The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences CEO Bill Kramer gives an interview during the Academy Museum Of Motion Pictures opening press event, in Los Angeles on Sept. 21, 2021 Credit – Valerie Macon—AFP/Getty Images
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Since taking over the position of CEO of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences last July, Bill Kramer has spent a lot of time putting out fires. In the past two years, the Oscars ratings sank to their lowest in the show’s history. The Academy has tasked Kramer with convincing viewers who haven’t tuned into the Academy Awards for years—and aren’t watching many of the nominated films—to check out the show again.
Kramer previously spearheaded the launch of the Academy Museum, which has brought in over 1 million visitors since opening in September of 2021. Despite much handwringing over the threat TikTok and YouTube pose to film and TV, Kramer proudly notes that half of those visitors are under the age of 40. He plans to return the Oscars to their former glory by focusing on the same behind-the-scenes stories about artists that have attracted that large, young audience to the museum. He also plans to bring back the technical awards that weren’t broadcast last year and add fun live performances.
But he has to do so while contending with two recent scandals, one from the 2022 ceremony and one that took place just before voting for 2023 nominations closed. Almost a year after Will Smith slapped Oscars host Chris Rock at last year’s show, the Academy is still dealing with the fallout. Kramer says a “crisis team” has been put in place for the first time in Academy history to handle other possible surprise moments.
The first real test of the new Academy leader came early in 2023 with the second of the two controversies, when social media posts from celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Edward Norton helped Andrea Riseborough win a surprise Best Actress nomination for her performance in To Leslie, a little-seen indie drama. The To Leslie campaign was largely based on text message, email, and social media appeals instead of expensive trade magazine ads and billboards, and certain advocates were accused of breaking Academy rules by naming other potential nominees in their petitions for Riseborough. Riseborough’s nomination also seemingly boxed out two Black actors who had been considered likely nominees, Viola Davis for The Woman King and Danielle Deadwyler for Till, underlining the Academy’s historical failure to recognize Black women across categories. The Academy launched an investigation into the campaign but decided not to rescind Riseborough’s nomination.
TIME spoke to Kramer about the Academy’s plans for this year’s awards, from a host who will make the audience feel “safe” to producers’ plans for handling unscripted moments, and his conversation with The Woman King director Gina Prince-Bythewood about her movie’s snub.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
TIME: This year’s host Jimmy Kimmel is perceived as the safe choice after a chaotic show last year because he’s hosted the Oscars so many times. Will the show be taking any risks?
Bill Kramer: It’s so important to have a host who knows how to handle live television and a live audience. That’s a very specific skill, and there aren’t a lot of people who can do that well. Jimmy is a dream to work with. He’s funny; he’s respectful; his edges aren’t too sharp. I think people in the audience feel very safe and engaged with his energy. We’re thrilled Jimmy is coming back, and we hope this is the beginning of a lovely, long new relationship with him.
You’re going to see a show that is much more immersive, much more nominee-focused, and much more focused on all of the disciplines of filmmaking. In September of 2021, we opened the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, and we’ve had well over a million people come through the doors of the museum at this point, half of whom are under the age of 40. It’s amazing to see how engaged people are around learning about the very diverse group of artists who make movies and the disciplines of moviemaking. So we’re bringing a lot of that energy to the stage and the show.
It is a live show and unexpected things sometimes happen. Are there any measures that are being put in place this year for potential surprises?
Absolutely. And that’s why you want someone like Jimmy on stage who is used to dealing with live TV: Things don’t always go as planned. So you have a host in place who can really pivot and manage those moments.
But we have a whole crisis team, something we’ve never had before, and many plans in place. We’ve run many scenarios. So it is our hope that we will be prepared for anything that we may not anticipate right now but that we’re planning for just in case it does happen.
Running different scenarios—never in a billion years would I have imagined the slap would happen last year. I can’t even begin to conceive of what coming up with possible scenarios looks like.
Because of last year, we’ve opened our minds to the many things that can happen at the Oscars. But these crisis plans—the crisis communication teams and structures we have in place—allow us to say this is the group that we have to gather very quickly. This is how we all come together. This is the spokesperson. This will be the statement. And obviously depending on the specifics of the crisis, and let’s hope something doesn’t happen and we never have to use these, but we already have frameworks in place that we can modify.
I think that’s why we were much more ready to handle the campaign regulations discussion after nominations. You know, that happened on a Tuesday and, six days later, we were able to issue our formal statement from the board that really carved out a plan for us. So you never know exactly what’s going to happen. But you have to have the teams and frameworks in place and the processes in place, to come together to figure things out quickly. But also making sure that you have the right groups of members and leaders and stakeholders who can come together to have a voice in this conversation. That’s also very key. And again, we’ve run some great scenarios, but as you said, the specifics may change, and we’ll see what happens.
In past years, there have been various efforts to bring a larger audience to the Oscars broadcast. Something like last year’s fan favorite poll, which stoked these intense rivalries between fandoms online, was not well received.
[Kramer grimaces and makes a cutting motion when I mention the fan favorite poll.]
Moving the eight [technical] awards off the live show, the fan favorite poll—sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. We always learn from them. I think bringing the eight awards back on the show live is critical. We have to keep the show moving, but I think that’s what the audiences want to see when they tune into the Oscars and it’s very on brand for us.
And we’re always thinking about ways to engage audiences beyond the actual show, and you’re going to see a few really interesting things this year that throw you to a second screen for more information. Our nominations announcement was actually presented in the metaverse, and we got a lot of incredible traction around that.
You recently issued a statement about the Andrea Riseborough investigation and announced that she won’t lose her nomination. But do you expect similar word-of-mouth and social media-fueled campaigns to spring up next year as a result?
Social media is and can be a great leveler with campaigning. I want to make sure now that I am the CEO of the Academy that our regulations are much more clear about our expectations for how people will promote their films.
But I think social media is a space where, if used properly and used in an ethical, kind, fair way, is a great leveler. I think it can be a good thing. We just need to put some guardrails around that and talk about our expectations and our rules and regulations in ways that are clear. It can be confusing, and the Academy needs to help guide the way for equity in how people promote their films.
Speaking of equity, The Woman King was snubbed at the Oscars, including Viola Davis not getting nominated for Best Actress. Director Gina Prince-Bythewood has talked about—and maybe you’ve read this…
I had lunch with her two days ago.
So maybe you talked about this with her. But she has said certain people in Hollywood—white actors—have a social capital that can be leveraged in those word-of-mouth campaigns. They can launch campaigns that rely on social connections in Hollywood in a way that many Black women and women of color cannot. What should the Academy’s role be in making sure that campaigning is accessible and equal for everyone?
I love Gina. I consider her a new friend, someone who’s just brilliant. And I think she got to the heart of a lot of the cultural and societal concerns around all of this. The Academy wants to make sure that people are thinking about films and performances and all of the disciplines that go into moviemaking in a very equitable way.
In our industry there is sometimes a resistance to looking at certain roles and genres as being award-worthy. As an Academy, we work very hard to ensure that our members see and engage with them. To Gina’s point about not a lot of people wanting to see The Woman King because [Academy members] didn’t think it was “the sort of film that they should be considering,” we need to break down those barriers. The film was remarkable. It was a critical success. It was a commercial success. For the same reason Top Gun: Maverick is being considered a Best Picture candidate, The Woman King should be in that conversation, as well as many others.
In a very proactive, healthy way, we want to have those conversations with our members and provide clear rules and regulations but also provide some spaces for conversations around this. Later this spring and summer, we want to deconstruct what happened here with a diverse group of panelists for conversations that I hope illuminate this to a deeper degree for our Academy members.
It’s critical for us. I hate that this happened. But I think we all want to see this as a silver lining moment and do something about it.
Let’s get into the slap. President of the Academy Janet Yang recently said that the Academy’s response was inadequate. What would an adequate response have looked like?
People are thinking about it as we move closer to the show. As an institution, we need to move swiftly and compassionately and to engage with our members and nominees in a very transparent way. Let’s hope something like this never happens again—but we could have moved more quickly. And I’m not just talking about the night of the show. This is really our response after the show, and how we spoke about it, and how we talked to Will and Chris, and our hosts and our members. It was a moment to really bring people together.
Within a couple of days of the To Leslie campaigning conversation, we gathered the board and issued a clear statement. I hope it was clear. It was clear to us. And the conversation will continue, but The Academy needs to bring stakeholders together who are directly impacted around these topics more quickly and with more clarity and transparency.