Ahead of a Sept. 17 all-member meeting of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, newly appointed Academy CEO Bill Kramer took questions from Hollywood correspondents, signaling an era of greater transparency — with members and with non-members — from the organization behind the Oscars.
Kramer will leave town next week on a trip that will take him to major fall film festivals — Venice, Telluride, Toronto and London — as part of an effort to cater to an increasingly international organization (“25 percent of our members are now non-U.S.”) and to support the return of film festivals and the theatrical moviegoing experience. But planning for the next Oscars ceremony, which is set for March 12, 2023, will not wait until he gets back to town. In fact, it is already well underway, having started earlier in the year than ever before, Kramer says: “We’ve been talking to ABC [the Oscars’ longtime broadcast partner] from the minute I started about what the show is going to look like, and there will be some announcements soon, but we’ve had incredibly productive and engaged conversations with them.”
After several years of Oscars telecasts that drew poor ratings, Kramer is committed to righting the ship. Citing the Bill Condon– and Laurence Mark-produced/Hugh Jackman-hosted 81st Oscars from 2009 as an “incredibly successful” outing, he emphasized, “The Oscars are a live television show. It’s very important to us that we work with producers who have expertise in that area” — as opposed to, say, film director Steven Soderbergh or film producer Will Packer. And he made clear that unlike three of the last four ceremonies, there will be an emcee for the 2023 the ceremony. “We definitely want a host,” he made clear, elaborating, “A host is very important to us, we are committed to having a host on the show this year and we are already looking at some key partners on that.”
Not for the first time, Kramer also indicated his desire for all 23 Oscar categories to be restored to the live telecast a year after eight of them were presented prior to the telecast and then edited into it with the goal of shortening the show’s runtime, something that angered many Academy members and ultimately did not keep the show from running 40 minutes long. “We want to see all disciplines equitably acknowledged on the show,” Kramer stated. “That is our goal. There are many ways to do that and we’re working that through with ABC right now.”
As for the Will Smith slap heard ’round the world that tarnished the most recent Oscars, Kramer suggested that it will not be a topic of discussion or jokes at the next Oscars: “We want to move forward and to have an Oscars that celebrates cinema. That’s our focus right now.” He elaborated, “It’s our 95th anniversary. We want to return to a show that has reverence for film and 95 years of the Oscars. It’s a moment to really reflect on our membership, all craft areas, our changing industry and our fans. There are ways to do that that are entertaining and authentic and that are tied to our mission to honor excellence in moviemaking.”
Meanwhile, Kramer, who made his name as a fundraiser and was instrumental in rallying support for the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, which he ultimately ran, revealed that the museum generated more than $40 million in revenue last year, prompting him to create a new office of revenue and business development at the Academy. “The Academy Awards and all of the contracts that surround the Oscar show used to bring in about 95 percent of our annual revenue,” he explained. “But because we opened the museum and created a very robust advancement department tasked with bringing in diversified streams of revenue through corporate sponsorships, foundation support, individual giving, board support, ticket sales, a retail store and a restaurant, all the contracts around the Academy Awards now bring in 70 percent of our income.”
Kramer also indicated that he believes the Academy can help ABC grow the Oscars’ ratings and make the telecast more financially profitable.
In terms of juicing ratings, Kramer feels that the Academy should do more to promote Oscar contenders “in an equitable way on all of our social channels” because “that creates a great lead-in to the Oscars. We want to create a lot of energy around our members who are working on first-run films, many of whom will be nominees and then after nominations really create some energy and emotion and knowledge around our nominees. That, I think, is critical to getting people to tune in and remain interested. You’ve got to personalize this.”
As for helping to make the show more profitable, he says, “We’re working with them around the ad sales connected to both the pre-show and the show to make sure that we’re doing anything we can do to help ABC bring great sponsors to the table.” He cited as an example Rolex, the watch company: “I started talking to Rolex back in 2013 when I was leading fundraising for the museum, and the numbers I’m giving you are public numbers, so I’m not speaking out of school, but they gave us a $20 million gift to name one of our galleries. After we had that discussion and we realized we’re very much aligned, in terms of our commitment to cinema and advancing the future of cinema, they decided that they wanted to buy ads on the Oscars. And now they’re also supporting our Governors Awards and our Museum gala. So there are ways to have early conversations with partners.” He added, “Bloomberg Philanthropies is another great partner supporting us in many ways.”
Kramer also volunteered that one of the topics he plans to tackle head-on at the upcoming all-member meeting is the Academy’s “inclusion standards,” which were announced in 2020, provoking backlash from some, and which are set to take effect next Oscar season. Kramer said “we deeply believe in” the requirements, which, if not met, will keep a film from being eligible for the best picture Oscar. “We don’t want to legislate art. That’s not what this is about. We want filmmakers to continue to make the films they want to make. I’m very happy to announce that the best picture nominees from this past year all would have qualified under our inclusion standards.” He continued, “At the all-member meeting we’ll be talking more about that because that’s a big point of discussion for our members, and we want to be very clear that we don’t want this to be onerous or punitive; we want this to be collaborative.”
And finally, in the wake of this week’s announcement that the Spirit Awards have adopted gender-neutral acting categories, Kramer was asked if the Academy is considering a similar move. “We are conducting due diligence on that,” he said, “but there’s no plan right now to activate that.”