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How Will Board Of Governors Election Affect Race For New President & Why Is Netflix Making A Move Into Academy Leadership?

Deadline logo Deadline 5/12/2017 Pete Hammond
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Even though Emmy and Tony seasons are in full swing, we haven’t forgotten about you, Oscar.

Once again the process is revving up for the annual Board of Governors election, and numerous candidates come forward to fill the one open slot of three in each of the 17 branches. Many of the names are the usual suspects who run frequently, many times in vain, for one of these coveted positions. Others are new to the process, which was busted open wide by the Academy last year in order to attract a larger and (hopefully) more diverse list of contenders. This might be why we have more than 150 (including the instantly controversial entry of Netflix’s Ted Sarandos) vying this time for attention from individual branches that will vote to anoint only four of their colleagues to compete on the June ballot. Final victors repping each of the branches will be announced in mid-July.

So rather than list a bunch of names, let me tell you why this particular BoG election is potentially more important than usual. There’s an election for a new Academy president coming up in August, and that person (like any potential pope in the College of Cardinals) must be on the BoG before they can be considered as a candidate. Current President Cheryl Boone Isaacs is terming out after the maximum of four consecutive one-year terms in the position. She also holds a spot as one of three Governors repping the PR branch on the board but, as widely expected, is not going to run for a new three-year gig as a Governor even though she is still eligible. This is not uncommon, as most termed-out Academy presidents tend to call it a day after running the joint.

That also was the decision from former four-year President Sid Ganis, who told me at the time of his departure he had no intention of running for the board again and would leave it to new blood. Deadline recently reported that some were urging him to change that position and throw his hat in the ring for Boone Isaacs’ position in the PR branch (where he previously was a Governor) so as to be eligible to then run for a return to the presidency in August. But when I asked him about it at CinemaCon in March, he said he was flattered but definitely would not be doing that. He’s very busy these days, including as a producer of the terrific new documentary Bang! The Bert Berns Story, and also splits a lot of his time between Southern and Northern California now.

But another former Academy President, Hawk Koch, is running again to return to the board as a Governor of the producers branch, which would make him eligible to be placed in nomination for another go-round as President of AMPAS. That’s something I am sure he would love to do as he was able to serve only one year after being elected in 2012 because he had termed out after nine consecutive years on the board and was forced by Academy rules to take a year off before being allowed to run again. Since then he has been a familiar candidate in these yearly races. To succeed he would have to make the final four in his branch and then presumably prevail over incumbent Albert Berger, running for a new term, as well as 2017 Oscar show producer Michael De Luca and several other prominent names vying for the gig.

Former PR Branch Governor and Academy Vice President Rob Friedman is in a similar situation as Koch. He ran, and lost, for President in 2013 against Boone Isaacs despite having some strong support on the Board. He is now again a candidate in that branch to return to the board and, who knows, another run for the presidency in August? First he would have to convince PR branch members that this former head of Lionsgate should even be running in a branch where, as a past marketing executive, he first entered the Academy. Also adding intrigue to this Governors election in terms of its impact on the presidential race is the entry of former Disney chief Dick Cook looking to return to the Executives branch, where current incumbent and former Warner Bros distribution head Dan Fellman is hoping for re-election. Cook is very popular, a former Academy treasurer and someone who could be an attractive presidential choice should he even want to head in that direction. If so, as with his former Academy colleagues Friedman and Koch, the first chess move would be this Governors election, which clearly has some very experienced candidates who well versed in Academy affairs.

As for other potential candidates to replace Boone Isaacs that already are on the board, speculation continues to swirl around casting director David Rubin, actress Laura Dern and Fox Searchlight co-president Nancy Utley as distinct possibilities.

And finally, perhaps the most interesting, and for some alarming, plot development in this BoG contest is the sudden emergence of Netflix Chief of Content Ted Sarandos. He has entered the contest to also become a Governor of the Executives Branch, and for some quite frankly his election to the all-hallowed board of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences might just be akin to letting the proverbial wolf into the hen house. Many in the industry are not happy with the quick ascension of Netflix and its efforts to turn the traditional methods of the way we see first run movies on its head, particularly with its insistence on sticking to the model of date and date streaming (mainly) and theatrical release (mostly nominal so far). Sarandos is a very likeable and smart executive who just was granted Academy membership less than two years ago, but eyebrows will be raised by this move as to his motives in gaining a prized AMPAS Board position. How ironic it would be if he somehow beat Fellman, one of the industry deans of theatrical distribution. It is especially interesting in light of the controversy over Netflix’s aggressive move into the official competition of the Cannes Film Festival set to begin next week, over the objections of the French exhibition industry which demanded theatrical runs in France for those two entries Okja and The Meyerowitz Stories. The festival put out a release this week stating discussions with Netflix in this regard were “in vain”, and acted to change their rules for 2018 to make it a requirement that all Cannes entries have guaranteed theatrical runs over streaming. Cannes kept the two films in for this year, but the Netflix cause likely wasn’t helped by CEO Reed Hasting’s comments on Facebook this week. “The establishment closing ranks against us. See Okja on Netflix June 28th. Amazing film that theatre chains want to block us from entering into Cannes Film Festival competition,” he wrote. Of course you can’t get more “establishment” than AMPAS. Netflix has yet to crack the big Oscar races (unlike more exhibitor-friendly Amazon with Manchester By The Sea), but has made inroads in documentary features and shorts where it picked up an Academy Award this year in the latter for The White Helmets. This, for many reasons, will be one BOG race to definitely watch.

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