While the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, deserved or not, has a reputation as one of the most fusty institutions in Hollywood, the organization behind the Oscars is launching a surprising and welcome step toward broadening the conversation about cinema, and about who can and should participate in that discussion. Starting today, the Academy is releasing a diverse slate of digital short documentaries about the moviegoing experience and filmmaking.
“We see an opportunity to tell stories that other people aren’t telling, to tap into the access and resources and membership that we have,” Josh Spector, the Academy’s managing director of digital media and marketing, told BuzzFeed. Since starting in late 2011, Spector has built a small team that has dramatically increased the Academy’s online profile, including an active social media presence. But these docs represent the first major effort in years by the Academy to create its own original content.
The Academy is launching its effort with three short films.
3. They include “Let’s Go to the Movies,” a series that explores the moviegoing experience itself.
The first film in the series unleashed renown cinephile Patton Oswalt into the Academy vault, with the promise that he could choose to screen any film he wanted within it. But rather than a recognizable classic, Oswalt chose an obscure black-and-white film noir from 1961 called Blast of Silence.
“You can see passion in the way that he talks about it, and that’s really what we’re looking to showcase,” Spector told BuzzFeed. “There may be movies that you haven’t heard of before, that have had huge impacts on the people that you respect and love and have inspired their work.”
4. Another ongoing series will be “Creative Spark,” about the overall creative process of individual working filmmakers.
This series begins with writer-director Tina Gordon Chism (Peeples, Drumline), who found the process of making the doc to be revelatory for her as well. “I actually had not taken a look at my creative process,” she wrote in an email. “I don’t think many artists do unless they are asked. When they first mentioned the idea, I thought, Well, you’ll just have to come along when I’m researching or writing and observe because I really have no idea how to communicate it.”
With the Academy coming under such intense scrutiny for the diversity of its membership, it seems like a pointed statement to have an African-American female screenwriter be the first creative professional showcased for this series. While Spector said that wasn’t an overt choice, he does see diversity as a core value for these videos.
“We want to represent a wide spectrum — different people, different voices, different backgrounds, different points of view,” he said. “We make a deliberate effort in everything we do to be diverse.”
5. Case in point, the third doc released on Monday, about the moviegoing experience for an often-ignored population: the blind.
The one-off film came out of a discussion within Spector’s team about the different ways people experience movies, which ultimately led to what amounts to a kind of gentle advocacy for expanding descriptive video services for vision-impaired moviegoers.
“We haven’t seen anybody talk about this before,” said Spector. “We’re not doing press junket videos. There’s plenty of those out there.”
The “Let’s Go to the Movies” and “Creative Spark” series will continue, along with plans for films about specific movies, or even specific moments within films. The team is also hoping to make a doc on a day in the life of someone working on a film currently shooting. Academy members like Kathleen Kennedy (currently producing the new Star Wars movies), Mike White (screenwriter, and most recently the creator of HBO’s Enlightened), and Ava DuVernay (writer-director of the acclaimed film Middle of Nowhere) will appear in future films, which will debut roughly once a week on the Academy’s YouTube channel.
With movies vying for attention from an ever-increasing number of other media, the Academy’s efforts are aimed at engaging audiences where they live, which is increasingly online — and not just for 18-to-34-year-olds.
“It’s not specifically about going after a younger demographic,” said Spector. “It’s more about taking advantage of the media landscape that we live in today. Everybody’s on YouTube. There’s sometimes a faulty assumption that all this stuff is just for younger people now. A few years ago, that may have been true. It’s really not anymore. These platforms exist to allow us to reach the world and reach people who are going to be interested in this stuff in a pretty inexpensive and in some cases absolutely free way. To not take advantage of that, to me, would just be a colossal mistake.”