As preparations get underway for the 90th Oscar show, the mood of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as a whole seems feisty in response to sweeping industry changes from the rise of streaming services to the boundaries of Oscar campaigns. These concerns were apparent as roughly 300 members gathered last week for what was only the second members-only meeting in the Academy’s long history.
Attending on Thursday was a sampling of the 775 newly recruited members, as the once uptight, tradition-bound organization strives for diversity and a new transparency. Conversations with members reveal a growing urgency about core issues. “We’ve got to define what is a movie,” said one governor, reflecting a prevalent member concern about streaming services in general, especially Netflix’s incursions.
Some members challenge whether a Netflix movie that “buys” slots in theaters for only one week should be allowed to compete with conventional releases. An Academy committee is probing this issue with special focus on the possibility of a film winning both an Emmy and an Oscar in the same year. In the opinion of one prominent Oscar member, Netflix could represent “a cheapening of the Oscar.”
A substantial number of members also registered impatience with their organization’s defensiveness on the diversity issue. “We don’t make movies, we celebrate them,” said one governor (there are 54 in total and 17 branches). “Oscar-so-white is a tired canard,” said another governor, pointing to the success of several outreach programs. Several members insist that the Academy made a mistake last year in linking reviews of “emeritus status” with the drive to marshal new members, thus suggesting older members must make way for newcomers (only a very few actually lost their voting rights).
In conversation, members register strong support for stricter Oscar supervision of award campaigns. “There are still too many lobster dinners when there is no screening involved,” volunteered one member. Though support for the new museum seems strong, there is still concern about its escalating costs. In response, museum supporters have mounted a promotion to herald enhanced financial contributions (the main building now carries the Saban name) in anticipation of a 2019 opening.
Oscar co-producers Jennifer Todd and Michael de Luca have kept the board apprised of plans for their second show — they aim to devise new stunts like the food drop and the tourist bus, as well as fostering even wider use of classic movie clips. Despite its faux pas, PricewaterhouseCoopers will get another year repping the vote count, but a third accountant will sit with the director in case an error occurs. Members also voiced firm support for John Bailey, their eloquent new Academy president, who as a distinguished cinematographer and a keen film historian strongly represents the Academy’s below-the-line constituency. Bailey and Dawn Hudson, the Academy CEO, both advocated the calling of a membership meeting to reflect a new transparency and also to welcome the many new members.
At the pre-meeting reception, several younger members noted that the timing was propitious: Shares of the 13 major media companies have fallen 3.5% in September as consumers moved away from traditional media to streaming services. Comcast alone disclosed it expected to lose as many as 150,000 video subscribers in the third quarter, and shares of Comcast dropped 6% and Viacom 4% in response to cord-cutting and hurricanes.
“The ground is shifting beneath us,” said one new member. “It’s good to be part of an organization with continuity and tradition.”