Message to the Academy: Don't Compromise Standards, Say Two Women Members (Podcast)

Marcia Nasatir and Bonnie Arnold Split - H 2015
AP Images

Marcia Nasatir and Bonnie Arnold Split - H 2015

In the wake of the news that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is fielding its most diverse Board of Governors candidates and extended invitations for membership to the most diverse group on record, two female members of the organization said — during the taping of the fifth installment of The Hollywood Reporter's podcast "The Geezer and The Kid" — that they hope the Academy will not compromise its high standards just to make its demographics more palatable to the public.

"I think we spend too much time saying, 'There are five women, 12 African-Americans, three Latinos, 12 Asians,'" asserted Marcia Nasatir, who became the first female VP of production at a Hollywood studio, United Artists, back in the 1970s (and currently co-hosts this podcast with yours truly). "I think that's the wrong way to look at it, really." She insisted that it is not the job of the Academy to paint a rosier picture of the industry — in which many women and minorities still struggle to find work — than actually exists: "They [the Academy] can't choose people who don't have jobs."

Bonnie Arnold, the Oscar-nominated producer who recently became DreamWorks Animation's co-president of feature animation, and who co-hosted this installment of the podcast, echoed those sentiments: "Being able to get into the Academy and being a member is a huge personal achievement in terms of what you've accomplished in your career — that's how I grew up thinking, that that was the penultimate moment, when I was able to be accepted into the Academy, because it was about achievement. Forget that I was a woman, forget all that — it was about personal, professional achievement."

Arnold continued, "I think the challenge is that people that worked hard in their careers to become members of the Academy don't want to see that piece of it compromised, honestly. I am speaking for myself — this is my personal opinion. But I do think, 'Is there a balance between that and making the Academy feel more representative of the people that are seeing films?' That's the balancing act. The challenge of the members of the Academy, when they vote and when they accept new members, is keeping that in mind plus also maintaining the level of professional achievement — the standard — that's required to be a member."

These trailblazing women both are from the South — Nasatir is a Texan, Arnold a Georgian — but are products of different generations and have traversed different paths. Nasatir was an exec who became a producer, Arnold is the reverse. They were excited to share each other's company. Arnold described Nasatir as a personal role model: "It is an honor to be here sitting with Marcia because she is truly an icon, especially for women, and she's somebody I've enjoyed having the chance to even meet and know a little bit. She's somebody I've always looked up to and respected her career and her great taste." And Nasatir expressed her admiration for how Arnold worked her way out to Hollywood and succeeded in both live action and animation, two very different worlds.

Arnold shared that her career began in Atlanta, where she apprenticed on several films, including one for producer Ray Stark, before heading out to Hollywood to work for David Picker. She became an associate producer on live-action films, including 1990's Dances with Wolves, which went on to win the best picture Oscar, and the 1992 box-office hit The Addams Family, before transitioning into the world of animation. She initially was recruited to Disney, where she worked for Jeffrey Katzenberg [now the CEO of DreamWorks Animation] before teaming up with John Lasseter [now the CCO of Disney-Pixar] to serve as a producer on the first computer-animated feature, Pixar's Toy Story. "Nobody had ever seen anything quite like it," she proudly recalls 20 years later. She went on to produce, among other animated projects, 1999's Tarzan for Disney and, for DWA, 2006's Over the Hedge, 2010's How to Train Your Dragon and last year's How to Train Your Dragon 2, earning a best animated feature Oscar nom for the latter. (She is one of the few people who has worked at a senior level at all three major animation companies.

Now six months into her new role managing a six-film slate divided into two releases per year, Arnold says she's having a blast: "It's kind of fun to oversee what's going on," she says. "I liken myself to the bumpers in the bowling lanes — you know, just make sure the ball is sort of going down the middle of the lane, right? And if it can hit the pins, you're doing good — just keep the ball out of the gutter!" (The first DWA film released during her watch, Home, was a bona fide hit.) She says she has taken to heart the advice, "Don't try to do your old job," but reveals she is granting herself one exception: "I'm going to be involved in producing the third How to Train Your Dragon film [due out in 2018], only because it is my baby, mine and Dean DeBlois' — he's going to be writing and directing — and I couldn't part with that. It's too important and I feel very much a part of that. I'm the mom of the crew there!"

Nasatir, meanwhile, reflected on her first half-year on the job as an exec at United Artists, during which she worked on One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) and Rocky (1976) — both of which went on to win a best picture Oscar — while, as the only woman in most meeting rooms, also encountering sexism.

Arnold also expounded upon the process of making an animated film versus the process of making a live action film (sharing the fun fact that at DWA, "Every animator has a mirror in their office"); the special art of voice acting for animated films (discussing the case of Home, which featured the vocal talents of Jim Parsons, Rihanna and Steve Martin); and the shift, during the course of her career, away from hand-drawn and toward computer animation, and away from 2D presentation of animated films in favor of 3D.

At the end of the conversation, each participant offered shout-outs to films he or she had recently enjoyed. Arnold recommended Ex Machina, the low-budget sci-fi pic, as well as several animated films she recently caught at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival in Annecy, France, where she served on the shorts jury but also caught features. She had kind words for Pixar's Inside Out ("Pixar — pat on the back — always does an amazing job of making it fun and enjoyable and entertaining to watch, but also having it be about something"), Universal's Minions ("an absolute laugh riot") and GKids' The Prophet, stating, "The animated feature race is shaping up to be interesting."

Nasatir re-endorsed Woman in Gold, The Weinstein Co.'s story about a Holocaust survivor's fight for justice (for which Helen Mirren is already being pushed for a best actress Oscar nom), while I applauded Love & Mercy, Roadside Attractions' unconventional biopic of The Beach Boys' singer-songwriter Brian Wilson (which has generated rave reviews, if also lukewarm ticket sales).

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Thank you for checking out this episode of "The Geezer and The Kid." Completionists can listen to episode one, which dealt with the 87th Academy Awards and 50 Shades of Grey, by clicking here; episode two, about the films of 2015's first quarter, by clicking here; episode three (co-hosted by Howard Rodman), about the size of the best picture Oscar category, by clicking here; and episode four (co-hosted by Geoffrey Fletcher), about racial and gender inequality in Hollywood, by clicking here. If you leave questions and/or observations in the comments section below, Marcia and I will be sure to acknowledge them. (We can also be reached via Twitter — me @ScottFeinberg and Marcia @MarciaNasatir.) Our thanks, as always, to our terrific podcast producers Jessie Katz and Beverly Neal.