The Board of Governors for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will meet on Tuesday evening to elect a new president. Current president John Bailey is terming out after two years in the top position. Presidents can be elected to four one-year terms, but if they have been on the board for a total of nine years, they are termed out and have to take a year off before running again. That is why Bailey could only serve for two years.
In terms of the race to succeed him, sources tell me the top candidates number only two at this point — at least those who have indicated they plan to run. Both are current officers of the Academy as well. Casting director David Rubin is a governor of the Casting Branch and also secretary on the board. His main opponent is expected to be Lois Burwell, a governor of the Makeup and Hairstyling Branch who also serves as First Vice-President of the Academy. Next to Bailey, that position puts her closest to the beating heart of the organization.
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Rubin actually ran two years ago (although the Academy doesn’t give out that info) but was beaten by Bailey, whose name came up during the meeting as a surprise alternative. He garnered lots of support from the crafts branches and became the first cinematographer to serve as president in Academy history.
Could there be a dark horse lurking in the shadows again this time? Names have been bandied about from time to time including Actors Branch governor Laura Dern, who was heavily speculated to run in 2017 but in the end never did. We have heard the name of past president Sid Ganis, a current VP and PR Branch governor, also mentioned, as well as another VP, Fox Searchlight’s Nancy Utley. Long time Board member from the costume designers branch, Jeffrey Kurland might be interested I hear now, but so far at least, Rubin and Burwell appear to be the only certain candidates.
Burwell would be the first actual Oscar winner to take on the presidency since screenwriter Frank Pierson (Dog Day Afternoon) led AMPAS from 2001-2005. She won her Oscar for Best Makeup for 1995’s Best Picture winner Braveheart and earned a second nomination for 1998’s Saving Private Ryan. Her many credits since 1980 in fact include a few other Steven Spielberg films including Ready Player One, Lincoln, War Horse and Bridge of Spies. With Spielberg recently re-elected as Directors Branch governor, and a very influential voice on the board, it might seem logical he could be a boost to her candidacy considering their working relationship. Her other credits include Mission: Impossible, Magnolia, The Princess Bride, Who Framed Roger Rabbit and so many more. Burwell, married to two-time Oscar-winning cinematographer John Toll (Braveheart, Legends of the Fall), would be the first AMPAS president from the Makeup and Hairstyling Branch.
Rubin also would be a first — that is the first casting director to lead the Academy. In fact the Casting Branch is the most recent to gain a berth on the board since it was created just six years ago. Casting directors still don’t have their own competitive Oscar category but have been invited to be members of AMPAS for the past 35 years or so. Still it would be quite the achievement for Rubin should he be elected since other branches have been there much longer. He is the winner of two Emmys including last year for Big Little Lies. He is nominated again this year for HBO’s limited series Sharp Objects. His feature credits include Trumbo, Wild, Gravity, Hairspray, Cold Mountain, Days of Thunder and countless other TV and film credits.
Whoever gets elected will have a host of things to deal with including whether there will even be a host for next year’s Oscar show — the 91st Academy Awards went without one and actually improved its ratings by 12% from the previous all-time low of the 90th ceremony. They will also be choosing a producer for the 92nd Oscars, which have been moved up by two weeks to February 9 this year only; dealing with the continuing drive toward parity and diversity in the membership; and most significantly likely presiding over the expected opening of Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, now planned to debut in 2020 — that is unless it is delayed again.
One thing I doubt this new president will have to face is revisiting the idea of a Most Popular Picture category, a debacle that was tabled (read: dumped) after being vilified in the media. I also doubt there will be a new attempt to cut any of the 24 categories from the live Oscar broadcast, after that decision was met with derision last year and had to be reversed.
Will calmer seas prevail for the new president? It is always an adventure being president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and as Joe Pesci once said in his very short Oscar-acceptance speech, “a privilege.”