New AMPAS Chief Grilled on Fixing Oscar

“If we don’t change, we will be like a dinosaur. We’re trying to do that … make the show work.”

Last Updated: August 21, 2009 @ 5:52 PM

Tom Sherak, a veteran of film distribution at 20th Century Fox and then film executive at Revolution Studios, was elected this week president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. He agreed to be Grilled by TheWrap’s Sharon Waxman.

 

How does it feel to be elected AMPAS President?

Humbled. Humbling. Why? I truly didn’t expect it. It happened. This is my third term, and seventh year on the board. I’ve watched the Academy from the inside, and it’s taken me years to understand it — it’s an amazing place. When the board members gave me a vote of confidence — I’m not usually at a loss for words – I had this thing in my stomach.

 

Who put you up?

I don’t remember who nominated me. Then I got elected — it was unbelievable. Sort of like the Twilight Zone in my mind. I was sitting there and said to myself — should I withdraw? Am I the right person for this?

 

That’s very nice. OK, so what’s wrong with the Oscars?

There’s nothing wrong with honoring excellence as a group. We have a product that’s different than any other product — it moves and creates emotion. There’s nothing wrong with that part of the Academy Awards.

 

The other part is the show that that’s done on television. What has changed, I think, is the show used to be a look at Hollywood that you got to see once a year. It was like you couldn’t wait for that. With the advent of everything that goes on — tabloids, "Extra" — those people are in your life all the time. At Revolution, we had a picture called "Gigli" — you couldn’t tell the stars in the movie from the people in real life.

 

What was great over the years was the spontaneity of what might happen, because it’s a live show. But how do you make it so a wide audience watches it and enjoys it? The awards can’t be old and stodgy. They have to try and move. You saw that a little bit — and well done — last year.

 

It’s a big thing for the Academy. If we don’t change, we will be like a dinosaur. We’re trying to do that. Not change the award part. But trying to make that show work.

 

What did you think of the Emmys this year trying to shorten the show, and might you do that?

I’m not going to comment on what they tried to do. Movies are made up of a lot of people in the arts and sciences. To remove some of those things from the show — from your peers inside the industry — I can’t see it.

 

The bottom line is, (last year’s producers) Larry Mark and Bill Condon said, "Here’s what worked, here’s what didn’t work. Take it and grow it." If you were at the awards, you’d have walked out saying, "Oh my God."

 

Now the trick is how do we do that on the box? How can we make what we felt sitting in there transfer onto the television screen?

 

How do you do that?

One of the ways is to try to find the next producer of the show. To take the mantle of what they seem to have started.

 

Are Larry Mark and Bill Condon producing the show?

They can’t. They’re both working. If it was up to me I’d ask them in a minute.

 

So who is?

I have no clue. I’m so new to this.

 

You like lots of singing and dancing?

No, not necessarily. Do I like it? Yes. Do I like it overdone? No.

 

Did you think it was overdone?

I’m not going to answer that. Hugh Jackman, for a first time doing that, I thought he brought a sense of fun to the evening.

 

Who’s your favorite host of all time?

Bob Hope. If you could find me Bob Hope, I’m in. I loved Billy Crystal. The man is a genius.

 

What kind of host will you be looking for?

The producer’s going to find the host. My job is to find the producer.

 

Do you want an all-around performer or a comedian?

I’m not sure. It depends who the person is.

 

Do you think it’s possible to bring awards back to the level it was at 10 years ago?

I don’t know that you can go back. As you go forward, you can look back, but it’s all new. In today’s world, things change faster than you change your socks.

 

Are you thinking about bringing in interactive elements?

First thing that has to happen is to find a producer.

 

When?

Hopefully within the next month. Might be two months.

 

How do you feel about 10 Best Picture nominees?

I’m all for that. One of the things that Mark and Condon recommended was that we go to that. And if 10 was too many, then eight, as a way of broadening the show to a bigger audience. It was their idea. I think it’s a good effort to try to increase the viewership.

 

Do you think it’ll work?

I don’t know, but it’s better than doing nothing.

 

Could it fail?

Yes. If the 10 awards don’t create …

 

If it ends up cheapening the awards?

That’s possible. But this has been done before. Between 1939 and 1949 — and look at the 10 movies being nominated.

 

(editor’s note: the Academy writes to amend this remark: the correct history of more than 5 nominees is:

10 Nominees
1932/33
1936 – 1943

8 Nominees
1931/32
12 Nominees
1934 and 1935)

What do you think of the movies today?

Moviemaking is an art that has kept growing, kept expanding. I believe it all starts with the written word, the story. The people who put these movies together from the beginning to the end are as good and as smart as anyone who’s ever been in this business.

 

Does that mean every movie works? No. But the talent pool is huge. More movies are being made than ever before. It’s fun to watch the new, young guys. Movies are magic. And just as magical today as they were magical back then, when people needed them. What I mean by needed them — the abilty to go somewhere for two hours and escape.

 

My only hope is I can follow in Sid (Ganis)’s shoes, and Frank Pearson’s. I’m the 33rd president of the academy. The 33rd president was Harry Truman. So I went to (executive director) Bruce Davis’ office, and I said, "Let me make this perfectly clear: The buck stops here."

 

With him. My job is to help.