New HFPA President Talks Reform, New Membership Rules, Racism (Exclusive)

Change comes slowly, Theo Kingma tells TheWrap: “To hire a COO, it took 10 years. To buy a building it took 20 years. Am I saying it’s great? No, but that’s the reality”

Dutch photographer Theo Kingma (above) won a decisive victory at the Hollywood Foreign Press Association last month, after campaigning to be the group's president on a platform of reform. He and his vice president, Lorenzo Soria, sat down with TheWrap for their first post-election interview to address the HFPA’s reputation, their hopes for change and their lawsuit with Dick Clark Productions over the Golden Globes.

Congratulations on your election. As you know, I’ve been writing about the need for reform at the HFPA over the years, and your win suggests that there is a desire within the organization for reform. So where are your priorities going to be, and how do you plan to bring change?
KINGMA: Journalism, journalism, journalism … that was — and is — my big platform. And, as you know, times are changing so fast that it’s time for us to jump. And that’s why I was very, very happy with winning the election.

Also read: Hollywood Foreign Press Association Votes for Change, Elects Theo Kingma

What do you mean by “Journalism, journalism, journalism”?
KINGMA: Focus more on our work. I think the last two years, especially because of our legal case (over the NBC contract with Dick Clark), we were kind of distracted, and it was time to put things back on track.

Let’s go a little bit deeper into what that means. What got off-track because of the lawsuit?
KINGMA: That took so much time and so much attention. Now there’s a little break because we are in appeal, so this is the right time to say, “Hey, let’s regroup and start refocusing on our work.” I certainly plan on going after more interviews, after better interviews, which has, of course, become a huge priority for us because of the more day-and-date releases. That we really get included at the earliest possible press opportunities. That was kind of slipping away, yes. And meanwhile, the studios changed their entire way of working …

How so?
KINGMA: A bit more day-and-date, more and more films that open overseas before the United States … All these details were just overlooked and forgotten.

Was there a particular movie that you missed out on that everyone was upset about?
KINGMA: Oh, yes, many, many of the summer blockbusters. Pretty much all the Marvel titles, which were "Iron Man 3" … we’re talking big, big.

That you guys didn’t get interviews with the talent?
KINGMA: Yes, because there was just too much going on. Both the studios were changing their formats, and we were pretty much preoccupied with other things.

Also read: Will the New Election Help the Hollywood Foreign Press Association Clean Up?

SORIA (left):  We have the new COO — Greg Goeckner, who’s more knowledgeable than us to begin with. That allows us to not be distracted by business contracts, negotiations and all the things that we’re not really trained to do. We have a saying now, "Dump it on Greg."

What other changes are happening? 
KINGMA: We lost out on many of the Marvel titles, so one of the things we did right away was, for the first time, we went with a whole group down to San Diego.

To Comic-Con?
KINGMA: Yes, to Comic-Con, which surprised quite a few studios, especially because we stayed at a Travelodge, the only available Travelodge.

How many people went?
KINGMA: Eighteen.

So you stayed in a Travelodge paid for by the HFPA?
KINGMA: No, both Fox and Warner Bros. were so impressed that they each offered to pay for one night.

Why was that important to be at Comic-Con?
KINGMA: To make a statement that we’re taking our job really seriously this year. Another thing I started is a roundtable series where we meet with people that are not really connected to promoting a movie or a film — let’s say Richard Branson, but it could also be Paris Hilton or Rupert Murdoch.

And you’ve had Richard Branson?
KINGMA: No, no, no we’re working on Richard Branson in London. So far we’ve done Paris Hilton and Lynda Obst. We’re going to do Metallica in September. We’re doing race-driver Niki Lauda in September.

My biggest criticisms of the Hollywood Foreign Press has been the small size of the group — and the quality of the members. The organization is too small for the amount of influence and power it has with the Golden Globes. Is there any discussion about significantly expanding it?
KINGMA: I’m looking into how we can change the procedure of accepting new members, and hopefully that’ll mean that we’ll get more than one or two a year. But to really open it up, like we once talked about it before — we have this clause in our bylaws that states you have to have resided in California for two years, you have to have to have been a member of the Motion Picture Association for the previous year … the pool of people gets very small.

So you’d have to change that bylaw.
KINGMA: And that’s would be a real, real big job if we were to do that.

Is that something you’re in favor of doing, or is it realistically a nonstarter?
KINGMA: I don’t think anything’s a nonstarter, but would it pass the membership? I don’t know?

How many people have to pass to make a change in the bylaws?
KINGMA: Two thirds of the active members. So out of 85 you’re talking …

SORIA: Like, around 56. I think we will benefit by expanding, by having more journalists representing more countries — there is no doubt about it. Keep in mind that the pool of available journalists from Los Angeles is not as big as it used to be.

I know that, which is why I’m suggesting those criteria are faulty. Something there would have to change.
SORIA: So you want people living in Detroit? How do we do that?

Conceivably, you could have journalists who cover entertainment who live around the world.
KINGMA: But then we have an issue with a studios that says, “We never see these people at your press conferences; we never see them at your screenings.”

They have screenings in Paris. They have screenings in London.
SORIA: That’s easy to say, Sharon, but it’s not so practical. We’re the Hollywood Foreign Press; we give an award. We have to see the movies, and they can’t organize screenings for every city in the world.

The Academy has 6,000 people all over the world. The internet allows you to stream movies; it’s  technologically possible. The people you could get voting could be so much more relevant. As long as you’re saying that nothing is a nonstarter …
KINGMA: I could see that in the future, but right now?

SORIA: I never even thought about expanding to people in Germany, Italy, England … I’m not dismissing it. Technologically, certainly it’s more feasible now than it used to be 20 years ago.

You’ve been struggling since the Globes first aired on network TV 15 years ago against the perception that the it's a big marketing target but that the organization behind it doesn’t have the credibility it should.
KINGMA: So now we have to roll up our sleeves and change as much as possible in a positive way.

The biggest barrier to being considered credible in the way the Academy is recognized is the size and the quality of the membership.
KINGMA: Yeah, but even for the studios, a platform of journalism counts more than admitting someone in Belgium as a member that they never would see. I don’t think even the studios would want us to have a journalist in Belgium that they never see at screenings or press conferences.

What are your other areas to focus on besides the journalism?
KINGMA: Part of the process of admitting new members is where I would like to start. For example, our bylaws stipulate that each applicant has to be sponsored by two members. I think it makes that too personal. I would like to move the date of that we select our new members away from the elections. I’m going to present these to the members.

These are baby steps — but even a baby step is already a big step because not much has happened with these bylaws that have been in the books for, what I understand, 48 years.

How many members would you ideally gain in a year?
KINGMA: According to our bylaws right now we can allow up to five. If we can get five a year, that would be fantastic.

SORIA: If we get five a year in three or four years, we will get to 100. I realize the perception to say less than 100 and to say 100 makes a change. We were close it a few years ago. I understand there are many things we could improve, but there are many things working well. Change comes slowly in our organization, and if you try to do major things, it blows up in your face.

To hire a COO, it took 10 years. To buy a building, it took 20 years. Am I saying it’s great? No, but that’s the reality.

Also read: Insider Charges HFPA With Racism After Golden Globe

Do you think the case of the African correspondent who was denied membership has something to do with the problems of the organization’s membership process?SORIA: It has only to do with meeting the requirements to become a member of the association. Implying that there was any race factor is incorrect and offensive.

Don’t you think it’s a problem that the organization doesn’t have a single black member in it?
SORIA: I would love to have 10 black members and 10 Asians and 10 American-Indians.  What matters to us is to have new good members.

KINGMA: We have this rule that you have to be a member of the MPA for a year, which is fair, because it’s an overseeing body. We also have the rule that you have to live in Southern California for two years. Sadly enough, if you go through the international directory, there is only one person from South Africa that is listed.

There is nobody (black) because they can’t afford to come and live here. I’ve been a member for 21 years, and I can promise you I’ve never ever heard anything racial.