Cinematographer John Bailey named as new Oscars chief

Cinematographer John Bailey attending a screening of Groundhog Day at Oscars Outdoors in Hollywood, on June 29, 2013.
Cinematographer John Bailey attending a screening of Groundhog Day at Oscars Outdoors in Hollywood, on June 29, 2013. PHOTO: ACADEMY OF MOTION PICTURE ARTS AND SCIENCES

LOS ANGELES (NYTimes) - Hollywood has a new de facto mayor: cinematographer John Bailey, who was elected to a one-year term as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on Tuesday night.

The academy's 54-member board, which includes luminaries like Steven Spielberg and Whoopi Goldberg, chose Bailey, 74, whose credits stretch from Ordinary People in 1980 to How To Be A Latin Lover in April, to succeed Cheryl Boone Isaacs, who was ineligible for re-election. Boone Isaacs, who turns 68 this month, was president for four consecutive one-year terms, the maximum. She also left the academy's board.

The job of academy president is largely ceremonial. It is unpaid and meant to be part time. The actual running of the organisation falls to Dawn Hudson, who works under contract (one that was recently renewed through 2020) as chief executive. It was primarily Hudson, for instance, who handled the fallout in February, when a bungled envelope handoff led to the wrong film being announced as Best Picture at the Academy Awards. (The winner was Moonlight and not La La Land.) But Bailey will serve as the public face of an institution that faces an array of challenges.

The academy's long-delayed movie museum is finally rising on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, but the organisation still needs to raise a large portion of its US$388 million (S$529 million) cost. The Academy Awards have experienced slumping ratings, in part because members ignore mass-market films in favour of art-house nominees. Will the group finally embrace Netflix as a member of the Hollywood club? Some hard-liners say no way, no how; others point out that Netflix plans to make 50 original movies a year.

Most of all, Bailey will be expected to serve as a voice on the topics of race and gender - two things few people in Hollywood want to discuss in the open, largely because the entertainment industry has such a long history of exclusion. In wake of the #OscarsSoWhite storms, Boone Isaacs helped mount an effort to double female and minority membership in the organisation by 2020. But even after two years of the initiative, the academy remains 72 percent male and 87 percent white.

Hudson and Boone Isaacs often clashed, with Boone Isaacs seen as taking a more conservative approach to academy affairs. Whether Bailey will have a better working relationship with Hudson is unknown. He has been on the academy's board for 14 years, recently serving as a vice president. He has never been nominated for an Oscar.

His election represents a victory for the academy's less-visible contingent of "below the line" artists - those who are not actors, writers, directors or producers - many of whom have felt overlooked in Hollywood. Under the academy's sometimes stuffy rituals, board members are not allowed to openly seek the job of president. But whisper campaigns are rampant, and most Hollywood insiders had expected actress Laura Dern to be named president. Other contenders included documentary film-maker Rory Kennedy and longtime casting director David Rubin.

Bailey, who received the American Society of Cinematographers Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014, will help lead the academy with the assistance of Oscar-winning makeup artist Lois Burwell, who was elected first vice president. Serving as vice presidents will be Lucasfilm chief Kathleen Kennedy, music editor Michael Tronick and Fox Searchlight president Nancy Utley.