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Former Academy Exec Director Offers Tips for Giving a Good Oscar Acceptance Speech

"My rule is you get three thank-yous. It means if you are going to thank a deity, you may have to drop your mom," he says at the ICG Emerging Cinematographer Awards.

Bruce Davis
Amanda Edwards/Getty Images

After 22 years as executive director of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Bruce Davis knows a lot about awards shows -- and acceptance speeches. And so on Sunday at the International Cinematographers Guild’s Emerging Cinematographer Awards, Davis, who retired from his Academy post at the end of June, kicked off the event with a humorous address during which he offered Hollywood’s next generation some tips on giving acceptance speeches.

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His top piece of advice: Try to have something to say. “There is a strategy that potential winners sometime employ, which is called ‘I’m sure I’ll think of something great once I get up there.’ History teaches us that you will not. It simply doesn’t happen,” he said as the audience at the DGA theater exploded with laughter. “You will stammer; you will embarrass yourselves -- and those of us in the audience will be covering our eyes and looking down.

“Think about it a little,” he added. “After all, this is a time you can get up and say something heartfelt about whatever the product was that won you the award.”

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His second point: This is not about gratitude. “It used to be called an acceptance speech, and now we call it a thank-you speech. That’s heading in the wrong direction,” Davis said. “My rule is you get three thank-yous. It means if you are going to thank a deity, you may have to drop your mom. And frankly, neither one of them really had a helluva lot to do with the project you were working on. Give them a nice call afterwards.”

Davis’ final point: Keep it short. “You will never in your life run into a person who says, ‘I wish you had gone on for another half-hour,” he said. “Short, significant ... and people will remember you with great affection.”

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During the evening -- which was hosted by ICG president Steven Poster and ECA committee chairman Jim Matlosz -- Emerging Cinematographer Awards were handed out to Steve Romano for String TheoryDavid Mahlman for NumbYueni Zander for Dead Grass, Dry RootsAlison Kelly for Spring of SorrowJoseph Arena for AppleboxGregory Wilson for Somewhere ElseStefan Tarzan for Absaroka; and Michael Nie for Not Your Time.

Abe Martinez (Little Candy Hearts) and Brian O’Carroll (8for Infinity) received honorable mentions.

A jury of leading cinematographers selected Absaroka and String Theory as the best films of the evening.

A screening of the ECA films will be held Oct. 2 at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York.