Sid Ganis clearly remembers the first time he went to the Oscars. He was 28 years old and had just arrived in Los Angeles from New York. “It was 1968 and I was not an Academy member at that point,” says Ganis, a movie producer who, three years ago, was elected president of the illustrious 5,829-member body’s board of governors. “It was the year that Bonnie and Clyde was nominated in a number of categories.”
Estelle Parsons, who appeared in the film with Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, had been nominated as best supporting actress. Like Ganis, she came from New York and knew no one in Los Angeles. “So she invited me to escort her to the Academy Awards,” he says.
Forty years on, the Oscars ceremony continues to figure significantly in his life. As president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Ganis got up at the crack of dawn on Tuesday to announce the nominees for this year’s ceremony. Though at the time of going to press, this year’s ceremony was still under threat from the strike by screenwriters, Ganis is adamant it will not be cancelled. “The show must go on! And in our case it’s not a cliché … There’s going to be a happy ending.” At the 80th Oscars next month Ganis will, as last year, address the audience to explain some of the Academy’s achievements. Throughout the year it organises screenings, workshops for writers and actors and works to preserve classic films. Christian de Portzamparc, a Pritzker Prize-winning architect, has been commissioned to design the Academy’s first museum, to be built, naturally, in Hollywood, next year.
Membership of the Academy is by invitation only, and new members must be eligible to join one of the Academy’s “branches”, representing such crafts and professions as acting, cinematography or production. Ganis, then working for the production company Seven Arts, applied to join the Academy’s publicist branch but was turned down. But he had worked on publicity for the Gregory Peck film Behold a Pale Horse and wrote to the actor, a former president of the Academy. “I told him how much I loved the business and asked if he would consider me again some time. That next year I was invited to join.”
Board members work in a voluntary capacity so, since becoming president, Ganis has kept his day job as a producer. In the late 1970s he joined Lucasfilm, where he was responsible for marketing The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi and the first two films in the Indiana Jones trilogy. By the mid-1980s he had moved to Paramount, where he worked on Top Gun and Fatal Attraction. More recently, he has formed a close relationship with Adam Sandler, producing Mr Deeds and Big Daddy.
Voting is done by secret ballot and Ganis says Academy members are “staunch individualists” who are not swayed by studio-funded advertising campaigns that appear in Hollywood trade publications such as Variety. In the past, the Academy has faced charges of being too conservative, failing to honour edgier films. For example, in 1980 Robert Redford’s Ordinary People beat Martin Scorsese’s acclaimed Raging Bull for the best picture Oscar. Gamis says things have changed. “There was a time when fogeyism was the conventional wisdom but our membership is vibrant and our members are willing to work.” Referring to the interest in the Academy museum project, he says: “I was going to committee meetings with Steven Spielberg and Curtis Hanson [director of LA Confidential]. Then you get writers’ meetings and people like Jim Brooks [The Simpsons Movie, As Good As It Gets] come: our members care and they take the Academy seriously.”