If you frequent this hole in the web, you may have noticed that I’m a big fan of the annual awards season circus. With my coverage of awards season year-in and year-out, from the December critics’ racket and the clicque-y industry guilds to my sprawling Oscar prediction pieces, it’s safe to say I’m an Oscar nerd. For better or worse, they’ve played a pivotal part in my upbringing as a movie lover and critic. Yes, I know that sounds horrible! What’s more pathetic than someone whose love for films is based on the Oscars? I agree that they’re incredibly flawed and problematic. But despite their propensity for boneheaded decisions, I continue to love and follow them. The last paragraph of this article goes into more detail why.
That being said, one of my most anticipated events of this year’s Miami-Dade College’s Miami International Film Festival was the masterclass seminar by Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. Isaacs, who built her career as a marketing executive at Paramount Pictures, and then at her own firm CBI Enterprises, Inc., visited the festival on Tuesday evening at O Cinema Miami Beach to talk about, among other things, her long career in film marketing, her key learnings over the years, and how the industry has changed with the times.
But before Isaacs came up on stage to deliver a master class on film marketing, we were subjected to a master class in self-service by an obnoxious character named Kevin Sharpley, who was quick to introduce himself as the president/CEO of KijiK Multimedia Inc. After his mini self-introduction, we were served with one of the Academy’s typically bland “history of film” montages. This was followed by a charming plea by the folks from FilmGate to attend their “I’m Not Going to Move to L.A.” events. Duly noted. Miami International Film Festival Executive Director Jaie Laplante then brought Isaacs on stage to moderate a rather laid-back Q&A session in front of a packed house of young students, filmmakers and journalists.
Isaacs, a sharp and engaging speaker, began by talking about a brief history of the Academy, including its origins before diving into how the organization—which is now nearing the 7,000 members mark—is dedicated to honoring the past, present and future of cinema (i.e. the typical “Did You Know” stuff for Oscar novices). Things only started to get interesting when she moved into the Academy’s film preservation work, and how they struggle to keep up with the digital revolution as it keeps on evolving.
A brief reminiscence about watching a restored print of Lawrence of Arabia on the big screen led to an encouraging discussion on the re-emergence of art houses across the nation, specifically in the context of how these small houses are renewing the appetite for art and foreign cinema. Speaking of art houses, Miami-Dade County now has seven of them (Miami Beach Cinematheque, Tower Theater, the Bill Cosford Cinema, Coral Gables Art Cinema, and the three O Cinema locations in Wynwood, Miami Beach and Miami Shores). You’ll be better off as a moviegoer if you visit them.
Isaacs continued by discussing her long career in the industry, starting with her days as an Account Coordinator on Close Encounters of the Third Kind, before getting a job in marketing at Paramount to work on ’80s franchise blockbusters like the Beverly Hills Cop trilogy and the second and third Indiana Jones movies. By the time the ’90s rolled by, she was promoted to the head of marketing at Paramount, in charge of films like Forrest Gump (whose simple yet brilliant marketing campaign turned it into 1994’s word-of-mouth sensation), Titanic (she discussed how Celine Dion’s song was pivotal in putting butts in seats) and Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. Since the latter film was opening just a few weeks after Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace i.e. the summer’s must-see event, Isaacs and team came up with a clever way to market their film—leveraging the Star Wars craze for their own benefit. Here’s a teaser.
Isaac’s most memorable quote of the evening though was her advice to a few aspiring filmmakers in the audience, who she pushed to “follow your passion, not the paycheck.” Perhaps my biggest (and sole) disappointment in the master class was Isaacs’ lack of interest in discussing some of the controversies that have plagued the Academy in recent years—why wasn’t time spent on the Academy’s membership diversity, its middle-brow choices, and especially its affinity for films and performances that are campaigned extensively by studios? But these are simply gripes from a longtime Academy supporter/critic. On the whole, the class was a very engrossing session, given by an obviously competent and inspiring leader. As Variety film critic Guy Lodge later tweeted, “Smart leadership isn’t among the Academy’s problems.”
I hope to see more events like this from the Miami International Film Festival leadership next year, featuring more big name industry leaders. How about Roger Deakins? How about something interactive? Perhaps some folks with geek creds? That’d surely bring in the audiences too.
Next Up: As I don’t have anything on my schedule for Wednesday and Thursday, my next update will be over the weekend when I catch Theeb, A Hard Day and White God, before closing the festival with A Pigeon Sat on a Bench Reflecting on Existence and of course, closing night.
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