EXCLUSIVE: Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences COO Ric Robertson is taking what’s being internally called a “sabbatical” from June through August. I have learned this is an unusual paid leave even though the Academy is complaining about a financial crunch. Normally, its staff are restricted to 30 days of unpaid leave (and then only with approval). “He has worked here for 31 years. Doesn’t he deserve it?” an insider told me. “He didn’t tell us what he’ll do. Maybe work on his golf game.” Robertson’s upcoming sabbatical has prompted AMPAS staff to wonder whether he will be pushed out and/or look for another job. In April 2011, he was passed over for Bruce Davis’ executive directorship and now reports to AMPAS CEO Dawn Hudson, who was brought in over him. Insiders tell me that Robertson was primarily responsible for this year’s online voting debacle, which Hudson dumped in his lap when the Academy finally decided to implement Oscar balloting electronically — something Robertson and Davis resisted for prior years. (Grumbles one insider: “Dawn gives him anything messy that she doesn’t want to deal with or anything that means a lot of real work or anything that has a potential for failure, like the electronic voting.”)In November, the Academy had to extend its registration period after member complaints. Then AMPAS had to back down and send an old-fashioned paper ballot to any member who had paid their dues but hadn’t registered for online voting. (The Academy initially required a one-time registration for online or paper ballots.) Then, because of elaborate security steps necessary to avoid hackers, a large and very vocal group of AMPAS members complained that they were locked out of the system and had to waste 2-3 days trying to vote online. The Academy sent members a detailed but overly complex E Voter Guide that proved more confusing than helpful. Sources have been predicting for some time that Robertson would leave AMPAS, and yet he has stayed. He joined the Academy in 1981 and became the organization’s second-in-command in 1989 when he was appointed Executive Administrator. In that position he oversaw the Academy’s public programming, library and film archive as well as its public relations, marketing, legal affairs, and numerous awards-related events and activities. One reason he was passed over for the top job was because AMPAS staff members were so unhappy they were beginning to take the first steps to unionize by exploring how to join up with IATSE. (And how embarrassing would that have been to the Hollywood bigwigs?) I’d be unfair not to point out that Robertson has his admirers. But I’m not — not since he yanked Deadline’s press credential to cover the 2011 Academy Awards because I posted exclusive spoilers. (He threw a hissy fit and successfully lobbied then-Academy President Tom Sherak to ban Deadline from the Oscars press room.)
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