November 19, 2014

AMPAS @ SCA

Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs comes to the School of Cinematic Arts

By Desa Philadelphia

Cheryl Boone Isaacs and Dr. Rick Jewell

Cheryl Boone Isaacs, head of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), visited the School of Cinematic Arts on Monday November 17 for a candid conversation about the Academy’s mission and work. The evening consisted of Boone Isaacs in conversation with Professor Rick Jewell, the Hugh M. Hefner Chair for the Study of American Film, after which she took questions from the audience.

Boone Isaacs, who recently began her second one-year term as AMPAS President, was happy the audience seemed to know about many of AMPAS’ programs. “You are our partner. I want to say our child, but not really,” she said, referring to the fact that SCA grew out of AMPAS’ first education initiative, founding President Douglas Fairbanks’ idea for a training program in filmmaking at a major university. “What USC is doing is producing the next generation of filmmakers, of storytellers, and that’s so very important for all us because cinema is one of America’s best art forms. Even though films are made around world, and made extremely well, there is something unique about the Hollywood history,” she added.

Boone Isaacs mostly talked about the Academy’s efforts to raise its profile around the world and be known not just for the annual Oscar ceremony, but also for its many programs around film preservation and education programs. She joked about the difference in the quality of reception she gets before and after audiences realize the Academy is responsible for the Oscars. And while the Oscars supplies AMPAS’ operating budget, it certainly doesn’t get all the organization’s attention, she said. AMPAS spends the rest of the year engaging in activities focused on ensuring the longevity of the movie business. The organization is currently in the midst of a rebranding effort complete with a new logo that merges a Capital A for academy with the Oscar statue. Boone Isaacs said there was previously no association or visual connection between the organization and the Oscar. The new branding, she said, resulted from the question of “how do you pull those two words together—Academy and Oscar.”

Boone Isaacs was most enthusiastic about the Academy’s plans for a movie museum in Los Angeles, which Professor Jewell noted is long overdue. “As someone who has spent most of my life in this town it’s always pained me greatly that we didn’t have the world’s greatest cinema museum here,” he said. Adding that “it looks like we’re going to now.” Boone Isaacs said the $350 million Academy Museum is her current top priority. (“Keeping that ball rolling is the number one issue on my plate,” she said) and could be open for business in as little as three years. She said everyone should visit its “teaser trailer,” an exhibition on costumes that is currently on display at the museum’s planned site, a landmark building built in 1939 that sits next to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).

Boone Isaacs couldn’t get away without answering some of the nagging questions that always come up in a discussion of the Oscars. She said there is no plan to shorten the show. After all, almost 44 million viewers tuned in last year, she noted. Also safe are short film and documentary categories, which she said will continue to be included in the broadcast. Those categories don’t get the kind of mass viewership they should, she argued, but considering their standing in our culture (most filmmakers start out making shorts and documentaries are important for educating audiences about pressing issues) it is “important to stay the course.” And of course there was speculation about whether Neil Patrick Harris, an actor known for his work in television, would excel as host. Noting that last year’s host Ellen Degeneres also came from TV and got rave reviews Boone Issacs was nothing but confident that 2015 would be no different.