The agenda for the Academy’s first-ever coast-to-coast meeting of all its members just got a little clearer.
An invitation was sent to the near-6,000 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on Thursday afternoon, detailing more about a May 4 meeting at which the AMPAS membership is invited to sound off on matters of concern to the 86-year-old organization.
“We want more member engagement,” AMPAS President Hawk Koch told TheWrap on Thursday. “I’ve been a member of the Producers Guild and the Directors Guild for years, and they always had meetings where everybody got together to mix and mingle and talk to each other about what’s going on.
“We’ve tried to do that in the Academy with branch get-togethers we’ve had over the last couple of years, and this is a natural extension of that.”
The invitation says the event will include presentations from the Academy’s leadership on a variety of issues, including online voting, new technology and the Academy Museum. Members will have an opportunity to submit questions through emails until April 25, which Koch said will be the preferred method for members to query the leadership.
“It’s easier that way,” Koch said. “We’ll be able to see which questions matter the most to our members. And if we get 40 of the same question, we’ll only have to answer it once.” (But part of the event, said an AMPAS spokeswoman, will involve a live Q&A.)
The event first came to light just before Easter in an email to members from Koch and CEO Dawn Hudson (photo at top). That email, headed “Save the Date,” said only that a special event titled “The Future of our Academy” would be held in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco, and would involve “questions and conversation with our members.”
Thursday’s invitation went a couple of steps toward filling in details on the Saturday, May 4, event, which will be held at 10 a.m. PT and 1 p.m. ET.
The event is open to Academy members, but no guests. The Los Angeles gathering will take place at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in the Academy’s Beverly Hills headquarters, the New York gathering at Lighthouse International on 59th Street, and the Bay Area meeting at Pixar Studios in Emeryville, Calif.
In all three places, a meal will be served for the first hour, followed by a 90-minute “presentation and conversation with Academy leadership.”
The goals, according to the invitation, are these:
“To present the Academy’s plans and priorities for the future and update you on key initiatives. (Topics will include our new museum, e-voting, programming, new collections, and how we deal with new technology).
“To have you meet and connect with fellow members and Academy leadership at the brunch.
“To increase communication with our membership. To hear what’s important to you. Please send your questions, along with your name and branch, to [email address] by April 25.”
One of the areas on which members seem likely to sound off is the number of Best Picture nominees, which went up from five to 10 in 2009 and was changed to a variable number of between five and 10 two years later.
But February’s much-criticized Oscar show, Koch said, is not on the agenda.
“That Oscars is ancient history now,” he said. “Everybody has already told us what they liked and didn’t like about it. We’re looking to next year’s Oscars, and to the future of this organization.”
Asked if he expected to hear comments disagreeing with the Academy leadership, given that the loudest voices are often the dissenting ones, Koch shrugged off the idea of the meeting turning into a gripe session.
“I don’t know what they’re going to disagree with,” he said. “We have 6,000 members, and if 5,000 of them say they would rather have the Oscars on a Tuesday night instead of a Sunday, we can’t do that.”
Koch is in the final five months of a one-year term as president. In August, he will be forced off the Board of Governors by AMPAS term limits, and therefore will be ineligible to run for re-election. Since his election, he has been more visible than most Academy presidents, appearing on the Oscar telecast (something his predecessor, Tom Sherak, rarely did) and recently taking center stage for an upcoming 21st anniversary Academy screening of “Wayne’s World,” on which he served as executive producer.
“You can accomplish a lot in one year,” he told TheWrap as he began office last August.
Hudson will have been at the Academy for two years in June after 20 years at Film Independent; she replaced retiring executive director Bruce Davis, though the CEO position was created for her at the same time that longtime AMPAS staffer Ric Robertson was promoted to another newly created position, COO.
Hudson’s tenure has involved a reorganization of the AMPAS executive suite, a substantial turnover in staffers at the organization, the signing of a deal with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to locate a museum on LACMA property, controversy over the predominantly white, male and elderly makeup of the Academy, and questions about the timing of the Oscar show and its voting period.
Typically, key decisions concerning the Oscars and the Academy have been made by the Board of Governors, which is made up of three representatives from each of the organization’s 16 branches. They deliberate and vote in closed-door meetings which participants are told not to talk about, making the inner workings of the Academy seem opaque and mysterious even to many members.
The May 4 meeting, said Koch, is designed to reach out to members who are not part of that process. “We’re looking for engagement,” he said. “This is about gathering and connecting with our members.”