Suspense Builds As Motion Picture Academy Prepares To Elect New President

On Tuesday night the new Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences will meet to pick a new president. Current one-term president Hawk Koch has served nine years on the board and is prohibited by a dopey Academy rule from running again as governors are termed out after nine years. It seems odd that once elected president, even if termed out on the board, that you can’t have the opportunity to run for the full possible four one-year terms Academy bylaws allow. But the Academy being the Academy does things their own way. A new president is just learning the ropes in the first year so it seems short-sighted to cut that short.

Related: Analysis: Amy Pascal Leads “Historic” Day For Women And The Motion Picture Academy

Nevertheless, Koch is out (he’ll be returning to the co-presidency of the Producers Guild for another year) and the so-called race to succeed him is, by all accounts inside and out of the Academy, clearly between two officers: In one corner there’s Lionsgate Motion Picture Group co-chairman Rob Friedman, who serves as Academy Treasurer; in the other there’s Cheryl Boone Isaacs, a marketing consultant who currently serves as First VP but is actually the only person to my knowledge who has ever filled every single elected Academy office except president. In the past she has also been VP, Treasurer, Secretary, President of the Academy Foundation, and last year produced the Governors Awards. Both, if elected, would be eligible to serve four one-year terms.

Like the Pope, the new prez will come from within the ranks of the 48-member Board of Governors (think of them as the College of Cardinals). But, other media speculation aside, I don’t think there’s much of a prayer that any surprise names will come to the fore despite the fact that a third of the board was just elected last week. When Koch was chosen last August, the only other names in nomination were, you guessed it, Friedman and Boone Isaacs. And then there were two. There seems to be no new revolution brewing within the Academy that would produce a third-party candidate.

The Academy also being the Academy sort of runs the anti-election, very under the radar. Neither Friedman nor Boone Isaacs would admit they are actually running for the gig, even after I asked both that question point blank. As Boone Isaacs said, “You have to understand this whole thing really just happens on one night (July 30)”. So there are no lawn signs, no campaign speeches, no fundraising — just a meeting. Although neither would admit they are a candidate, they both clearly are. “If chosen I will serve,” is how Friedman put it to me at last week’s Academy’s tribute to past president Fay Kanin. Although Boone Isaacs also wouldn’t declare her candidacy to Deadline at Monday’s Academy tribute to Wong Kar Wai, she said she would be beyond honored to take on the presidency. “I would be thrilled and probably react like a schoolgirl if it happened,” she joked.

Both come from the Academy’s Public Relations branch, though Friedman probably belongs in the Executive branch but never changed from his marketing days at Warner Bros and Paramount. Much has been made of the fact Boone Isaacs would be only the third female president in Academy history and its first black one. Of course Friedman, being the head of a major film company, would give the Academy a lot of clout in that regard. One member supporting him told me, “He can also give you a job”. I tend to doubt that either one would rock the boat. After the activist tenue of recent past presdents like Sid Ganis, Tom Sherak and Koch, the Academy has instituted a lot of change and forward movement in recent years, particularly when you consider how slow they were to embrace new ways of doing things in the past. Don’t expect them, for instance, to reverse Koch’s re-hiring of last year’s Oscar show producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, as suggested in some quarters. Friedman, in fact, headed the show review committee that endorsed the decision to bring them back so early. Usually that job would be left to the new president.

Basically this probably comes down to a popularity contest within the board on which “non-candidate” would be the best leader at this point in the Academy. In some ways this election mirrors the 2011 contest for a new chairman of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, though in that case both candidates made it clear they were running for the job. First you had the then-Vice Chair and longtime board member Nancy Wiard, running to inherit the job of from John Shaffner after working her way up the ranks. On the other hand you had a top television executive in then-Warner Bros honcho Bruce Rosenblum who was coming in from outside of the board but bringing the enormous clout his position provided. Apparently that became clear as he met with individual members of the board in the run-up to the election. In the end the argument that he could get things done for the Academy prevailed, and he became the highest-ranking executive to head the TV Academy in at least two decades.

Since Academy CEO Dawn Hudson has taken on such an activist role in the affairs of the organization from rule changes to diversity to the planned museum, it may lessen the need for a full-time president. Both Friedman, who will have a lot on his plate, and Boone Isaacs could certainly handle the increasing PR aspects of the prestigious job. Whether either wants to institute radical changes is doubtful. From what I have been able to gauge in talking to Academy members, both have their strong supporters. It should be interesting Tuesday night. I have heard there is some friendly persuasion taking place on those board member cell phones. Could a “Best Man” scenario come about with neither Friedman or Boone Isaacs prevailing as expected? Anything’s possible in show biz, but like I said don’t bet on it.

As for outgoing President Koch? He won’t be there. He conducted his last meeting earlier this month and wouldn’t speculate on the outcome for his successor except to say, “You never know. We elected a third of a new board so at this point who knows? But it’s not my prerogative. The new board has to make that decision.” As for his own tenure now at an end? “I am really proud of what the Academy has done this year. And it is one of the best years of my life, I can tell you that. The board, our members and our staff, we all felt like we made a great leap forward. Do I hope to come back one day as a board member? Sure. I have given a lot to the Academy and I love it,” he said.

    1. I know Ms. Boone Isaacs very well, and she is one of the savviest–and nicest–people in the biz. Go away.

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