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David Poland

By David Poland

A New Dawn At The Academy… But Don’t Expect A New Landscape

I genuinely like Dawn Hudson. Smart, charming, tough, sweet person,

And as good at managing up as anyone I have ever seen in my life.

When you read about her being a consensus builder at FIND, which used to be IFP/LA, the subtext is that she found a way to keep moving forward amongst a parade of massive “personalities” (read: egos). Those egos were her board, which has been made up primarily of studio Dependent management, which is why the Indie Spirit Awards are a chance for Oscar nominees to let their hair be put up one more time before The Big Show. Film INDependent is not the only celebration of independent film that has participated in the dismantling of the independent film business, but suffering many of the mixed messages that Sundance is working hard to shake off, the organization has become a four-headed hydra that services its inside-the-beltway constituency better than it does anything else.

But Dawn Hudson has been the reason that such a poorly designed piece of anatomy can fly. And she’s kept it flying for 20 years.

So here’s what she will be able to do at The Academy…

1. Do a lot more on the non-awards show side with a lot more cash to spend
2. Collect a really nice check annually without worrying if her salary is published in the paper. Her salary just went way up and her percentage of the take went way down.
3. Not obsess on fundraising.
4. Do what the Board of Governors tells her she has to do and smile with grace while biting her lip.

The media’s obsession with the civil servant side of The Academy is understandable. They are the ones we deal with and who control our access to most of what goes on over there. But the real power in The Academy is in the membership, the branches, and their Governors.

Dawn has been hired to run a not-for-profit organization that spends more than $10 million a year on things unrelated to Oscar. She is there to be the institutional anchor for the endless changes in staffing for that show, to protect the president (currently Tom Sherak), and the Board of Governors.

And Dawn will do that with seeming ease.

And what the media really hopes is that she will signal a change of tone at The Oscars towards the media. Dawn not only manages up brilliantly, but she manages sideways and even down with many of the same skills. So I do expect a tonal shift in terms of the press. I do expect some of the internet paranoia to go away. However… when the beans are on the table… The Oscars are a much bigger (at least 10x bigger), much more complex, much more political, and much more in-demand event than Indie Spirits has ever been… and D-Hud will have to say “no” a lot more than she ever has in her career. And that will be hard. For her… and for some of us, who won’t expect the sweet, smiling, accessible person we’ve known all these years to be unavailable or unable/unwilling to be as generous as she might be inclined to be.

The biggest question in this situation is what will be next for FIND. To find someone who wants a leadership role, yet is willing to bow to the board, yet can actually make things happen is a very big challenge. There is a LOT more control, however, of the awards show than there is at The Academy. And I personally feel the great challenge of the next era of this organization will be to find a way to celebrate both studio-distributed indies and true indies, not just the biggest and the smallest… and hopefully, to reconnect with a national group of independent organizations. Finally, the LA Film Festival is good, but it is not a leader. It’s really the last serious film festival that is broader than a specific niche and there has to be a next step.

So there is a lot to build on from the strong organization Dawn put together over all these years. The independent movement has changed while she’s been there. No one else has a better position from which to build. But whoever is next needs to be a visionary, not just a builder. Or, I suspect, FIND will be lost after a few more years of retreading the same turf.

3 Responses to “A New Dawn At The Academy… But Don’t Expect A New Landscape”

  1. Jason says:

    If anyone disputes how things have changed in the Hollywood journalism world, last night was a defining moment.

    Maybe this is too inside. Maybe it’s too geeky. Maybe nobody cares. But Christ, what has happened to Variety? The supposed “inside” publication. The once king of the town. The place with great journalists. Great editors. Great access. Great knowledge.

    As of 11:00 on Friday morning, Variety had a mere 5 lines written about the changing of the guard at the Academy. From a relatively “new” reporter. That was it.

    No depth. No analysis. No behind-the-scenes. No wonderful-ness. No attitude. No nothing. Just 5 lines. About a vital and important — financially and editorially – organization that Variety covers for months during awards season.

    Now go to Deadline. God damn – THAT was a story. And David, you wrote something thought-provoking. Almost everyone did.

    But Variety…5 lines.

    How in the world does Variety do this? They claim they are the industry leader. They are supposed to be competitive. Creative. They have a staff. They have many people. Can nobody write in depth after hours (when the story broke)? How is there no story as of 11:00 a.m. this morning? Am I missing something?

    Just 5 lines. Where’s Tim Gray? The supposed maven on awards? Where’s the discussion, the engaging think-piece? Where in the world did you go, Variety?

    This is a reasonable news story, no? It’s got meaning and repercussions and politics…and it defines a huge organization going through major changes.

    So this is where we are in the defining world of entertainment trade journalism. Nikki is just better. She knows how to write and investigate and draw you in. She posted a huge story overnight with details. With read-able material. She was “in the room.”

    And Variety just posted…5 lines.

    People can make fun of Deadline all they want. Variety staff and journalists in town can laugh and snicker and be smarmy and be mean about her…but shit… take a look at what she wrote…THAT’s how to do it.

    And then take a look at what Variety did. 5 lines. From a cub reporter. About the changing of the guard at the Academy.

    I know it’s easy and hacky to say, “cancel my subscription.” But Jesus…doesn’t Variety owe its readers more than that? Doesn’t Variety owe its own journalists more than that?

    Five lines. Wow.

    Sorry to be so geeky.

  2. David Poland says:

    Jason – I’d have no problem with Nikki’s story if it wasn’t so loaded down with her relationships, above and beyond the ones she wrote openly about. The story would have been more accurate and half as long if she wrote it like a journalist.

    As for Variety, I am sad to say, doesn’t even come to mind on these stories anymore. They don’t exist.

  3. Prabhu Saraf says:

    Super news indeed. We have been searching for this information.

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