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On Tuesday night, Aug. 7, the 54 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ board of governors will gather inside the board room on the seventh floor of the organization’s Wilshire Boulevard headquarters in Beverly Hills, and, under the oversight of their general counsel, Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, vote to determine officers for the coming year.
John Bailey, the veteran cinematographer who was elected president for the first time a year ago, is expected to be re-elected by the board, probably without having to face any challenger. There’s no official campaigning that precedes the board meeting; instead, individual members rise to nominate prospective officers and a vote then takes place. So, even in contested elections, candidates don’t formally emerge until the night of the election itself.
An incumbent president seeking re-election is almost always granted another term, although there is a faction on the board who feel that Bailey has been resistant to change and who would like to throw their support behind an alternative — names that have been floated include actress Laura Dern and documentarian Rory Kennedy — even if it is a symbolic candidacy. But so far no one appears to have confirmed any interest in taking on that role.
Bailey, whose credits include the best picture Oscar winner Ordinary People and fan favorites like The Big Chill and Groundhog Day, has a long history of service to the board, from whom officers are selected. The board itself is comprised of three governors from each of 17 branches who each serve staggered three-year terms. (Bailey’s wife, Carol Littleton, is also a current board member, representing the film editors branch.)
Bailey was first elected to the board in 1996, and then was re-elected in 1999, serving until 2002. After eight years away, he ran again and won in 2010 and was subsequently re-elected in 2013 and once more in 2016. While Academy presidents can serve as many as four, successive one-year terms, governors can serve no more than three consecutive terms, so Bailey will have to step away from the board next year, meaning his presidency would end at the completion of his second year.
According to several governors with whom THR spoke, the board is deeply divided. About one-third of the governors see themselves as ideologically aligned with Bailey, another one-third do not and the final third are not firmly in one camp or the other.
Bailey’s allies on the board appreciate his years of service, and include many fellow governors who represent “below-the-line” branches — craftspeople and artisans who are not household names, but without whom the industry would not function. Collectively, they outnumber the Academy’s largest branch, the actors’, both in total members and board votes. And over the years, those branches have generally banded together to protect their mutual interests, including keeping the presentation of awards recognizing their respective areas on the Oscars telecast alongside higher-profile categories.
In the wake of March’s Academy Awards, the lowest-rated Oscars telecast in history, an effort is being mounted by some Academy insiders to have at least a few of those below-the-line awards handed out prior to the live telecast, and to then air highlights of those awards’ presentations and acceptance speeches as brief interstitials before or after commercial breaks throughout the live show itself. (That is how many of the less sexy categories are handled on the Tony Awards telecast.) Such a move would undoubtedly make the Oscars telecast shorter and more engaging for the vast majority of TV viewers — but would also undoubtedly provoke massive resistance from governors representing the below-the-line branches, who expect equal treatment, and who therefore like the idea of having one of their own, like Bailey, at the top of the Academy food-chain.
As for Bailey’s detractors — who include some of the governors representing “above-the-line” branches, among others — they see him as as a symbol of the Academy’s past: He’s an older white man (he will turn 76 on Aug. 10) at a time when the Academy has placed a huge emphasis on increasing its diversity. However, in June, under Bailey’s watch, the Academy invited its largest and most diverse class of new members ever.
Bailey’s first term hasn’t transpired without drama. In March, he contended with a complaint of sexual harassment that was lodged against him under procedures that he himself had a role in creating in order to deal with claims against Academy members. That allegation was leaked to the press shortly after it was filed — but before it could be investigated. After that investigation took place, Bailey was publicly cleared by the board.
Other officers who are expected to be re-elected at the upcoming board meeting include first vice president Lois Burwell (of the makeup artists and hairstylists branch), vice president Michael Tronick (film editors), vice president Nancy Utley (public relations), treasurer Jim Gianopulos (executives) and secretary David Rubin (casting directors). In that case, the only current slot that will be up for grabs is one of the vice president positions — it was held this past year by producer Kathleen Kennedy, but she chose not seek re-election to the board in June.
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