As The Film Academy Looks For A New President, Let The Speculation Begin

The best time to speculate is when it’s still too early: The possibilities are so much more tantalizing before reality sets in.

In that spirit, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is already stirring with early speculation about the likely successor to President Cheryl Boone Isaacs when her term expires in mid-summer. Boone Isaacs, a representative of the group’s public relations branch, was first elected president in 2013, and will have served four successive terms — the permitted maximum — by August. Her tenure was unexpectedly momentous. It brought the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, a restructuring of the board and membership, successive delays of the planned movie museum, and a botched Best Picture announcement. There was also the contested reappointment of Dawn Hudson as the Academy’s chief executive officer under a three-year contract that comes up for another renewal shortly before Boone Isaacs steps down.

Daydreams about a successor are complicated by the Academy’s internal politics. The next president will be chosen by and from a 54-member board of governors, a third of whose members will either retire or stand for re-election (or re-appointment, in the case of several at-large members) before the games begin. Another complicating factor is the group’s culture: To campaign actively for office is considered bad form. Ask anyone if they’re in the running at this point, and the answer will range between “absolutely not” and “what are you smoking?”

Which makes this the moment for crystal gazing. Nobody’s in the race.

That said, one non-candidate getting an early whisper is David Rubin of the casting directors branch. Now the Academy’s secretary, Rubin was re-elected to a second three-year term as governor last year, and could theoretically serve as president for a full four years — no small advantage in a group that needs all the stability it can get. Also, Rubin has more internal connections than you might suspect: Under its bylaws, the Academy’s secretary chairs and appoints the general membership subcommittee, which is charged with monitoring the growth, configuration and admissions to the group. All that, plus he produced last year’s Governors Awards, at which everybody got the right prize. He could be formidable.

A second and perhaps less likely name bubbling up this week is Sidney Ganis. Ganis served as the Academy’s president from 2005 to 2009, before leaving the board to focus on his career as a film producer and executive with growing interests in the China market. His big move as president was the expansion from five to ten best picture nominees, in a bid to popularize the awards. He also pushed hard for internationalization, a trend that has continued under Hudson, whom he helped to recruit from her post with Film Independent after leaving the presidency.

Ganis is being talked up by those who see him as a potentially steadying hand, and a welcome palliative to internal tensions that have afflicted the Academy of late. But the biggest hitch — other than questions about his willingness to return—is fact that Ganis, a member of the public relations branch, is not currently on the governing board. To re-join, he would have to replace one of the branch’s three governors, Marvin Levy, Nancy Utley — or Boone Isaacs, whose current three-year term is expiring, but who can stand for re-election, as she hasn’t yet served nine consecutive years.

Ganis declined to discuss his intentions, and Rubin did not respond to an email query.

That the list of prospects will get longer before it gets shorter is, for now, the only certainty.

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