EXCLUSIVE: Academy Pres. Tom Sherak: First came the boo’s, now the applause
BY ROBERT W. WELKOS
Tom Sherak chuckles as he recalls the story.
One day last year, he walked into his favorite restaurant, The Palm, where he knows everyone and everyone knows him, and suddenly noticed his friends were booing him.
“What did you do?!” they exclaimed. “How could you do this?!” screamed a long-time pal and famous producer, who will go unnamed.
They were reacting to a controversial decision by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences to scrap the decades-old practice of selecting five best picture nominees and go back to an earlier period when the Oscars listed 10 best picture nominees.
Fast-forward to last week and Sherak said he walked into the same restaurant only this time his friends applauded him.
They were responding to mostly favorable reviews after the list of 10 pictures was announced by Sherak and actress Anne Hathaway before a worldwide television audience.
Since being named president of the Academy in August, Sherak said he has learned one lesson: “I’ve learned that you need to be a good listener,” he said. “You listen to all the good stuff and the complaints.” It’s especially important to listen to the complaints, he added, “because you learn to make stuff even better.”
Sherak, a former partner at Joe Roth’s Revolution Studios and a one-time distribution chief at 20th Century Fox, said the expanded list of best picture nominees has had its desired effect: “Jack Black said to me, ‘Any publicity is good publicity.’ People are now debating (the best pictures). Is it good? Is it bad? Is it stupid? Is it crazy.”
Had the Academy not taken action, Sherak said, it risked becoming a “dinosaur.”
Sherak believes that boosting the Academy Awards TV ratings is vital if the Academy is to keep generating money from the show to pay for its various nonprofit film efforts.
“Ratings are always a concern,” he said. “Ratings are a big thing.” He noted that the night of the Oscars there are really two events taking place on the TV screen: the awards themselves, where the best filmmakers and actors are honored, and the Oscar show itself.
This year’s show, which airs March 7 on ABC, is being produced by Adam Shankman and Bill Mechanic.
“They came up with a line which we put on our Oscar poster: ‘Expect the unexpected,'” Sherak said.
The show will be co-hosted by Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin.
Sherak said that unlike some past years, the Oscar campaigns being waged by the studios and independents seem less frenzied. In prior years, the Academy cracked down when it felt that marketing departments went too far in trying to woo Oscar voters with ornate mailings and dinners that were, in reality, like political campaign stops.
“I don’t think it’s as crazy this year,” Sherak said, noting that perhaps the studios are spending less on Oscar campaigns because of the current economic crunch.
He said one of the benefits of his new job is getting to announce the nominations alongside Hathaway, who he said is one of the nicest people he has ever met in Hollywood.
He noted that his grandkids watched “Saturday Night Live” over the weekend and saw their grandpa and Hathaway spoofed in a skit about the Oscar nominations. In the SNL skit, “Sherak” and “Hathaway” announced the 10 best picture nominees and then went far beyond that, also naming films like “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” “Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” “Hannah Montana: The Movie,” “Old Dogs,” and “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel” among the year’s best pictures. Then things really got crazy when the SNL comedians named “Jersey Shore” as a best picture nominee.
“It’s so much fun for the grandchildren to look at this stuff,” said Sherak, unable to suppress his glee.
“I’m like a kid in a candy store,” he added.
Photo Credit: Reed Saxon