It's a sea change at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
In a surprise move announced late Thursday night, the academy went outside its organization and named Dawn Hudson, the head of Film Independent, to fill the chief executive position being vacated by retiring executive director Bruce Davis. Davis' longtime second in command, Ric Robertson, will be chief operating officer and will report to Hudson. The two will take over on June 1.
The Board of Governors made the decision after a six-month search process in which the academy's officers — including producer Sid Ganis, screenwriter Phil Robinson, producer Hawk Koch, director Jim Brooks, actress Annette Bening and academy President Tom Sherak — interviewed a slew of potential candidates.
Hudson has spent the majority of her professional career at Film Independent, the nonprofit organization that serves as an advocate for independent film and produces the annual Spirit Awards and the Los Angeles Film Festival. Just the day before she was named to the academy post, Film Independent announced it was partnering with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to lead LACMA's troubled film programming.
Sherak says he was impressed by Hudson's charisma and dedication to film. "She's very smart, " he said. "She cares about film and has a spirit that is fresh. She communicates well and has the ability to take tough situations and express herself so that when you walk out of the room and if it's negative for you, you don't feel like you've been knocked in the head."
It is unclear how she and Robertson, who joined the traditionally insular academy in 1981, will split their duties, but Sherak — and Hudson — are each confident that the duo's two personalities will meld effectively. "I really think the academy wanted a combination of new perspective, new point of view combined with Ric's institutional memory. We both sensed that this would be a great match," Hudson said. "No one forced the combination on either of us. It was a choice for both of us. We both met and talked and felt like it would work."
In Robertson's 30-year tenure with the academy, serving as Davis' No. 2 since 1989, he has overseen the organization's public programming, its library and film archive as well as its public relations, marketing, legal affairs and many award-related events.
The duo will work with Sherak and the new producers he appoints to oversee the annual Academy Awards, which earlier this year was overwhelmingly criticized for its predictability and lack of energy from co-host James Franco. In contrast, the annual Spirit Awards held the night before the Oscars on the beach in Santa Monica has become known as a lively, spontaneous event with original acceptance speeches and irreverent hosts such as Joel McHale.
Early Friday morning, Hudson, who was operating on no sleep after receiving the official job offer late Thursday, was unwilling to criticize the show or the academy. She is optimistic, though, about working with the esteemed organization.
"I think to be able to work with the most talented people in our industry to chart the new path for the academy is really exciting. I'm also passionate about making the academy and film as accessible to as many young artists as possible through academy programs. With so much focus on the annual award show, one thing that is lost a bit are the year-round programs, such as panels focusing on specific crafts, and the philanthropy the academy does."
Ganis, who served as academy president for four years and has been a board member of Film Independent for the last decade, said both were solid movie-loving executives. He also recognized that the shift from a single executive director running the organization to a team structure better represents the academy of the future. "We're both an academy for the science and art of movies and a big company with a big budget and worldwide programs. We have to act like a big company."
Questions remain as to who will run Film Independent, which began close to 30 years ago as a group of indie filmmakers who gathered to share resources and ideas and has grown into a significant player in the independent film world.
Said a spokeswoman for the organization, which was meeting Friday afternoon to discuss Hudson's departure, "We have a strong executive staff in place and Film Independent will continue to thrive. Dawn has built a strong foundation for this organization, with a spectacular team. We're so incredibly happy for her, and her new role is wonderful for the film community as a whole and the academy."