Sur­prise cast­ing for film academy leader

Vet­eran insider John Bai­ley is seen as a steady hand as the group rein­vents it­self.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Josh Rot­ten­berg

With the Academy of Mo­tion Pic­ture Arts and Sci­ences at a cross­roads af­ter two years of con­tro­versy and tur­bu­lence un­like any­thing in its nearly 90-year his­tory, many within the group’s lead­er­ship ranks were look­ing for a steady hand.

The academy’s 54-mem­ber board of gover­nors — in­clud­ing such in­dus­try lu­mi­nar­ies as Tom Hanks, Kath­leen Kennedy, Whoopi Gold­berg and Steven Spiel­berg — gath­ered Tues­day evening to de­cide who would suc­ceed out­go­ing Pres­i­dent Cheryl Boone Isaacs, who has led the or­ga­ni­za­tion for four trans­for­ma­tive and of­ten tu­mul­tuous years that in­cluded the #Os­carsSoWhite firestorm and the re­cent Os­car-night best pic­ture en­ve­lope bun­gle.

Actress Laura Dern’s name had been float­ing in the ru­mor mill for weeks, stir­ring en­thu­si­asm among those who felt the academy’s pub­lic im­age could use a fresh coat of star-power gloss. But as the meet­ing pro­gressed, Dern de­clined her nom­i­na­tion af­ter de­cid­ing that the de­mands of the job would be too dif­fi­cult to bal­ance with her busy ca­reer. The choice ul­ti­mately

came down to two well-re­spected vet­eran academy in­sid­ers, each rep­re­sent­ing the film in­dus­try’s of­ten un­sung be­low-the-line work­ers: cast­ing di­rec­tor David Ru­bin and cine­matog­ra­pher John Bai­ley.

Though ac­tive cam­paign­ing for the job of pres­i­dent is tra­di­tion­ally frowned upon, front-run­ners in­evitably emerge. Bai­ley’s name had not been among the hand­ful be­ing whis­pered in the run-up to the elec­tion. He had been on the board for 14 years and had served as vice pres­i­dent for three terms, but he had not made a run for pres­i­dency be­fore. But when the bal­lots were counted, the 74-year-old jour­ney­man cine­matog­ra­pher — whose cred­its in­clude such films as “Or­di­nary Peo­ple,” “The Big Chill” and “Ground­hog Day” — had pre­vailed.

Known for his ver­sa­til­ity be­hind the cam­era, Bai­ley had never been one to grab the lime­light. “I’ve never re­ceived an academy nom­i­na­tion or … any kind of, you know, ac­co­lade from my peers,” Bai­ley told the trade mag­a­zine Va­ri­ety in 2015 shortly be­fore re­ceiv­ing the Amer­i­can So­ci­ety of Cine­matog­ra­phers’ Life­time Achieve­ment Award. “I think this is by virtue of the kinds of films I do. They’re not nec­es­sar­ily ones that call at­ten­tion to the cin­e­matog­ra­phy.”

The fact is, in decades past, few out­side the academy ever gave much thought to the pri­vate de­lib­er­a­tions of its lead­er­ship, and the of­fice of pres­i­dent, which is un­paid, has tra­di­tion­ally been largely cer­e­mo­nial. But in re­cent years, as the academy un­der the lead­er­ship of Boone Isaacs and academy chief ex­ec­u­tive Dawn Hud­son has taken a se­ries of dra­matic steps to re­make it­self in­side and out, pub­lic scru­tiny of the or­ga­ni­za­tion has grown ever more in­tense. Hav­ing spent his ca­reer be­hind the scenes, Bai­ley now finds him­self the pub­lic face of an in­sti­tu­tion in the process of trans­form­ing it­self, tak­ing on what some con­sider one of the tough­est and most thank­less jobs in Hol­ly­wood un­der the glare of the spotlight.

“Holy mack­erel, it’s changed,” Boone Isaacs told The Times in an in­ter­view this spring. “We seem to be in the same zone as just about ev­ery­thing, where some­how your day-to-day busi­ness is news. It’s bizarre…. I’m as­sum­ing that’s not go­ing away.”

In­deed, Bai­ley im­me­di­ately in­her­its a hand­ful of ma­jor chal­lenges fac­ing the or­ga­ni­za­tion, in­clud­ing an on­go­ing push to di­ver­sify its over­whelm­ingly white and male mem­ber­ship ranks, an am­bi­tious and costly ef­fort to build an academy mu­seum in Los An­ge­les and the steady ero­sion in rat­ings for the all-im­por­tant Os­cars tele­cast.

Bai­ley was un­avail­able to be in­ter­viewed for this story, but in­sid­ers say those look­ing to read the tea leaves about his choice should not get ahead of them­selves. Though he is an older white male — and fol­lows Boone Isaacs, the first African Amer­i­can and the third woman to serve as pres­i­dent — his choice, the in­sid­ers say, was in no way a ref­er­en­dum on the is­sue of boost­ing di­ver­sity within the academy’s mem­ber­ship and lead­er­ship ranks, which will re­main a key pri­or­ity go­ing for­ward.

In 2016, in re­sponse to a grow­ing con­tro­versy over its se­lec­tion for the sec­ond con­sec­u­tive year of an all-white slate of act­ing nom­i­nees, the academy an­nounced a sweep­ing cam­paign aimed at dou­bling the num­ber of women and mi­nori­ties in its mem­ber­ship by 2020. While the di­ver­sity ini­tia­tive has been widely ap­plauded, it was met early on with some­times bit­ter push­back from some older rank-and-file mem­bers who felt they were be­ing un­fairly tarred with the brush of racism.

With this year’s best pic­ture vic­tory for “Moon­light” and record num­ber of wins for African Amer­i­cans across the board, it’s pos­si­ble the is­sue of di­ver­sity could be­gin to move to­ward the back burner, at least in the pub­lic’s mind.

“That can hap­pen,” Boone Isaacs said. “But I do be­lieve this or­ga­ni­za­tion is not go­ing to let it stop. I know Dawn Hud­son is not go­ing to let it stop — that’s for sure. And the board is very much com­mit­ted.”

Hud­son, whose con­tract was re­cently re­newed through June 2020, agreed that the academy’s di­ver­sity push would not flag.

“That com­mit­ment [to di­ver­sity] has not waned and will not wane for many years to come,” Hud­son said. “Be­cause I don’t see this in­dus­try get­ting a lot more di­verse or hav­ing more gen­der par­ity any time real soon. So this work will be on­go­ing for the academy.”

In the last two years, the academy has opened its doors to the largest and most di­verse classes of new mem­bers in its his­tory. In June, a whop­ping 774 in­dus­try pro­fes­sion­als were in­vited to join the or­ga­ni­za­tion, 39% of whom were fe­male and 30% of whom were peo­ple of color, bring­ing the over­all share of women and mi­nori­ties among the more than 7,000 mem­bers to 28% and 13%, re­spec­tively. (In a land­mark 2012 analysis, The Times re­ported that Os­car vot­ers at the time were 23% fe­male and 6% non­white.)

Cer­tain branches have seen more progress to­ward di­ver­sity than oth­ers, how­ever, re­flect­ing deeper in­equities in hir­ing in dif­fer­ent seg­ments of the film in­dus­try. The cine­matog­ra­phers’ branch in par­tic­u­lar has his­tor­i­cally been over­whelm­ingly male and white, though it has made strides in the last two years to in­vite more women and non­whites, in­clud­ing Caro­line Cham­petier (“Holy Mo­tors”), Camilla Hjelm Knud­sen (“Land of Mine”) and Chung-Hoon Chung (“Me and Earl and the Dy­ing Girl”).

Nor, in­sid­ers say, should Bai­ley’s elec­tion be seen as a ref­er­en­dum on the lead­er­ship of Hud­son, who has at times been a po­lar­iz­ing fig­ure within the board over what some view as her hard­charg­ing style, in par­tic­u­lar her stew­ard­ship of the mu­seum, which has run into re­peated de­lays and cost over­runs and is cur­rently pro­jected to open in 2019. As he helps steer the academy for­ward, Bai­ley — who has a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing well­con­nected and deeply fa­mil­iar with the ins and outs of the academy — will have to work closely with Hud­son.

For Bai­ley — whose ten­ure will be lim­ited to a max­i­mum of two years due to his prior years of ser­vice on the board — lead­ing a proudly tra­di­tion-bound in­sti­tu­tion in the process of giv­ing it­self a makeover in full pub­lic view will un­doubt­edly bring its share of chal­lenges. But speak­ing to The Times in May as her ten­ure was wind­ing down, Boone Isaacs said she was con­fi­dent that who­ever took the reins as pres­i­dent would have the skills needed to lead the in­sti­tu­tion for­ward.

“Lis­ten, this or­ga­ni­za­tion was great be­fore I took this po­si­tion, and it’ll be great af­ter I leave,” she said. “It’s just an evolution of change, and this is an ex­cit­ing time.”

josh.rot­ten­berg @la­times.com

‘That com­mit­ment [to di­ver­sity] ... will not wane for many years to come. Be­cause I don’t see this in­dus­try get­ting a lot more di­verse or hav­ing more gen­der par­ity any time real soon.’ — Dawn Hud­son, CEO of film academy

Allen J. Sch­aben Los An­ge­les Times

THE ACADEMY MU­SEUM, which has faced de­lays and cost over­runs, is among the chal­lenges fac­ing new pres­i­dent of the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Va­lerie Ma­con Getty Im­ages

JOHN BAI­LEY, left, with screen­writer Dion Cook, has been elected the pres­i­dent of the film academy.

Kirk McKoy Los An­ge­les Times

LAURA DERN de­clined a nom­i­na­tion to lead the film academy, cit­ing the de­mands of a busy ca­reer.

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