Today’s first-ever Academy membership meeting was deemed a success by both Acad President Hawk Koch and CEO Dawn Hudson, as well as a random sampling of several members with whom I spoke immediately following. Certainly the turnout was stellar with the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theatre (which has about 1000 seats) nearly full with members only (no guests) which Koch told me was the first time since it was built that the audience was near-SRO with only Academy members. Koch says New York and Bay Area venues were also well-attended which bodes well for continuing this as an annual event. “On a scale from one to ten, I give it a twelve”, said Koch who according to several attendees I talked to got lots of plaudits from those who asked questions in the audience. “We’ll hear from our members. But in that room there was a lot of love for this event. I don’t think there has ever been an occasion where we just invited members. It was historic in that way. This kind of came out of the branch mixers we have done, and people asked about doing something cross-branches which was sort of the impetus for this meeting”, Hudson told me in a joint call with Koch shortly after the 12:35PM (PT) conclusion of the event. Koch pointed out the brunch that preceded was particularly successful with lots of reunions and networking going on.

During the presentation Koch asked for a show of hands from each branch. I am told by one observer the Sound branch seemed to be number one followed by Producers, executives, and lots of PR members. This person said Directors was not well repped by the hand vote but Koch claimed there were plenty of them there as well as actors, the largest branch in the Academy. He said in the Bay Area the members were dominated by Visual Effects and Animation (the Bay Area venue was actually Pixar so that may help explain it).

As first reported on Deadline today, the big news was about rule changes opening up the Foreign Language rules to include voting by the entire Academy for the first time. “This is the first time in Academy history that all 24 awards can be voted on by all members who wish to do it,” said Koch. Timing for this announcement just worked out after the Board approved the change so they decided to make it today. Hudson said of all the questions that were pre-submitted most were about opening up the process for voting on foreign films and sending out DVD screeners. Former Foreign Language committee head Mark Johnson made the presentation on that issue which took up a good chunk of time, I am told. Towards the end of the meeting one disgruntled Foreign Language voter attacked the “secrecy” of the process and made loud complaints (“Everyone has a right to talk”, Koch said about the incident) but I am told that was the only note of dissent voiced during the entire meeting with everyone else fully engaged and, outwardly at least, enthusiastic according to members who were there.

In addition to Hudson, Koch, and Johnson presentations came from Acad Governor Ed Begley Jr on the importance of going “green”, Bill Kroyer on the Sci Tech committee, Governor Kathleen Kennedy on plans for the Museum (I am told 95-year-old member Julian Myers got up and said they shouldn’t call it a museum since that sounds too “old”), and COO Ric Robertson took up the thorny issue of electronic voting which surprisingly didn’t draw any complaints during the questioning period. Koch told me 96% of those who signed up to vote electronically did so, while 87% of those who signed up for paper ballots eventually voted that way.  Both electronic and paper will again be options next year, and likely the year after he says as the Academy tries to become more comfortable with the security and technical issues of online voting.

As for the decision to rehire 2013 Oscar show producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron to come back next year (a decision Koch has noted was fully supported by the Board), controversy did not rear its head at this meeting regarding that or the possible return of host Seth MacFarlane but Koch did address it in his remarks by emphasizing the ratings success of this year’s Oscarcast (and that more viewers stayed through it than is usually the case) and that the revenues from the show are what funds everything else the Academy does. I am told he mentioned that word, “revenues” several times in the justification for bringing back the team of a show that got mixed reviews. One member who told me he was impressed by today’s Academy presentation said he didn’t like the show and believed the real reason it did well was because of the interest in the movies that were nominated, not who produced it. Nevertheless this member, who has a high profile studio position, thought it was a great idea to do this sort of members-only summit and gave high marks to Koch. “It’s good to have the whole membership together and not just leave it up to the Board Of Governors. I thank Koch for doing this”, he said. Another member told me the overall response was “very positive. People liked the transparency of it all”. He added that the overall age of the crowd skewed much older. “Oh my God, I am by far the youngest in line”, he joked. Both Koch and Hudson said however there was a wide age range and pointed to a number of newer members in attendance. Another member who was resisting even coming had his mind changed. “I was won over. This was nicely done. It didn’t last forever. They explained the committee, how things worked and we were out by 12:35pm”, he said.

Several past presidents of the Academy were acknowledged in the audience including 91-year-old Walter Mirisch.  Immediate Past President Tom Sherak was not there.