In a surprise twist, cinematographer John Bailey became the 36th president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Tuesday night. Bailey, a 74-year-old film veteran with a long record of Academy service, had been quietly talking with insiders about the presidency for some time; but he largely evaded public visibility, as speculation locked on the prospects of Laura Dern, an actress who is closely allied with Academy chief executive Dawn Hudson. Most recently, Bailey, a governor for the cinematographer’s branch, has served as an Academy vice-president. His election marks a victory for below-the-line workers in the 7,000-member group, many of whom have been wary of growing attention to high-profile actors and directors, and have feared they might eventually find themselves shoved from the limelight during the annual Oscar show.
Bailey succeeds Cheryl Boone Isaacs, a marketing executive who belongs to the publicity branch, and who was termed out after serving for four years. He is joined by Lois Burwell as first vice-president; Kathleen Kennedy, Michael Tronick and Nancy Utley as vice-presidents; Jim Gianopulos as treasurer; and David Rubin as secretary.
The vote came at the governors first meeting since a number of fresh faces – including executive David Linde and actress Whoopi Goldberg – joined the 54-member board last month.
Along with Dern, casting director David Rubin – who was already serving as Academy secretary – had been prominently mentioned as a possible president. One whispered scenario suggested that Dern, who has been enjoying a fresh wind in her film career, would only accept the presidency if it were shared with a a co-president, like, for instance, Rubin, who backed her appearance in the film Wild. But it became clear that Dern’s on-screen ambitions might be an issue when, even as the governors were beginning to meet on Tuesday night, publicists circulated a press release announcing that she would begin principal photography Oct. 2 on a new film, Trial By Fire, to be directed in Atlanta by Ed Zwick.
Dern has been active in raising money for the Academy museum, and has been outspoken in her support of Hudson, who was recently was granted a three-year contract renewal, extending a tenure that began in 2011. In the past six years, Hudson has consistently fought to assert her authority vis-a-vis activist presidents who took a stronger role in Academy affairs than was customary in the past. The push-and-pull led to tension with Boone Isaacs, a marketing veteran who took an assertive view of her own place the Academy.
Bailey, known for a long list of films that includes Groundhog Day, American Gigolo, As Good As It Gets, and The Kid Stays In The Picture, has at least two pictures in post-production. But he appears likely to continue with the hands-0n policies that marked previous presidents like Boone Isaacs, Hawk Koch, Tom Sherak and Sidney Ganis. At the same time, Bailey – as an older white male – is certain to draw close attention from those who have argued that the group needs more women and ethnic minorities in its ranks and leadership.
The Academy has been rapidly expanding its membership under a program intended to double the number of women and minorities over a five-year period whose endpoint comes in 2020. That expansion continues to be a significant issue for the group, though it is perhaps second in urgency to questions surrounding an Academy-backed movie museum that is over budget, behind schedule, and in need of backing from a fresh round of donors. Those questions, and perennial concern about deflation in the Oscar audience, will occupy the new officers and board over the next year.