With his election last night as the new President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences Hawk Koch is not wasting any time getting into the job. Because this is his ninth year on the Board Of Governors, he can only serve one year as President before he is termed out. With only a year to accomplish his goals, Koch sounded like a man who has just hit the ground running but it doesn’t sound like he is going to spark a revolution in the way things are being run. As he sat in his office this morning, he detailed for me a list of priorities starting with the task of getting a producer and host for the 85th Oscar show, fundraising for the planned Academy museum (in association with the Los County Museum Of Art), and expanding educational efforts to promote Academy activities other than the main awards. He also reiterated support for the expansion of nominees in the Best Picture category, keeping the Honorary Governors Awards the way they are now, and expressing strong support for Academy CEO Dawn Hudson. Here’s the interview.
Deadline: You made no secret that you wanted this job and now you have it for the next year.
Hawk Koch: I’m on top of the world. I feel like I’m a movie producer who after twenty years of trying to put a movie together someone called me and said you’ve got a green light… I don’t see anything wrong in (openly seeking the job). I think Obama wants to be President. The truth is as the nominations started Tom Sherak snuck into the room and tried to nominate himself (laughs). But seriously all I can say is I felt a lot of love in the room . I was honored and humbled and excited. It was a terrific meeting last night and there seems to be a huge consensus to move forward as a 21st Century Academy.
Deadline: And you are taking a leave of absence,not resigning from your job as co-president of the PGA?
HK: Because I term out at the Academy after a year where I plan to hopefully get a lot done in this year, I still would have a bit of time as co-president with Mark Gordon. I will just come back and finish my PGA term (about 10 months) but that will be it.
Deadline: Knowing there is just one year in your Academy presidency what is your top priortity?
HK: Number one , right out the block, I have to get a producer and a host for the Oscars. I want to find a way to get the younger film lovers to want to watch the Oscars. We have Oscar Sunday and we want to find a way to have everyone tune in like they do for Super Bowl Sunday. I want all the nominees on the night of the Oscars to feel like ‘you know what, I have had the greatest time being nominated and if I win great but it is great to be nominated’. That’s number one. The second thing and, just as important , we have deadline at the end of October to raise $100 million dollars to move forward with the Academy’s Museum of the Motion Picture. We are on our way and doing well but that is a huge priority for us. We are in really good shape and we think we’re going to reach that goal. And thirdly the Academy does so many things for our business and our community and the world that people don’t know about. You know about it but I want to make sure that twitter and instagram and all the digital media are aware of the things we do and want to participate in the things we do.
Deadline: It has been attempted year after year to try to bring in a younger audience for the Oscars. Is there something you’re thinking about in stepping up that effort without turning off the traditional viewers who watch the Oscars?
HK: I hope so . Some have failed , some have shined. It’s the old yiddish expression ‘We’ll see’.
Deadline: There has been talk of turning the nominations announcement into its own primetime network special like the Grammys have done. Is that a possibility?
HK: We’re talking about stuff, nothing is set yet. There are a million ideas floating up there but I’ve been in the job for the last two hours now. I am just looking forward to hopefully to moving the Academy into a lot of things this year that people will want to carry on. I have been on committees since 1981, the finance, the investments, the general membership – all of them – and I feel like I am ready to go and I feel so honored that the Board put their trust in me and for me it’s the most special thing I have ever gotten, and I thought nothing could ever top the Producers Guild presidency and every thing we have been able to do there.
Deadline: Do you think the Honorary Oscars or Governors Awards should be back on the network broadcast or have its own TV show instead of the non-broadcast event it is now?
HK: I love it the way it is now. I have always been a big proponent of it. I felt bad that there are a lot of people in our industry that deserve an Oscar, whether it be a Thalberg, a Hersholt or special Oscar and on the show we only had time to give one away. If there were people deserving of the Thalberg and the Hersholt you couldn’t give them because everyone said there’s not enough time because we had to give out the rest of the awards and have entertainment. And quite frankly there are people we want to give awards to that the mass audience isn’t as interested in as we are. These awards are our awards, our Governors awards and they should be given to people who deserve it. And rather than one we get to give three or four a year. I am so proud of the last three years and who we have given them to. John Calley, before we lost him… Gordon Willis… Last year, Dick Smith in Makeup. Our Academy is so loving that someone like Dick Smith gets a special Oscar. I am loving it. And I love the fact there are 600 people there, the Governors, members, the people who win and their families. It’s an intimate gathering that makes it very special. I think that last year also we finally got it right as to how to acknowledge them on the Oscar show. I think the first two years we didn’t do it correctly. And we will only improve how we give them their due on the Oscar show.
Deadline: Many people have suggested the Oscar show might be better if some of the technical awards were not presented on the telecast.
HK: Every person in the Academy is important. We are giving out awards for excellence for all the different crafts that we have. That’s our award show. We also like it to be entertaining. But we want to show people around the world that you don’t have to be George Clooney, you can be many different things in this business and excel.
Deadline: Dawn Hudson has now been CEO for a year and it’s no secret she has had some detractors. Are you a supporter and how do you feel the combo with Ric Robertson as COO is working?
HK: I can tell you I sat with so many people at the Academy in the hopes I would get this job, or just continue as a Governor or Officer and I can tell you that yes, there were bumps in the road but when John Wooden left UCLA do you think that the next person had an easy time that first year? When Phil Jackson left the Lakers did that next coach have an easy time his first year. I think there were bumps yes, but i can tell you that Dawn and Ric are working like buttah baby. The morale is high at the Academy and everybody is excited at what we’re doing. We’re moving. We are well into the 21st century.
Deadline: Were you surprised at the level of media interest and speculation in this Academy presidential election?
HK: Somebody was saying there are a lot of corporations now running the studios where it used to be about filmmaking people. I think those of us who are working at the Academy and for the Academy are people who love film, our lives are about film so this is the place that maybe people are turning to see where we move forward with film today. That may be a reason there is such interest… The Academy is the last bastion of preservation, of what we love, of education. It’s the inspiration for people all over the world. They want to become members of the Academy, they want to be nominated for an Academy Award. It is the ultimate. And to be working for this organization is the ultimate for me.
Deadline: Do you continue to support the Best Picture move to 10 nominations?
HK: As you know it’s no longer ten. It’s from five to ten. And I do believe that sometimes there are more than five and if our membership believes there are six great movies that year or seven or eight , then I am for that. I don’t want to hold it just to five. A lot of the movies are being made in the independent world these days but there are still great movies being made by the majors and we need to be able to have both. We want the next generation too. That’s people like Chris Nolan. He made Memento. It was a big movie for us because we all loved it and then, boom, he went right out and what, eight , ten years later he made some of the biggest movies of all time. We want Chris in the house. I am just using him as an example. In the early 70’s it was Coppola, Lucas and Spielberg, and now that next generation making the great movies and we want them to aspire to what we do here.
Deadline: And to get them into the organization as members, especially with the diversity efforts?
HK: We are very aware of it and we are working very hard. But you have to remember what we are doing is bringing in the best of our industry. The industry first has to embrace that because there are a lot of people out there of color, of race, of gender that now see that ‘ hey I can make films’. I am just going to mention our new (Directors Branch) Board member Lisa Cholodenko. She made a couple of very small indie films and all of a sudden The Kids Are All RIght clicks and all of a sudden someone else can be the next Lisa Cholodenko. Tracey Edmunds is a new member. I know her. Here is a really , really sharp African American woman who has gone on and is still producing and she’s on the board of the Producers Guild and now she’s a new member of the Academy. I think other African American women see that say aspire to that.
Deadline: Are you going to be treating this as a full time job like Tom Sherak and Sid Ganis seemed to do?
HK: Absolutely. I am now ensconced in the office . I have got my wife’s , children’s , grandchildren’s pictures here already. It is going to be my home and I look forward to the challenge.
Deadline: Your dad, Howard W. Koch once held this position and now you are the first father and son to both be elected Academy President? How does that make you feel?
HK: I can’t tell you what it means , and I am going to get emotional so let’s not go there but (long pause), it’s very special… If you saw about 200 emails between the announcement last night and this morning in terms of people saying how proud he would be… (trails off).