Academy's Big Membership Meeting: A Love Fest With a Few Fireworks
Testy Foreign Language-Exchange Mars Academy Love-Fest
Saturday's unprecedented three-city meeting of more than 1,000 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was a first for the Academy – and a virtual love-fest, if you ignore a few contentious notes.
"I was very excited and moved by the amount of love in the room," said AMPAS president Hawk Koch told TheWrap on Saturday afternoon, less than an hour after wrapping up the simultaneous meetings in Beverly Hills, New York and Emeryville in the Bay Area.
That love, though, did not extend to the entire program, which included at least one exchange about the Academy's foreign-language system that was described as contentious by several members in attendance.
"There was a lot of engagement – it was a huge step for the Academy," said one member who, like all those who spoke to TheWrap, asked not to be identified. "But there was a fair amount of member resentment about the secrecy of the Academy."
The testiest discussion focused on the committee process for the foreign-language award, but another member said it did highlight a concern among the members at large.
"I stayed and talked to fellow Academy members for 30 to 45 minutes after the program, and some of them did say that the foreign-language discussion raised a larger issue, which is transparency in the Academy," the member said. "I got the impression that they will review their policies."
Koch said that lowering the veil was one of the reasons to hold the meeting. "The Academy is planning to be more open," he told TheWrap, pointing to Saturday morning's press release that broke new ground by revealing a voting statistic (albeit a wildly positive one) that had in past years been kept private: 90 percent of the Academy's members had voted for the last Oscars.
"That was such an amazing number that we wanted to make it public," he said of the voting number, which had never before been revealed. "Over 96 percent of the people who signed up for online voting cast ballots."
Added Academy CEO Dawn Hudson, "It was such a testament to the success of e-voting that we wanted to tell the members."
(Koch also said that 87 percent of members who opted for paper ballots voted. If I remember my high-school math correctly, the "87 percent + 96 percent = 90 percent" breakdown means that about twice as many of the Academy's 5,856 voting members opted for paper ballots as for online voting.)
The meetings, which consisted of a one-hour meal and then 90 minutes of presentations and Q&A sessions, were well-attended, with the 1,000-seat Samuel Goldwyn Theater largely filled and good crowds also going to the Lighthouse International Theater in New York and Pixar headquarters in the Bay Area.
(A New York member did say that the crowd, while good-sized, was nowhere near as big as the Thursday-night audience at the Academy screening of "The Great Gatsby.")
According to a member in Los Angeles, Koch opened the program by remarking, "We do this every 85 years," drawing a big laugh. He, Hudson, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Kathleen Kennedy, Ed Begley Jr., Susannah Grant and Mark Johnson all made presentations about various aspects of the Academy, many of them in response to specific questions that had ben emailed by members.
The discussion also turned to the Board of Governors' recent plan to remove the cap on the admission of new members, theoretically allowing the Academy to expand dramatically when the next group is invited to join in June.