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6 Challenges Facing New Academy President John Bailey

The Academy's first cinematographer president is showing his hand as he takes over the presidency.

John Bailey and Lawrence KasdanAmerican Society of Cinematographers 29th Annual Outstanding Achievement Awards, Los Angeles, America - 15 Feb 2015

John Bailey

Picture Perfect/REX/Shutterstock

As new Academy president John Bailey opens up about what he plans to do in his new job, we read the tea leaves. He faces an unusually tumultuous time, as the Academy confronts multiple challenges, from the industry’s transition to digital, and pressures from ABC to increase viewership of the Oscar show, to the need to raise more funding to build the troubled $400 million Academy Museum at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Here are Bailey’s main concerns. So far, he seems more than up to meeting this new assignment.

1. Will the Academy change its diversity outreach?

No. As someone who has long hired men and women of different ethnic, socio- economic, and racial backgrounds, Bailey supports Academy CEO Hudson’s outreach imperative via the A2020 program which is designed to double the Academy’s diverse membership by 2020. He’s proud of such Academy efforts as the Academy Gold internship program, which recently graduated nearly 70 men and women of many backgrounds, and the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA exhibition showcasing Los Angeles Latino filmmakers.

As a 14-year veteran on the Academy Board of Governors representing the cinematography branch, Bailey has reached out to include more foreign directors of photography like Danish Camilla Hjelm (“Land of Mine”), French Crystel Fournier (“Tomboy”), Korean Chung-hoon Chung (“The Handmaiden”), 79-year-old Spaniard Jose Luis Alcaine, who shoots for Pedro Almodovar, and documentarian Ernesto Pardo.

Bailey has long voted on the Academy foreign-language committee and would like to see more Academy members participate, so he will continue in the same vein. As an erudite and scholarly USC film school grad who blogged about Jeanne Moreau last week, it’s no surprise that he will push to uphold professional standards for new invites going forward. But politically, he is leaving those decisions to the 17 individual branches, as did his predecessor Cheryl Boone Isaacs.

It’s undeniable that as a 75-year-old white man he represents the dominant numbers in the Academy. But he’s also the first cinematographer and only the second craftsperson to run the Academy (after art director Gene Allen), and he will do what he can to support that side of the membership — the people who actually make movies. One source of the Oscars’ ongoing legitimacy is that a wide range of moviemakers vote for the best every year — including Bailey’s wife of 45 years, Carol Littleton, who also serves on the Board of Governors, representing the editors branch.

2. Will he take on the presidency as a full-time job?

The cinematographer of Robert Redford’s “Ordinary People,” Robert Benton’s “Nobody’s Fool,” James Brooks’ “As Good as It Gets,” Harold Ramis’ “Groundhog Day,” Paul Schrader’s “American Gigolo,” and three Lawrence Kasdan movies — along with many low-budget indie movies like early digital effort “The Anniversary Party” — has alerted his agent that he won’t take on any new projects for the next year in order to devote himself full-time to this very different executive post.

THE OSCARS(r) - The 89th Oscars(r) broadcasts live on Oscar(r) SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 26, 2017, on the ABC Television Network. (ABC/Eddy Chen)JIMMY KIMMEL

Jimmy Kimmel hosts the Oscars


3. What can we expect for next year’s Oscar show, the 90th?

He liked what producers Mike DeLuca, Jennifer Todd, and host Jimmy Kimmel did with the Oscars last year, as well as the current practice of choosing from five to ten Best Picture nominees. And a full board meeting with PricewaterhouseCoopers yielded new protocols that will prevent any further envelope snafus.

4. What’s his goal for the museum, which is scheduled to open the summer of 2019?

He’s fully committed — with Hudson, new COO Rich Cherry, and managing director Kathy DeShaw — to efforts to raise money to continue construction of the museum and fight budget overruns. He decries exaggerated reports of the Academy’s financial exposure, and hopes it will be easier for people to see the building as it emerges from considerable underground structural work.

He also plans to work closely with museum director Kerry Brougher and planning committee chair Kathleen Kennedy on what will be inside the museum. Bailey envisages a home for film scholars, film historians, and filmmakers that celebrates film history and technology and offers visitors an engaging experience.

5. What changes will Bailey pursue for the Academy?

While many members are worried that Hudson seeks to cut back programs and initiatives because the museum is costing so much money, Bailey is committed to support the Academy’s Arts and Science role to preserve, archive, and protect historic film.

He has served on several Academy committees including International Outreach, Film Scholars, Nicholl Screenwriting, and the Sci Tech Council. He came up with the program Films on Film two years ago, which screens 35 mm prints from the Academy Film Archive along with supporting materials from the Academy’s Margaret Herrick Library. He’d like to see more such screenings when the new museum’s 1000-seat theater opens.

6. How will the Academy adapt as more film content is consumed in a digital universe led by providers Netflix, Amazon, Google, Facebook and Apple?

While Bailey prefers the experience of watching a movie on the big screen, he recognizes that the Academy has to address how to define what a movie is. For him, a movie on a streaming service like Amazon or Netflix is still a movie.

That will become the “motion picture” Academy’s true calling, as two-hour films in theaters become an endangered species.

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