Bill Mechanics Guide To Overhaul So Movie Academy Can Fire On All Cylinders Guest Column

Editors Note: Bill Mechanic is chairman and CEO of Pandemonium Films and a former top executive at Paramount, Disney and chairman and CEO of Fox Filmed Entertainment when that studio generated Titanic, X-Men, Independence Day and Braveheart. He is also a former producer of the Oscars and Oscar-nominated films like Hacksaw Ridge and Coraline, and was a member of the Academy’s Board of Governors before resigning in 2018. He weighs in on that body’s upcoming elections.

A few years ago now (amazing how time flies during a pandemic), I resigned as a governor from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for two reasons: 1) there were factions on the Board of Governors who wanted everything to be status quo in spite of evidence of mismanagement as well as some foreboding changes coming to the industry; and 2) I thought a loud and clear resignation might get the silenced majority of members to speak out and force the changes. Wrong. Bad has become worse. The machine that was beginning to break down, is now broken.

Michael Cieply’s recent column about this being a telling moment for AMPAS in some ways is too polite. I’d say it’s a critical point, maybe the last chance to turn about a decade-long crumbling of the institution. There is an election of governors this week and if the status quo is maintained, soon someone will sell NFTs of the pieces.

The Academy is a mess from top to bottom. It no longer knows what its mission is; doesn’t even try to represent the views or wishes of its members and is a public relations fiasco, ranging from the worst decisions on how to “renovate” the Oscars, to managerial ineptitude when something like The Slap occurs on national television.

I would not argue that all that’s gone wrong is being done with bad intentions — quite the opposite. Never seen so many bad results made with only good intentions. The management of the Academy isn’t on a slippery slope. Way past that. They’re standing in quicksand.

The Academy was formed as a means of presenting a positive image for a scandal-ridden industry; it was created to award excellence in motion pictures. How’s that working out?

Cieply’s piece suggesting “daylight” (e.g., transparency and engagement) might be a place to start fixing things. Those are good goals, since there basically isn’t a hint of transparency (quite the opposite) nor engagement. Michael Shamberg seemed to be speaking for many, many others when he filed suit against the Academy to try to obtain a voice and forum for members, not just governors.

But the Academy leadership doesn’t want to hear from the members who are the backbone of the organization, who’ve won awards and made great films. The leadership is set up to only serve its own views and programs. In fact, when I went to an orientation session prior to my second stint as a governor, we were told our constituency wasn’t members or our branch, but rather the board itself!

That is f-ing nuts!

But the biggest thing to fix isn’t all that wrong-headedness. That’s relatively easy, because it starts with the right people. The management — the CEO, the president and the executive committee — is where this starts. That’s why this election is so critical. The change starts at the top. Which means the election of one-third of the board by branches this week is the only means to address the issues. And the first thing that they must do is act immediately to delay the executive board vote because the new governors don’t even know where to sit at the table, much less understand the process and the people running. They don’t understand that right now there are so many governors that it makes it impossible to have a meaningful discussion and that they are instead asked to just rubber stamp decisions made by the executive committee.

The election of governors itself is part of the problem. The branches don’t run election panels of the candidates and actually prohibits any from legitimate campaigning, expressing their positions and views.

Mostly all one knows is the résumés of the candidates, which, as you would expect are outstanding. The Academy is filled with the best and brightest. But that doesn’t make them the best representatives. Doesn’t mean they have the intent or the skills to fix the organization. In fact, that’s the problem.

Candidates are allowed to make a voluntary statement, but when I looked at those from my branch, mainly I’m told everyone is proud to serve. No one says it’s a mess. Not a single idea of what’s wrong; forget any specifics of how to fix.

The governors need to redefine the mission of the Academy, change the job description of [outgoing CEO Dawn] Hudson’s
replacement, change the voting procedure for the executive committee, cut the board size at least by a third if not half, and change the electoral process of governors. Then it can start shaping the Academy into something equipped to serve us in the future.

Every member should this week demand a point of view from the branch candidates before he or she votes, should demand an open forum. If the current governor of a branch is up for reelection, that might be reason to look for other choices, given how things keep deteriorating with the status quo.

Daylight then might have a chance to follow.

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