Academy Considers Moving Oscars From Kodak Theatre (Exclusive)

11:59 AM PST 12/31/2011 by Alex Ben Block
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AMPAS has exercised an option to potentially move the Academy Awards to another venue after the 2013 show.

The group that puts on the Academy Awards is mulling a plan to move the most famous event in show business from its longtime home, The Hollywood Reporter has learned. 

After nearly a decade at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, last week the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences exercised a clause in its contract and notified the CIM Group, which owns the venue, that it may move the Oscars elsewhere after the 2013 show.

“Our plan right now is to exercise this [option] and then see what happens, what goes on. We’re open,” Tom Sherak, president of the Academy, tells THR in an interview. “Personally, I love the Kodak. I’ll say that until I’m blue in the face. I’ve been there since the very beginning. But in the next year the Kodak and others will come to us and the [Academy] board will make a decision at some point.”

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The Oscars have been held at the Kodak since 2002 but the Academy's long-term contract with the venue includes an "out" clause after ten years.

“This is purely a business decision,” says a member of the Academy board of governors, the non-profit group’s version of a board of directors. “The bottom line is we are going to look at other places and listen to all offers. We may ultimately decide to stay where we are if we can renegotiate a better lease. Don’t forget, things have happened there.”

The board member is referring to the financial problems plaguing Kodak. Once a global giant, the Rochester, New York-based company has not been able to successfully make the transition from a world where images are captured on film to one where everything is done digitally. In October, Kodak denied it is going bankrupt but admitted that it has hired an investment bank to help it sort out its options.   

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It was a different situation in July 2000 when Kodak acquired naming rights to the 3,401 seat theater in the then-new Hollywood & Highland complex on Hollywood Blvd. Kodak, then still a global leader in imaging, agreed to pay $75 million over 20 years to have its name on the theater. It has been making $4 million annual payments ever since.

But if Kodak does not, or cannot, continue as the name sponsor on the theater, the CIM Group will likely seek to sell the naming rights to another business. Having the Oscars would be a huge calling card in such a negotiation, as it guarantees global brand exposure. That is the leverage the Academy believes gives it muscle in re-negotiating its contract.

On Friday, a spokesperson for the CIM Group said Kodak is current on its payments. The company declined to comment further, saying that its executives were unavailable due to the holiday.

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A decade ago, the Kodak deal was a coup for the Academy. After years of moving the Oscars among different venues, the new theater was designed by David Rockwell of the Rockwell Group and Theatre Projects Consultants in consultation with the Academy to create the perfect home for the annual telecast seen by more than 1 billion people worldwide. The first Oscar show held in the Kodak took place in March 2002. The next one takes place on Feb. 26, 2012.

The Kodak has significant advantages over some other Los Angeles theaters. It has one of the largest stages anywhere, which measures 113 feet wide by 60 feet deep. It has a special cockpit for camera, sound and stage management in the orchestra seating area. It also has underground cabling to connect it to trucks and other equipments outside the theater.

Losing the Oscars would be a big blow to the Hollywood & Highland center and owner CIM Group. The complex itself pays tribute to its most famous tenant. The grand staircase at the entrance to the theater is flanked by columns bearing the names of past best picture Oscar winners. In addition, a number of events have left the Kodak in recent years, including the American Idol finals, which moved to the Nokia Theater at L.A. Live downtown, which has about 7,000 seats – nearly twice the Kodak. A new Cirque Du Soleil production, Iris, has taken up residence at the theater. 

The decision on whether to stay in the Kodak comes at a time of major changes in Academy leadership. In April, Dawn Hudson replaced longtime executive director Bruce Davis, who retired. Since then, sources say the Academy has been looking at all aspects of its business and operations. The 2012 ceremony will be the last with Sherak as Academy president. He has been on the board for nine years and has been president for three years, and under the bylaws he cannot run again.

   When an attorney told Sherak that there was an option to be exercised if the Academy wanted to consider other theaters a decade after the original deal was signed, he discussed it with the new leadership and the board, who then made the decision to notify the Kodak that the Academy would not simply renew its deal.

The Academy governor who spoke with THR insists the group is not unhappy with the Kodak Theatre. It simply was a prudent business decision to explore all options. The group actually likes the venue, this person said, and prefers to keep the ceremony in Hollywood. But it will depend on the deal the group is offered in comparison to other possible arenas that are available.

Over the years, the Oscars have been held in both large and small venues, in Hollywood and elsewhere. The first Oscar ceremonies were held in 1929 at the Roosevelt Hotel, across the street from the Hollywood & Highland complex. The event, held as a banquet, then moved to the Ambassador and Biltmore Hotels.

Beginning in 1942, in order to accommodate more attendees, the ceremony and the banquet, now called the Governor’s Ball, were separated. In the mid-40s, the Oscars were held in Grauman’s Chinese Theater, which is adjacent to what is now the Hollywood & Highland mall. In 1949, the 21st awards were held in a theater owned by the Academy on Melrose Ave. It then moved to what was called the RKO Pantages Theater in Hollywood for 11 years. That was where the Oscars were held on March 19, 1953, the first year it became a television event as well.

In 1961, Oscars moved to the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. In 1969, the Academy Awards were held in the then-new 2,500-seat Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at the Music Center in downtown L.A. They remained there until 1987, when they moved to the larger Shrine Auditorium near the USC campus in downtown L.A. That venue accommodated more than 6,000 attendees.

The Oscars shifted back and forth between the Music Center and Shine until they moved in 2002 to the Kodak, which was announced as their new “permanent” home.

The Academy takes over the Kodak each winter for about one month, which includes time to prepare, hold the event and then to clear the theater. The rest of the year the Kodak is used as the permanent home of Iris, In theory, that show could go year around if the Oscars left.

Meanwhile, the Academy is busy with other projects that require funding, making the board even more conscious of the need to raise money and save cash wherever possible. Earlier this year the Academy announced plans for a new museum to be created in partnership with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It is to be in a former department store space near LACMA, the Petersen Automotive Museum and the George C. Page Museum. It is projected to be open in three years.

The Academy also is planning to build a new open air stadium that will show movies on real estate it owns in Hollywood not far from the Hollywood & Highland complex. That site was originally to be home to a much more ambitious movie museum but due to economic conditions never got built.

Email: Alex.Benblock@thr.com

Twitter: @ABBlock

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