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Tom Sherak on His 8 Biggest Challenges as Academy President (Q&A)

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7. OSCAR HOST MUSICAL CHAIRS

THR: It must have been pretty traumatic when you had to replace the Oscar producer, Brett Ratner, and Oscar host Eddie Murphy last year?

Sherak: It wasn’t as difficult as people make it seem. I’ll tell you why. When he resigned, word got out right away and I started getting phone calls: “You need help; I’ll do it. If you need help, I’ll do it.” And I don’t even pick the host, the producer picks the host. But the bottom line was, I was getting calls from hosts saying if “you need me to fill in for Eddie Murphy I’m there for you, members of the Academy.”

I sat back, and I remember it was the first time in my career that I didn’t return a press call. The first time in all the years I’ve been out here, since ’83, the first time. ... If a press person calls me, I give them the respect of calling them back. I do. They’ve got a job to do. But for the first time I went into a complete press blackout. The reason was I knew if I could get this done quickly, the stories about Brett would stop faster because now you want to talk about the new people. So I didn’t panic. He resigned on Tuesday, and on Thursday we were introducing the new producers and the host. So what panic could I have had?

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And the other thing was, at the same time, which a lot of people seem to not remember, Brett Ratner was working on a movie, Tower Heist. So he was in postproduction, and he was selling the movie. Don Mischer, who had done it the year before as a director and producer, who had already been put on the show with Brett, had been doing all the heavy lifting already. So it wasn’t like we lost any time because Brett was out.

THR: Were you happy with the show Billy Crystal did as host?

Sherak: I was very happy with the show Brian [Grazer] and Don and Michael Rosenberg, who was an associate producer, did. I felt the four of them, with Billy, did a great job.

8. DIVERSITY

THR: One problem the Academy has not solved is how to be more diverse. What do you think?

Sherak: There’s only one way. This is another mission of Dawn. When Dawn spoke to the officers before we hired her, one of her things she talked about is diversity and how do we do that.

It took me a while to understand how the Academy can deal with diversity. The Academy is an organization of excellence, and that excellence comes from the people who make the movies. We don’t make movies. So if the industry is all white, then the people who are going to be members of the organization are going to be white. The bottom line is, and everybody know this, that the people who make movies have to bring people in people who are of color. But those people have to want to be in the industry; it’s a good industry to be in.

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How, as an Academy, can we help that happen? Well there’s only one way -- and that is to support schools, high schools and colleges, all over. Not just the big ones. And get people of color who want to be cinematographers, and get them to want to meet people who want them to be visual effects artists. How do you get them in the business? You try to give them the ability to learn about the business and give them jobs, figure out how to give them internships, how to give them scholarships to schools to learn how to be a cinematographer. That’s what we can do to help diversity. And once in, when they are good at what they do, they will rise to the top. And we have to help them get in.

The way to do that is by doing what we do now, to a lesser extent: We give scholarships to schools, we give fellowships to screenwriting, we give internships, we give grants for festivals. There’s so many things we do that people don’t even know about. We must support diversity underneath so that it grows into our industry. And when somebody goes out and they want to make a movie, they say, 'What about him?' and he’s a Latino -- and, by the way, he’s really good at what he does. That’s what we’re working on; that’s how you help diversity in our business. It’s the only way. We don’t control movies; that’s not who we are. We can help, and we’re going to help.

Email: Alex.Benblock@thr.com