New Motion Picture Academy president Hawk Koch on his top Oscar moments, and getting more members to vote for foreign films

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Image Credit: Todd Williamson/Invision/AP

When Hawk Koch was elected president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences earlier this week, he made history as the first child of a previous president (Howard W. Koch) to also hold the position. He takes on the job after a period of remarkable change at the Academy, including the rejiggering and then re-rejiggering of the Best Picture category and the announcement of an official Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles. EW chatted with Koch from his Academy office earlier today, where he shared his thoughts on the best Oscars moments of the past few years, his hope for expanding the voting base for the Best Foreign Language Film category, and his own picks for his favorite films of all time. Check out our conversation below:

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You’ve said that the most important thing for you is to get a producer and a host for the Academy Awards. So what have been some of your favorite parts about Academy Awards of the last few years?
HAWK KOCH: I think it was [producers] Larry Mark and Bill Condon’s idea when they produced it — the former Academy winners getting up onstage and looking down on the nominees and telling them what happened to them and what they were feeling and explaining what they felt. I wasn’t as thrilled the next year where we tried to do it a little bit differently, but all the people who had won before — I thought that was great. I really liked Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway dancing. I like a lot of the legacy things, showing the stuff that we’ve done over the years always chokes me up. We now have the honorary awards in a separate dinner, but we really got it right honoring them on the awards show. It really meant a lot I think with Oprah and Dick Smith and James Earl Jones. 

What would you most like to see change?
I don’t know that I want to see them change. What I’d like to do is I’d like — we talk in [demographic] quadrants today. There’s the young men, young women, older men, older women — I’d like all four quadrants to find things in the Oscars show that they like.

Over the last few years, the Best Picture rule has fluctuated. We were at a top 10, then at a variable length. Are you going to keep that for the coming year?
It will be somewhere between five and 10 depending on how many votes a movie gets. And I kind of like that. It’s not just five, and it could be as many as 10, but it might only be six. I like the drama of it because when we announce the nominees, nobody really knows who’s gonna get nominated anymore. Before it was always, “Oh, I think these five are gonna be the nominees.” Now it’s dramatic.

The rules for nominating feature documentary and foreign language film have often been criticized over the years. Do you foresee another look at those rules moving forward?
Yes. With technology the way it is today, I think many more Academy members are gonna be able to see the full-length documentaries and be able to vote on them, which I think is a great, great thing because I’d like as many of our members as possible voting on them. The foreign language — it’s tough. Friends of mine [on the foreign language committee chair say], “Oh my God, I saw 75 foreign language films.” I so applaud them for that job, but whether it’s this year or next year, I do believe that we will eventually get to the point of more members being able to vote on the final five [nominees]. I think that the blue ribbon panel getting it down to the final group is great. I think [Foreign Language Film committee chair] Mark Johnson’s done an amazing job. But with technology, more members are gonna be able to — whether it’s this year or next year — be able to really vote on both of those categories.

Obviously there’s been a lot of chatter about when the Oscars are held, people thinking they might get pushed back to January or at least even pushed back a little bit in February. The upcoming Academy Awards date is set, but do you think that it would be pushed back any time soon?
I was thinking of August. What do you think? [Laughter] No. I, for one, like this date. I think all the other shows are behind it. The Super Bowl is behind it. Everything’s done. They always talk about the Rose Bowl as “the granddaddy of them all” in college football. I think the granddaddy of them all in awards shows is the Oscars, and it’s number one, and it should be number one, and there should be some space before it so everybody can take a breath. All those Monday morning quarterbacks telling us who’s won what, and then we’ll give out our awards as we sink deep.

What are a few of your favorite movies of all time?
Oh, that’s easy. Casablanca. Young Frankenstein. One I worked on: Chinatown. Lawrence of Arabia. More recently — I’m going back to all the old ones — God, it’s hard more recent because they don’t stick in my head as much as the older ones do. Oh, Dr. Strangelove. More recently, I really loved The Artist. That captured the old days, and yet it felt right up-to-date.

You mentioned Young Frankenstein. Comedy has always had a very hard time getting nominations for the Academy Awards. There was a little bit of that last year, thankfully, with Bridesmaids. But one of the reasons the Best Picture category was expanded was to get movies that were more mainstream, including comedies, into the Best Picture category. Can you think of any good way to encourage Academy members to look at comedy more seriously, no pun intended?
I was the executive producer of Heaven Can Wait, [and in] the ’78 Oscars, we got 9 nominations. So we did get nominated. We only won one, for production design. I can’t remember many comedies that have won. I can think of The Apartment. Annie Hall.

But it’s quite rare now that a comedy gets even a Best Picture nomination.
I don’t disagree with you. I love comedies, and I think sometimes they’re harder to make than straight dramas or epics or big science fiction movies. So I agree with you. I’ll never tell you who I vote for, but I’m one of those who really looks at comedies and believes that they are great movies. Hey, I made Wayne’s World. And my dad made Airplane! I think those were two great comedies. Not necessarily Academy comedies, but the audiences loved them.

Speaking of your father, he was an Academy president as well.
I’m very proud of that.

Thinking back to when he was president, how do you think your job will match up with what he had to do back then?
Well, always it’s picking the host and picking the Oscar producer. So those are most important for the president. Right now for me, you know, it’s the Academy museum, which we’re getting ready to move forward on, which is extremely important to me and every member of the Academy, and we hope people around the world. For my father, it was finding a place to build a building for the Academy [itself], and I’m sitting in the building that my father helped build.

Read more:
Hawk Koch elected new AMPAS president
Jonah Hill, Terrence Malick, Melissa McCarthy and 173 others invited to join Academy
The Oscars new home is the Dolby Theatre

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