Navigating the frenzied Cannes Film Festival scene can prove perilous for a first-timer, even if he’s boss of the Oscars.
Bill Kramer, CEO of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, is in Cannes to meet with his expanded covey of overseas members, now a quarter of Oscar voters. He also has just signed a new international deal with Disney and ABC and is briefing members on other funding initiatives at a rare Academy party.
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Pre-Kramer, the Academy had been stubbornly silent about its internal data, but now it reports that 82% of habitually testy Oscar voters actually approved of the show this year vs. a paltry 22% in 2022. Ratings of Academy policies also experienced a sharp improvement.
Even he as dons his Riviera tuxedo and celebrates his first year in office, Kramer is keenly aware of potential disruptions facing the festival: the writers strike and French pension battles. A career problem solver, the CEO admits he’s accustomed to combat.
Although new to the Hollywood hierarchy, Kramer is a lifelong film nerd and plans to see as many as 10 movies during the festival, as well as mingling on the party circuit. He also is aware that events are habitually oversold and that the festival’s digital ticket system can strand audiences suddenly, as happened with the Pedro Almodóvar film this week.
“Candidly, this is all thrilling for me,” Kramer says. ”I never imagined I would be at the nerve center of cinema.”
The Academy has not had much of a presence at past Cannes festivals but will host its own members-only event at the Five Seas.
A Maryland native, Kramer graduated from the University of Texas in Austin and built a reputation as a skilled fundraiser for education and the arts before recruitment by the Academy. At the Oscar show, he was a tense presence in the audience, locked on a text chain with his backstage producers.
Media attention of his first year in office was intense because of the opening of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, re-invention of Oscar voting rules and development of further inclusion and diversification initiatives.
But after past implosions involving Will Smith and fumbled award announcements, this year’s Oscar show elicited positive reviews from the media and even from Academy members, its toughest judges in the past.
The Academy needs to continue building momentum, facing further renewal of TV contracts by 2028, as Kramer acknowledges. The Oscars has to be “the big show” globally.
Making his rounds among filmmakers and dealmakers in Cannes, Kramer looks increasingly at home among his fellow showmen. He’s well aware that at any moment the festival, like the Academy itself, might be challenged by disruptions. That, too, is a reason why he seems to feel at home.
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