Hawk Koch remembers sitting with his family at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in 1989 and watching as his father, Hollywood producer Howard W. Koch, received the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences’ Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the Oscars.
The elder Koch had served as academy president in the 1970s and had worked on films as diverse as"The Manchurian Candidate"and “Airplane.” He addressed his son — who by then had produced “Gorky Park” and had served as first assistant director on"Chinatown"— from the dais. “One day, I hope you are up here too,” Koch recalls his father saying to him.
On Tuesday evening, Koch was elected president of the film academy — becoming the first second-generation leader in the organization’s history.
“I feel like I’ve reached my pinnacle,” Koch said Wednesday morning, starting to cry as he remembered the moment in a phone interview from his new office at the academy’s headquarters on Wilshire Boulevard. “It was his dream, and it’s mine.”
Now 66, Koch seems more than comfortable following in the footsteps of his father, who died in 2001. (It wasn’t always so easy; at age 50, he changed his name from Howard W. Koch Jr. to assert his own identity.)
Koch, who replaces Tom Sherak, has been a member of the academy since 1977 and has served on the 43-member Board of Governors for the last eight, most recently as first vice president. As president, he will serve only one year, because governors face a nine-year term limit.
Aware that his time is finite, Koch said he has big aspirations for the next 12 months. His first order of business is to find a producer and host for the 2013 Oscar telecast. He also intends to lead the organization in its goal of raising $100 million for its film museum.
Other agenda items include doing more for Oscar nominees between the time they’re nominated in January and the night of the awards show in late February, though he was reluctant to divulge specifics. “I want by Oscar Sunday night for those nominees to really say that it was a great honor to be nominated.”
Koch said he believes that the academy needs to become more diverse. Like Sherak, he said he would emphasize outreach and education, rather than changes to the organization’s membership procedures.
“Where’s the next A.R. Rahman? Where’s the next Christopher Nolan?” asked Koch, referring to the Oscar-winning composer and the acclaimed director. “I think the initiatives are there. I don’t think they’ve been exploited or communicated to the world. I only have a year at this moment. I’m going to try and do as much as I can to get the word out there.”
Asked how he wanted to change the Oscar show, which at times has been criticized as being dated and overly long, Koch joked that he’d like to make it longer and add more awards. On a more serious note, he said he hopes to reach more younger viewers with social media initiatives.
As to whether he intended to make any staffing changes, Koch said in jest that he planned “to clean house.”
“It was a rocky beginning,” Koch said regarding last year’s appointment of former Film Independent head Dawn Hudson to the newly created post of academy chief executive. “But I think those problems are done. In talking to the staff and being around the academy, I think it’s working well. Morale is high and we are moving forward into the 21st century.”
Koch was elected by majority vote of the board of governors. Although the group does not divulge many details about the process, two sources at the proceedings said others who were nominated for the position were Lionsgate co-chair Rob Friedman and public relations veteran Cheryl Boone Isaacs.
Isaacs was named first vice president while Friedman took the spot of treasurer.
In taking on the presidency, Koch will temporarily step down from his position as co-president of the Producers Guild of America. He served in the post with Mark Gordon, who will now take over as the sole president.
“I am thrilled for Hawk, whose dedication to the industry is unsurpassed,” Gordon said in a statement. “There is no one whose counsel I value more, so I will, of course, continue to seek his advice in matters relating to the PGA.”
When Koch’s one-year term at the academy is up next summer, he said he would return to serve out the last 10 months of his term as co-president with Gordon.