The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is going global in a big way, hitting major festivals around the world and the U.S. beginning with the fall trifecta of Venice, Telluride and Toronto. All that is according to new CEO Bill Kramer, who is continuing his inaugural outreach tour not just to members of AMPAS, but also to the press.
In addition to an A.Frame interview earlier this month with Kramer that was distributed to all 10,000-ish AMPAS members as well as media outlets, Kramer this week held a Zoom press conference with key consumer outlets as well as the Hollywood trades. He was keen to emphasize that the org is going to again be front and center at major events, and that means everywhere including reinstating their London membership meeting, and even adding one in Copenhagen.
“We’re an international organization. And at this point, 25% of our members are non-U.S. It’s a way to show to our members who are either traveling there [Venice] or in Italy, that we are deeply committed to engaging with the international film community,” Kramer said. “I also we all want to show support for film festivals which are back in a big way. So I think it’s very important for us to show up and to support the films that will be screening at Venice and Telluride and Toronto. So this is our way of showing that we are deeply committed to film festivals. We’re excited that they’re back.
“This really starts a lot of the award season for us and we want to be there, but it’s also a deep commitment to our partnership with Cinecitta and we’re co hosting [the Venice event] with them. So it really does bring our international commitment and partnership to life. We’re looking at a year of festivals and how we need to attend, who from the Academy needs to attend, but we’re returning to a calendar year of both festival attendance and events outside of Los Angeles.”
Kramer told me he in fact will be flying directly from Venice to Telluride, where AMPAS has sponsored a party in the past but hasn’t been there since 2019 due to the pandemic. This year he assures it is business as usual including that party over Labor Day weekend in the Colorado Rockies. In Toronto, he and new president Janet Yang will also be prominent. And in answer to my repeating a complaint I received from an Academy member who was a big fan of the film screenings at the Goldwyn Theatre in Beverly Hills but quite upset with the quality and quantity since they returned (from pre-pandemic four or five a weekend to just about one), Kramer assured emphatically that is an area being looked at intensely.
“Yeah, I hear you, or I hear the member,” he said. “Clearly, it’s something that we’re actively looking at. We want to bring back our member screenings in a bigger way. I think as everybody knows, because of Covid we didn’t do them for quite a while. So Pete, there’s been a slow build, to bring them back but as part of our much larger commitment to reengage and engage members on a much deeper level. That’s a key part of that. So I would say very soon you’re going to see a return to member screenings that feel much more robust.” (In fact, attendance for most films at the Academy had been dropping pre-pandemic, so hopefully they can get the mojo back. Important to be a big-screen champion.)
The Academy’s September member screening schedule in Los Angeles in fact only includes four films to date: Riotsville USA, Three Thousand Years of Longing (on September 17, three weeks after it opens), The Woman King and Netflix’s Blonde.
Related to all this is how to encourage a return to theatrical engagement in general versus streaming for a membership that might have gotten too cozy with the Academy’s digital Screening Room. In answer to a question as to what the Academy’s real commitment to this is, and as to why AMPAS granted Searchlight and Hulu a waiver in order to Oscar-qualify Good Luck to You, Leo Grande despite the fact it never played a single public theater and has exclusively streamed, Kramer indicated that was an exception as the org moved back now to a pre-pandemic rulebook regarding eligibility.
“The Academy needs to play a role in leading that discussion. So this year we brought back theatrical requirements,” he said. “Leo Grande was grandfathered in based on previous conversations. That was something that the past administration committed to, you know, and we’re easing into this, but I believe you will always see a theatrical requirement moving forward. And we want to create a healthy industry, a healthy theatrical ecosystem, and the way that we can do this by continuing our theatrical requirements.”
Kramer, as he has often since taking over the job from former CEO Dawn Hudson in early June, restated the Academy’s strong commitment to continuing diversity and inclusion efforts that include specific requirements as a condition for being eligible for a Best Picture nomination. “There are so many industry partners who are doing either exactly what we’re doing or similar things. BAFTA, the Emmys, Grammys, the state of California recently created the Tax Credit Initiative, Sundance and Tisch, a press inclusion initiative. So I think we’re all thinking as an ecosystem,” he said.
He continues: “How do we create a more inclusive, cinematic world who’s working in film? I’m happy to say that it’s been a very productive and collaborative process, working with the industry around our inclusion standards. We have great support from our studios, from our distributors from filmmakers. We’ve been working with them over the past two years on this, just to explain these standards to help them see what it means for their work, and we don’t want to legislate art. That’s not what this is about. We want filmmakers to continue to make the films they want to make. I’m very happy that to announce that the Best Picture nominees from this past year all would have qualified under our inclusion standards. So we’re seeing a great collaborative process with our partners. And I think we’re going to continue to see that and again at the all member meeting. We’ll be talking more about that because that’s a big a big point of discussion for our members. And we want to be very clear that we don’t want this to be onerous or punitive. We want this to be collaborative. And again, seeing that the Best Picture nominees of this past year all qualify give us great hope that our conversations and partnership with CEOs and distributors and filmmakers is working and is not creating a challenge. So that’s very important to us.”
Kramer also pointed to some newer and stronger relationships with corporate sponsor including one with Rolex, a partnership that began with the new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures (which Kramer ran before becoming AMPAS CEO) and has now blossomed into sponsoring Oscars and more AMPAS activities.
And speaking of Oscars, Kramer confirmed that AMPAS is looking to make a deal with an Oscar show producer that will cover multiple years, rather than having a new one each time, and his hope is to find a producer (or producers) who has vast experience running live events of this kind — the show is big undertaking for a novice. He said he has been having talks with ABC about that and other issues regarding the show and they have been going well. He expects to have much earlier announcements of who will produce, and possibly who will even host, but wasn’t specific on exact timing. Could it be before the first Academy membership meeting, another reinvigorated innovation returning next month?
“You know, we’ve been talking to ABC, from the minute I started, on what the show is going to look like and there will be some announcements soon, but we’ve had incredibly productive and engaged conversations with them. So we’re feeling really good about the direction of the show. We also need to look at the reality of how people are watching television and award shows. Now there’s sort of a long tail of the show as it lives on Hulu beyond the show,” he said of the opportunity for extra viewers beyond a single live broadcast. “So we’re really looking at all of the extensions of the show how many eyes are ultimately on the Oscars beyond the night.
“That being said, the eventizing of the Oscars is critical to us. That’s still very important to ABC. We’re working with them around the ad sales connected to both the pre show and the show, to make sure that anything we can do to help ABC bring great sponsors to the table we can do, so you know that’s the long answer to it’s more blended now. It’s how people are engaging with content. I don’t think it’s an either/or — ratings are always important to us. Our ratings compared to other award shows are still healthy and we want them to remain healthy. We also want the extensions of the show to be excellent, and to allow people to engage with our members in the awards in a lot of different ways.”
Kramer strongly indicated that the craft areas are crucial to the show. The controversial move in the 94th Oscars to pre-tape the winners announcements in eight of those categories off air and then roll them into the actual broadcast later is likely not to be repeated in that way (it didn’t help curb the bloated running time), though he didn’t say definitively when asked, only indicating it is top of mind.
“It’s our 95th anniversary. We want to return to a show that has reverence for film, and 95 years of the Oscars. It’s a moment to really reflect on our membership. All craft areas, our changing industry, our fans, and there are ways to do that that are entertaining and authentic, and that are tied to our mission to honor excellence in moviemaking. I don’t think that’s mutually exclusive,” he said. “So we’re having those conversations now.
“You know, the lead-up to the show ABC does a lot of the marketing around the show, but we’re starting to really assess all of our marketing, branding and social media activities. We have an incredible reach… and frankly the museum has only greatly enhanced that reach. We have a whole new audience coming to us right now. So between now and the show, we really want to take a hard look at how we’re promoting first-run films in an equitable way on all of our social channels that creates a great lead-in to the Oscars. We want to create a lot of energy around our members who are working on first-run films, many of whom will be nominees and then after nominations, really create some energy and emotion and some knowledge around our nominees. That I think is critical to getting people to tune in and remain interested. You want to personalize this. So those are things that we’re actively working on because we want the show to be about the excellence of first-run films. And that is what’s driving the work that we’re doing right now.”
Asked for examples of past Oscar shows he admired, Kramer pointed to a couple right off the bat. “There have been so many great ones. I loved Bill Condon’s (produced with Larry Mark in 2009) with Hugh Jackman as host. I thought that was an incredibly successful show. Also Donna Gigliotti’s (91st Oscars in 2019, when Green Book won) a few years ago. I know she didn’t have a host. We definitely want a host, but I thought that show was efficient and successful,” he said. “So there have been so many great ones. And lucky for us, we have all of them archived, so we can do a lot of research. But I think we can learn from what’s worked before and think about what makes a great show today.”
As for radical changes, I asked whether the Academy would ever go to gender-neutral acting categories in light of some other shows, like the Grammys and the Spirit Awards, the latter announcing this week it was making that move for the 2023 ceremony. Kramer didn’t sound like anything was on the front burner regarding a change.
“We are conducting due diligence on that Pete to see what that could look like,” he said. “But there’s no plan right now to activate that.”
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