Oscar night funds academy’s other projects

Certainly, Academy Awards night is one of the most glamorous of the year, but the ceremony does far more than offer up red carpet glitz and golden statuettes.

Those three-plus hours of television also fund a year’s worth of philanthropic endeavors for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

With the license fee somewhere north of $65 million that ABC pays for the rights to air the Oscars, the academy funds an entire year’s worth of projects that fulfill the organization’s original mission: to promote the art and science of filmmaking.

“The awards are one night; the place goes on for 364 more days,” says academy President Tom Sherak, pointing out that the nonprofit organization doesn’t fund-raise throughout the year. “That award night pays for the entire organization.”

A year’s worth of concerns for the group include preserving film history, screening films for the public, developing young talent and keeping up with the technologies of the future.

Sherak, whose four-year term started just last year, says that among his chief concerns for the industry are film preservation and the changeover to digital cinema. The organization, he points out, recently funded a study on digital storage that looks at the compatibility and reliability of the technology in terms of what issues might arise down the road.

“Decisions we make today are going to be the ones that are going to last for decades,” he says.

Preserving the past

While many eyes are on the future of the business, safeguarding the past is of equal importance. In addition to retaining prints of nearly every best picture Oscar winner since the ceremony started in 1929, the academy has literally millions of film-related items dating to the industry’s inception.

“The academy has 10 million photographs, 100 million press-clip files, 80,000 screenplays, 34,000 movie posters -- stuff that never should be allowed to die,” Sherak says.

Stuff that should, in fact, probably be in a museum. Although in 2007 the organization consulted an architect and drew up plans for an 8-acre campus adjacent to the existing Pickford Center in Hollywood, the Museum of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has been put on indefinite hold, until the needed construction funds can be raised.

“You can’t have a future without a past or a present. You can’t forget the people that have come before you,” Sherak says. “The board believes that the history of our business is something that will interest people. We are going to build a museum, [but] right now it’s on hold.”

Rewarding writers

In the meantime, the academy has plenty of philanthropic programs to keep its members busy, the most prestigious of which is the Don and Gee Nicholls Fellowships in Screenwriting. Offered to screenwriters who have earned less than $5,000 writing for film or TV, the Nicholls Fellowship gives $30,000 to five writers a year and counts Allison Anders (“Mi vida loca”)and “Erin Brockovich” screenwriter Susannah Grant among its previous recipients.

“I’ve been on the board for six years now, and I went to my first Nicholls award winners dinner this year. I listened to the stories about the adversities they went through and their passion for writing, and I realized just how much we do as an organization,” Sherak says.

The academy reaches out to the community at large as well, offering retrospectives, lectures and exhibitions to film enthusiasts (usually free or for a nominal fee).

For instance, the group premiered a restored print of “Citizen Kane” as part of a sold-out tribute to visual-effects pioneer Linwood Dunn. And with an eye toward the academy’s decision to have 10 best picture nominees this year, the Grand Lobby Gallery at academy headquarters is exhibiting posters from an eclectic mix of best picture nominees from 1936 through ’43, when the number of nominees was anywhere from three to 12.

Other public services include providing grants to film festivals and colleges, creating film-related internships for college students -- such as this year’s position at Pixar Animation Studios -- and reaching out to high schoolers to create a broader media literacy.

During past president Sid Ganis’ term, the outreach went worldwide, including sending members of different branches to learn about such far-flung film industries as those in Iran and Vietnam and inviting foreign filmmakers to the U.S. The Iranian exchange culminated in a five-night screening and discussion series.

“They’re not political, we’re not political, so it makes it really comfortable to express ideas about the movie business,” Sherak says. “It makes us whole; it makes us who we want to be.”