AHC 2016 Interview: Cheryl Boone Isaacs, President, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

on January 20, 2016


Currently serving her third term as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), Cheryl Boone Isaacs is a seasoned veteran of the film industry. Her storied career includes tenures as executive vice president of worldwide publicity for Paramount Pictures and president of theatrical marketing for New Line Cinema. Today, Boone Isaacs also acts as governor of the academy's public relations branch, a post she has held for 23 years, and heads the film marketing consultancy CBI Industries. BoxOffice spoke with Boone Isaacs ahead of her keynote address at Art House Convergence.

Interview by Daniel Loria

What is the importance of art-house theaters in today's film industry?

Two words right off the bat: very important. And I do believe that. I grew up in a world prior to multiplexes. I grew up in a medium-sized town in Massachusetts, and so much of my moviegoing experience was at a single-screen theater. When I lived in San Francisco, a big part of my moviegoing experience was at art-house theaters. I think it's terrific that there is this movement, because it wasn't that long ago that people were saying the single-theater experience was on its way out. I think it's important overall for the entire industry to have a very healthy independent-theater organization.

Since the beginning, the Academy Awards have helped market the cinema-going experience to the general public. And for a while, especially early on, it helped legitimize the cinema as an art form for mass audiences. Today, however, cinema isn't exclusively tied to moviegoing as it once was. What role do the Academy Awards play in promoting that moviegoing experience today?

With regard to our present rules, a film must play theatrically in Los Angeles for seven days in order to qualify. That is still our basic rule of inclusion for recognition by the academy. A film can qualify regardless of whether it's played in four thousand screens or two theaters; for us what matters is that it has been played for a general audience for at least those seven days. I'm always asked if that's ever going to change. I have no idea. Right now, these are the rules that we have. There's a lot of talk right now about the theatrical experience changing. Yes, it is changing, but when you have films grossing over $100 million over three- or four-day periods, it's hard for me to believe that this experience is actually waning. I think that the idea and the camaraderie and the communal experience of watching a movie with others is something that we humans really like. I think that experience will never go away.

It can be frustrating to read how the academy is portrayed in some outlets, as this monolithic bloc making unilateral decisions. We know that's not the case; each of the craft branches has its own voice, tendencies, and regulations. There remains a public perception problem, however, with audiences calling for more diversity on the screen and behind the camera.

It's an industry-wide issue, that's for sure. Studios and production companies really need to look at the audience they serve, because this is a business of serving that audience. I think the production entities need to widen their view of what is talent and start hiring, mentoring, and promoting-not only hiring, but promoting-different voices. The cinema experience is expanding quite a bit, especially in Asia and Africa. Folks like to see stories about themselves and others, because at the core we like to experience other people's journeys-whether it be in a documentary or a big-budget feature film. It's all about entertainment, and it comes in very different forms.

What upcoming projects are on your agenda?

Our biggest one is our museum, the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, which is scheduled to open in early 2018. We're very excited about this project; it's a very big one for us. As you are aware, there hasn't been a museum dedicated to this art form in its hometown, and I do consider the hometown to be Hollywood, even though movies are made around the world.


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