Bill Kramer officially assumed his role as the Academy's new CEO on July 1, but he is already planning for next year's Oscars ceremony. "2023 is the 95th Oscars," he says in conversation with Elisa Osegueda, A.frame's Editor in Chief. "The energy around the show should feel like a massive celebration of cinema and the awards — our legacy, our artists, our movies, our future."
Kramer is equally focused on the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on a grander scale, including initiatives that he hopes will propel the organization into that next chapter. "We're at a critical moment in the history of the Academy and our industry," he says.
Kramer, who has a background in arts management and fundraising, previously served as Director and President of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, overseeing its successful launch in September of last year. His new role governs the entire Academy organization, including the Oscars, global membership, education and emerging talent initiatives, the Margaret Herrick Library and Academy Film Archive, and the Academy Museum, which now has Jacqueline Stewart as its Director and President.
Below, Kramer previews his vision for the Academy, including the importance of celebrating first-run films, continuing to center DEAI (diversity, equity and inclusion) in the Academy's work, and revitalizing the Oscars.
Elisa Osegueda: Congratulations on your recent promotion to CEO. I know you're just settling in, but have you had time to reflect on this moment?
Bill Kramer: I have, and it's truly the honor of a lifetime. I love the Academy, and I love the movies. Both have been a part of my life since I was a kid. My experience working on the Academy Museum project from 2012 to the present has been so inspiring – working with our membership and our outstanding collection as well as building such a stellar team at the Museum. Moving into the CEO role feels like a great extension of that work, and I'm excited to get started.
What would you say attracted you to this opportunity?
The Academy was founded in 1927 and the institution and the film community have seen many critical moments of change and uncertainty — the introduction of talkies, the new medium of television, the fall of the studio system, various moments of financial uncertainty, the lack of diversity in Oscars nominees. We are at another pivotal moment. The pandemic has upended the film industry, our ABC deal will be renegotiated in the coming years, and people are engaging with movies in different ways. The Academy needs to be a unifying space for the industry to come together, map out a sustainable future, and galvanize our incredible membership. It's a moment of great opportunity.
The industry, our membership, the Academy and the Oscars are all linked in the cinematic ecosystem.
You've talked about the importance of a healthy industry and a healthy Oscars. What does that look like to you?
The Academy and our membership ARE the industry — an international industry, and a much more diverse industry than we've seen in the past. The Academy can and should be a unifying force for our members and the industry: we need to support first-run films in an equitable way; we need to produce an Oscars show that celebrates the collaborative work of the industry; we need to develop and empower diverse emerging film artists and professionals; and we need to preserve and celebrate our legacy and history in honest and powerful ways. We need to galvanize the resources that only the Academy has — our 10,000+ international members, the world’s largest film-related collection, our brilliant film museum, our vital impact and inclusion programs, and the Oscars, which is still the most coveted award for cinematic excellence in the world — to ensure the sustainability and health of the film community. The industry, our membership, the Academy and the Oscars are all linked in the cinematic ecosystem.
How would you define the Academy's mission today?
As written now, the Academy’s mission is to recognize and uphold excellence in the motion picture arts and sciences, inspire imagination, and connect the world through the medium of motion pictures. This is broad and, of course, encompasses our work. But, when I think about the work in front of us, and I am starting to work with our Board of Governors on this, our areas of focus include: galvanize the global film industry and our membership, build new audiences for the movies, reinvigorate the Oscars, celebrate and steward the collaborative artistry of moviemaking, help envision a new, inclusive, and equitable future for the industry, and build a sustainable organization with a diversified base of support that will thrive long into the future.
The pandemic has ushered in a new era for movie watching — films are now released on streaming services as well as in theaters, and this has already had an effect on eligibility for the Oscars. How do you see that evolving as a factor moving forward?
The theatrical experience is so important to our membership and to fully experiencing the arts and sciences of moviemaking. Watching movies is a communal experience. And, as movie theaters have reopened around the country, we have brought back the theatrical requirement for the 2023 Oscars. I believe that a healthy theatrical environment is critical to the success of the industry and the Oscars. That being said, streaming allows for larger and more diverse audiences to watch movies. There is great value in that. Theatrical and streaming will continue to coexist, but now that the pandemic is becoming more manageable and people are returning to theaters, I think you will continue to see a theatrical requirement for eligibility.
Do you foresee a space where streaming may become a potential home for the Oscars telecast?
The Oscars are a live television show and there are already streaming extensions of the show. Our partner company, Disney-ABC, has two great streaming services — Disney+ and Hulu. Streaming gives the show a life beyond the live broadcast — but nothing replicates the experience of watching the Oscars live. I love the idea of the world coming together around cinema — not unlike what the Olympics and the Super Bowl do for sports. I think this model will continue to evolve, and linear and streaming will coexist together for the foreseeable future. A lot of this is tied to ad sales and how to provide the most value for our sponsors. I look forward to working with Disney-ABC to define what this looks like moving forward.
Fans had a lot of feedback regarding the Oscar Fan Favorite category and the presentation of select categories not being shown live. What can you share about your vision for next year's Oscars?
2023 is the 95th Oscars and the energy around the show should feel like a massive celebration of cinema and the awards — our legacy, our artists, our movies, our future. We are already hard at work with our partners at Disney-ABC on the show. I would love to see: all artistic and scientific disciplines honored on the show; past Oscar winners on stage; celebrations of iconic past wins; and an emotional investment in the nominees. I think bringing on producers for multiple years is advisable and we are working on that as well. The 95th gives us a great opportunity to knit together the incredible legacy of the Oscars, the diverse and powerful work we do across the Academy, and our vision for the future.
2023 is the 95th Oscars and the energy around the show should feel like a massive celebration of cinema and the awards — our legacy, our artists, our movies, our future.
Let's dive into you as a leader. How would you describe your leadership style?
The Academy is a complex organization — with a dynamic group of stakeholders. It is so important to be transparent and to provide goals and clarity with the Academy team and with our leadership groups (the Board of Governors, the Academy Museum Board, and others). In service to creating clear goals and objectives for the institution, I try to create a sense of collaboration. We should all be working in tandem around shared ideals and priorities. That is so critical. I love promoting from within when possible, and I love building a sustainable organizational structure. I also think it's really important to listen, pull in new ideas and points of view, and empower team members to excel and thrive. And I'm definitely ready to roll up my sleeves and do the work — that is very satisfying.
The Museum was a huge undertaking — there was a lot that had to be accomplished in order to open. Is there something that you're most proud of?
I take great pride in the museum and the phenomenal work of the entire Academy Museum team. What we were able to accomplish — and continue to accomplish — during the pandemic is remarkable. The museum team is so incredibly dedicated and talented.
I love that we are getting audiences back into the theater to watch movies. When we opened, many movie theaters were still closed, and it has been amazing to see how many people are coming to enjoy such a wide variety of classic films, experimental films, Oscar-winners, and more at the museum. It is so gratifying to see people in our theaters sharing the experience of watching a film that they may have only seen on TV or streaming. I love how these shared experiences really define movie-going.
And our exhibitions are so rich, dynamic, diverse and powerful — and equitable across branches. I am so looking forward to some of our upcoming exhibitions, including The Godfather, Boyz N The Hood, Casablanca, Ann Roth, Hollywoodland (about the history of the studio system), and Regeneration: Black Cinema 1898-1971.
What can visitors expect as the Museum heads into its new phase with Jacqueline Stewart stepping into your former role as Director and President?
Oh, we won't miss a beat. Jacqueline's been an incredible partner for the last few years as our Chief Artistic and Programming Officer, and so much of what you see in the Museum right now has been created by Jacqueline and her team. Moving forward, you will see more of what we've created over the first year: incredible screenings and public programs, brilliant film publications, robust K-12 education programs, major community initiatives, and dynamic, rigorous, and robust rotations in our galleries.
I think it's so critical to the future of our industry to have diverse voices in all areas of our moviemaking industry — behind the camera, in front of the camera, and in executive offices.
The Academy has made strides towards prioritizing diversity and inclusion in many areas, including membership, the Museum, and public programs. What can you share about these efforts and how will they evolve over the years?
I think it's so critical to the future of our industry to have diverse voices in all areas of our moviemaking industry — behind the camera, in front of the camera, and in executive offices. The Academy’s talent development programs (Academy Gold) and our K-12 educational programs in the Museum are incredible pipeline programs that are designed to discover, elevate, and empower emerging and underrepresented voices in cinema. In addition, a commitment to DEAI is deeply embedded in our hiring, our membership efforts, our collections, and our museum programming and exhibitions. We are striving to build a more holistic and representative industry, and I'm so proud of this work. Last month, Jeanell English was elevated to EVP of Impact and Inclusion to oversee so many of these efforts. We are prioritizing this work in a big way.
What would you say are the biggest strengths of the Academy right now?
We have the largest film-related collection in the world, more than 10,000 international members who are film artists and professionals helping to define the future of cinema, the world's biggest and best film museum, and the Oscars — the most coveted award for cinematic excellence in the world. Along with a dedicated and engaged team of professionals working at the Academy and an incredible Board of Governors, we have the resources to bring the industry together in powerful and meaningful ways.
Earlier, you said that you love this industry and you love films. What was that movie experience that made you fall in love with films?
I grew up in Maryland, far away from the industry, but we were a big movie-going family. Going to the movies was our form of entertainment — Jaws, Close Encounters, E.T., Star Wars, were all seminal movies of my youth. In high school, my friends and I would drive into Baltimore and Washington D.C. to watch classic films. That's how I discovered Citizen Kane, Harold and Maude, Klute, The 400 Blows, and so many other films I still turn to today. Moving to Austin for college only furthered my cinematic education. There were so many rep and independent theaters in Austin. It's where I discovered the Coen brothers, Spike Lee, Pedro Almodóvar, Jim Jarmusch, and so many more moviemakers who opened my eyes to new worlds and experiences.
Also, my grandmother knew I was a film lover, and, throughout high school, she would bring me Variety and Billboard every week. I would pore over them – I loved all of the rankings and lists (I'm a numbers guy at heart). I think without realizing it, I was investigating the industry without even a real knowledge that there was an industry behind all of it. I just loved the finished product.
Working at the Academy allows me to work with some of my personal heroes and to contribute to this incredible legacy and community of filmmakers. It has confirmed my love of this art form and this industry.
Do you remember the first time you watched a film and you felt seen or represented?
Stephen Frears' My Beautiful Laundrette. Although the circumstances of the two leads were very different than mine, I related to their relationship. It’s a seminal queer film.
After it's all said and done, what do you hope your legacy to be?
When I leave the Academy, I would love to have created a unifying organization — for our members, the industry, and movie lovers — that is sustainable and that accurately represents the complexity and diversity of our world.
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