Another Oscar Awards season has come and gone. Even though most everything surrounding the ceremony has changed, the award and the Academy that presents it has stayed pretty much the same. There’s many people who are quite happy with that and a whole bunch who are either quite upset or indifferent about it. The reality is that it’s somewhere in-between. Over the past week, there has been buzz about the membership demographics of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. One major issue was made very clear when it was mentioned by the President of the Academy, Tom Sherak, that there are only 6,000 members and they were there to convey the magic in movies – and watching them in a theatre with a bunch of other people. Perhaps it is time for them to embrace today’s environment and re-focus the way in which they connect with the people and bring the magic and emotion of movies to the audience in every way possible.
The Oscar telecast is a great format in which to reach a huge audience, but they have missed a beat in really bringing the magic to the people. Billy Crystal does a phenomenal job as host and his comedy bits are fantastic, but are they too filled with insider references? And, do they gloss over what the stories are all about? If filmmakers are inherently storytellers, shouldn’t we be doing a better job of telling the story of moviemaking? There were a number of strong steps in that direction with the technical awards – where viewers got some insight into the process. But then, when it got to the meat of the awards with the Actor and Best Picture Awards, it was less about story and more about celebrity and body of work. That ended up making the final forty minutes of last night’s ceremony feel like an eternity.
For the most part, in Hollywood, the magic of movies is presented as a bygone era with museums showing history in an old-fashioned and stuffy way whether it’s through the wax museums or The Hollywood Museum. Is it that those are the only ways we can see fit to present the joy of movies? Certainly technology allows us to have some fun – perhaps even let kids make their own movies with interactive exhibits to get a better understanding of the movie making process. Are we looking at the guardians of the world of movies aging out of relevancy for an entire generation (with only 2% of membership being under the age of 40) and is it destined to become even more irrelevant?
The Academy has a chance to get current and redeem itself somewhat with the announcement that they are partnering with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to, hopefully, build a museum that truly does convey the magic and emotion of movies – with everything that makes that possible. They should also jump at the opportunity to embrace technology for the enhancement of the experience on location as well as remotely through the internet. The Museum of the Moving Image in Queens does a phenomenal job in education and building wonder through their museum exhibits and online extensions. The closest parallel to the Academy with a museum is the Grammy Museum in downtown Los Angeles. The music academy’s museum focuses a lot on their own awards ceremony, but they augment that with experiential craft sampling opportunities. All ages are able to interact and gain a deeper appreciation for the craft. The Academy needs to follow some of that lead in whatever they do in the LACMA space – or whatever iteration they end up with.
Currently, the Academy focuses on education in a way that could be considered old-fashioned – with screenings and gallery exhibits. That needs to change. In addition to any local museum or education changes, the Academy needs to look at expanding outside of Los Angeles in a meaningful way to convey the magic. I appreciate that they are constantly going outside of Los Angeles to help philanthropically, but there are opportunities to go beyond the city to instill the magic or remind people how magical movie going is. The telecast alone, is not the best way for them to break out of the city limits and reach the people to convey the magic.
Perhaps it’s not just about physical locations to draw people in. Maybe the Academy needs to bring the message to where the people are and interact with them in a powerful and emotional way by way of a traveling roadshow. Build the wonder of film by tapping into what people know and the places they’ve been. Allow them to play and let their imagination run wild in a setting that does not require a big trip just to partake in the excitement.
The new audiences don’t have much experience – if any – with attending movies in a large theatre with packed houses. They haven’t had the opportunity to feel what Sherak was intimating in his speech, where there is a collective energy by watching film in groups. Because of that, they have no hesitation about enjoying films in any format they have available to them.
There are no real easy answers, but the continuing drop of interest in the Oscar telecast and the movie-going experience will be felt as clearly as the demise of the silent film era celebrated in this year’s best picture winner, THE ARTIST. The Academy needs to come to terms with that and bring focus to the celebration of the storytelling, emotion and wonder of movies in any way, shape or form available.