Koch winning:
Make no mistake about it: veteran Hollywood producer Hawk Koch wanted the job “desperately”, in the words of both his friends and frenemies. Not just because he would be a second-generation president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences, but more because it would further frame his identity independent of a famous filmmaker father. (He’d already changed his name from Howard W Koch Jr.) And make no mistake about this, either: a group of Academy insiders just as desperately didn’t want him to be their president. One principal problem was that Koch can only serve for one year before he terms out on the Academy’s Board Of Governors. (He can run again for the panel after a hiatus.) Plus, few others were as motivated to be president, and fewer still were willing to campaign as openly for it. (How to run for high office without doing it is a trick which even consummate politicians haven’t yet mastered.)
So when those present among the Academy’s maximum 42 governors (usually 43, but screenwriter and past president Frank Pierson passed away days ago) gathered in their Beverly Hills boardroom on this Tuesday, it was for a ritualistic procedure that rivals papal succession. Choosing their current president followed seven months of twists and turns that almost no outsiders knew about. Suffice it to say that Koch’s name crossing the 50% threshold to be elected was both expected but unexpected. Here’s why:
Koch’s initial lobbying to be in first position for AMPAS President began as far back as January when one of my insiders confided that Hawk during the last Oscars go-round told him he was going after the job. By March, it was an open secret that Koch was campaigning. “It was odd that Hawk has made it so clear that he wants to do it,” a source mused to me at the time. It was seen as unseemly. Because the sad fact is that, year after year, the AMPAS governors want most to run those candidates who don’t want them. But this year a small group of governors was actively campaigning against Koch’s candidacy. Their reason was mostly snobbism. “Look at the history of the Academy Presidents,” one insider explained to me, “Bette Davis, Cecil B DeMille, Gregory Peck. How unimpressive to follow those names with Warren Beatty’s line producer who insists on not being called Howard Koch Jr.”
Actors Tom Hanks and Annette Bening were unsuccessfully sounded out first, just as they are every year. Then the anti-Koch camp went to screenwriter Phil Alden Robinson, who didn’t want to do it. Strong names in the other branches were approached as well. But documentary maker Michael Moore “doesn’t make meetings and doesn’t have the time,” my sources told me. Fox Filmed Entertainment Chairman Jim Gianopulos “would have restored lustre” but also didn’t have time.
In the meantime, Koch kept campaigning. He explained away the biggest misgivings of his AMPAS colleagues during quiet conversations. He pledged that, although recently re-elected as Producers Guild president, he would resign and leave running that organization through 2014 to his co-president Mark Gordon. That he could accomplish a lot in only a one-year term. It was then he also started acknowledging both inside and outside AMPAS (even to the press) that he was officially open to being drafted. “They’re coming up and telling me, ‘You should be the next president.’ I’m flattered people are saying that,” Koch told colleagues.
He went around explaining his long 40-year history with the Academy, how he’d been on the Board Of Governors for 8 years, and chaired the General Membership Committee, and served on other panels. How he’d been an officer of the Board for 11 years, and then 1st Vice President. And so on. “I feel very fortunate to have a life in this business, and I love giving back to the business. It’s a legacy,” he told people in his stump speech. “Everyone would most like to have Tom and Annette but they’re actors who don’t have the time. I know. I’ve been in the business since Clark Gable gave me my first horseback ride when I was 4 years old. I was really proud that the Producers Guild has become the arbiter of who really produced movies. And at the Academy I had a big part in changing the fabric of the rules. And if it happens that I became Academy President, I want to keep doing good. It’s a huge responsibility, exciting, scary, and also a thankless job. But you don’t get anywhere by just sitting off in the corner. I have ideas.”
Meanwhile the anti-Koch camp’s next phase was handicapping who’d win or lose the 2012-2013 Board Of Governors elections. Two very good possibilities for the presidency, Kathleen Kennedy and Mark Johnson, were running against each other in the Producers Branch. The thought was that, while reluctant, they might be draftable. Then on June 1st, George Lucas to great surprise hired Steven Spielberg’s longtime producer Kennedy as co-chair of his LucasFilms. Any hope that she’d also take on the AMPAS presidency faded. And when the elections were held, Kennedy defeated Mark Johnson, so he couldn’t be a candidate this year.
Next, veteran filmmaker Bob Rehme was seen as a strong éminence grise coming back on the board after a hiatus. And since he’d been AMPAS president twice before, a third term wasn’t out of order. But he didn’t want the gig. Two more women’s names circulated. Briefly, Gale Anne Hurd of the Producers Branch though she’s working mostly in television now. Very seriously, Cheryl Boone Isaacs from the Public Relations Branch who would have been only the third woman, and the first African-American, to hold the Academy presidency. But then this “great diversity candidate” was put in charge of the Academy’s 4th Annual Governors Awards, thus neutralizing her inevitability for now.
Still, after the election, a seemingly perfect concensus candidate emerged: Rob Friedman, the Summit Entertainment Co-Chair who now was Co-Chair of Lionsgate’s Motion Picture Group. He wanted to be AMPAS President although he also wanted to be careful not to look like he was campaigning for it. Friedman avoided all media calls and relied primarily on surrogates to draft him. Although a longtime studio executive, he was still a member of the Public Relations Branch dating back to his days as President of Worldwide Advertising and Publicity for Warner Bros in the 1980s and 1990s. He segued to Paramount where he rose to become Vice Chairman and COO of the Motion Picture Group. For years, Friedman’s metier had been mostly blockbuster films and Oscar winners. When he and Patrick Wachsberger established Summit Entertainment as a worldwide motion picture development, production and distribution studio in 2007 and guided its growth into a leading force in Hollywood, the minimajor produced the Twilight Saga franchise which has already grossed more than $2.5 billion at the worldwide box office as well as Best Picture Oscar The Hurt Locker. “Rob has flourished in both a major studio and independent environment, he’s a terrific coalition builder, he has a great sense of community involvement, philanthropy, volunteerism. And that’s what the Academy job is all about,” one of his supporters told me a few weeks ago.
So, going into tonight’s election, the campaign had narrowed down to Rob Friedman and Hawk Koch. Either one could have won tonight, but Koch came out victorious for what several of his colleagues told me just now was because, “it’s only one year.” What might have been his biggest liability had turned into his biggest asset: the brevity of his term.
So who is Hawk Koch? A well-known quantity to nearly everyone in Hollywood. Pals with Warren Beatty and fellow governor Annette Bening and other Hollywood royalty of a certain age, credits on more than five dozen movies include Heaven Can Wait, Wayne’s World, Primal Fear. But it was his lifelong effort to escape the shadow of his father that truly characterized Hawk’s movie career. Known prior to 2000 as Howard W. Koch Jr, son of the veteran filmmaker and one-time Paramount Pictures studio chief, the scion worked on such notable films as The Way We Were, Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown, Barefoot in the Park and scores more. He co-produced films like Gorky Park, The Pope of Greenwich Village, Frequency, and Keeping the Faith. But he still felt overshowdered by his father who was given the Academy’s prestigious Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 1989.
The son grew up spending every vacation and every summer on movie sets. “I think if you psychoanalyze it, the only way I could be with my dad was to be good at the movie business,” Koch once said to the LA Times. After a stint as road manager for singing acts, his first job in the movies was production assistant on James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter and Billy the Kid Vs. Dracula. Each took five days to make. Then he was a production assistant on the 1966 film This Property Is Condemned, starring Natalie Wood and Robert Redford and directed by Sydney Pollack. Today he’s best known for his hilarious stories about what it was like working with some of the biggest stars and directors of his day when Koch became a first assistant director and then line producer and eventually producer of his own movies. Still feeling in his father’s shadow, Koch had a bar mitzvah on his 50th birthday and renamed himself ‘Hawk’ to go with his new life. (He had been called Hawk because of his initials HWK – but the nickname didn’t stick.) Some thought it pretentious. Others resented the pain it caused his dad. Tonight Hawk Koch worked towards and achieved one more milestone that he can claim as uniquely his.