Dawn Hudson, the newly named CEO of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, wasn’t looking for a new job when the Academy’s search committee first reached out to her a few months ago. She’d been serving as executive director of Film Independent, the Los Angeles-based non-profit devoted to fostering independent film-making, and said Friday, “I love my job here and love Film Independent, but it was intriguing, and it certainly was flattering, to think about working in an arts institution that has such reach and a global platform.”
Meanwhile, Ric Robertson, who has worked at the Academy for 30 years, was also contemplating his future. As the organization’s executive administrator since 1981, he’d been serving as right-hand man to the its executive director Bruce Davis, who announced his intention to retire in October, setting the search for new leadership in motion.
While Robertson was considered the in-house heir apparent, the Academy, under the leadership of its current president Tom Sherak, decided to conduct a full-fledged executive search, which meant considering dozens of outside candidates.
Ultimately, at a board of governors Thursday night, the Academy decided the job that Davis was vacating had grown too big for one-person and decided to create a new executive structure that would bring in Hudson as CEO to take advantage of her experience growing an arts organization,, while retaining Robertson by naming him COO so as not to lose his vast institutional knowledge.
“We decided we needed a different kind of structure because that’s the way a bigger organization operates,” Sherak explained.
Hudson has nurtured Film Independent, originally known as IFP/Los Angeles, from a group that had 900 members to one that now has 5,000 and an annual budget of $8 million. It produces both the annual Spirit Awards and the Los Angeles Film Festival while also supporting a year-round program of filmmaker labs, mentorship programs and educational events.
But in her now role she’ll be stepping up to guiding an organization with 6,000 members, 250 employees and an annual budget of around $70 million, the bulk of which is paid for by the annual Oscar cast.
Contemplating the challenge ahead, she declined to reveal any specifics on her agenda since she doesn’t step into the new role until June 1. “I’m still the executive director at Film Independent. We’re putting on a film festival June 16, and we just announced a new film program with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art that I’m really excited about. There’s a lot of good work here on my plate right now, but, of course, I’m excited about this opportunity. It’s one of the most exciting opportunities you could have if you love film and this art form. I feel like I will be able to expand on the work I love doing here at Film Independent on a global platform.”
Robertson wasn’t prepared to offer specifics, either, but did say, “The Academy has seen tremendous growth over the 22 years that Bruce has been in his job and I’ve been in mine. Now, we need to take a hard look at the organizational structure and the staff structure and make some changes there. I’m hoping to free myself up from some of the direct reports that I currently manage so I can think more strategically about the future of the Academy.”
Before Sherak and the rest of the executive committee brought their recommendations to the board, they did have to decide whether Hudson and Robertson would hit it off together. And since neither really knew the other, Sherak set up a couple of meetings so that he could introduce them and they could get to know each other.
“I really like him and feel we’re very simpatico,” Hudson said of their first encounters, while Robertson testified, “She’s really smart and has got great energy. Obviously what she’s done with Film Independent in growing that organization is tremendous. She’s got a proven track record in leading an arts non-profit.”
Calling the new team “the ideal combination of new vision and institutional continuity,” Sherak said that the board realized the new structure would work only if “there was a positive connection between the two people running the organization.” But after those first couple of meetings between Hudson and Robertson, Sherak said, “they had a connect.”
Now, that the Academy has solved its succession question, Film Independent will face the same challenge.
The group’s executive committee met Friday, at a previously scheduled meeting, but no decision was reached about either appointing an interim director or calling in a search firm.