New Academy Museum of Motion Pictures Finally On Track After Delays and Financial Woes

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Photo Credit: Academy Museum Foundation

Academy Museum President Says Only the Pandemic Could Push Back the Opening (Again) After Years of Delays

“We will be ready to place those ruby slippers in the vitrine in April even if we have to hit pause and do that a few months later,” museum president Bill Kramer says

The new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, scheduled to open April 30 after years of delays and cost overruns, recently passed a major milestone: the museum exceeded its pre-opening fundraising campaign goal of $388 million. While money is no longer a problem, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic may upend the museum’s opening — which is currently scheduled for just five days after the April 25 Academy Awards ceremony.

“We are absolutely on track in terms of the work that needs to be done to open in April,” museum president Bill Kramer told TheWrap. “If due to the pandemic, we decide to move our opening date for health and safety purposes, the only components that will remain to be done is the installation of the objects which happens at the very last minute.”

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The Renzo Piano-designed museum, located at the corner of Wilshire Blvd. and Fairfax Ave on Museum Row, was first announced in 2012 with a target opening date of 2017. The opening was subsequently moved to 2018, then December 2019 and finally to Dec. 14 this year, a date announced with much fanfare on stage during the Oscars broadcast this past February. In June, the museum announced another postponement due to the pandemic.

The tumultuous ensuing months saw not only pandemic delays but the August resignation of former NBCUniversal vice chairman Ron Meyer as board chair, after Meyer disclosed he had reached a private settlement with a woman who tried to extort him after they engaged in an extramarital affair a few years ago. Meyer was replaced by Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos, who had been serving as museum co-chair.

Kramer, who became president of the museum in October 2019, sat down with TheWrap to discuss the future of the museum, both during pandemic and after. The interview has been edited for space and clarity.

Photo: Joshua White/JW Pictures Academy Museum Foundation

Congratulations on your recent announcement that the Academy Museum has surpassed its pre-opening funding goal of $388 million. But the museum’s total budget is $482 million, right?
Yes, $482 million is what we call our total project cost. That’s all of the construction, all of the exterior of the building, the building out of all of the interior spaces and then all of the work going into our opening exhibition. We will launch a second campaign post-opening that will include the portion of the capital budget we still need to raise. This will be a comprehensive campaign that also includes a drive to grow our endowment; we’ll be raising money for screenings and future exhibitions and educational programs.

Do you expect recent COVID-19 spikes and L.A.’s stay-at-home order may cause another opening postponement?
As of today, our opening date is still scheduled for April 30. We are absolutely on track in terms of the work that needs to be done to open in April. Of course, we continue to monitor the pandemic on a daily basis. So we’re able to open, but we’ll keep an eye on the pandemic, and we will make a decision tied to the health and well-being of our staff and visitors. If due to the pandemic, we decide to move our opening date for health and safety purposes, the only components that will remain to be done is the installation of the objects which happens at the very last minute. You have everything set up to place the ruby slippers in the vitrine (but they must stay) in a dark climate-controlled space until right before you open. So we will be ready to place those ruby slippers in the vitrine in April even if we have to hit pause and do that a few months later.

Will pandemic-related opening delays affect funding, since ticket sales will not begin as early as planned on Dec. 14?
Because the date has moved because of the pandemic, we haven’t had to launch a big marketing campaign, or hire over 100 new employees as front-line staff in the museum. So we’re working (but) we’re keeping our expenses down. That need for that ticket revenue comes when you open the museum, and you’re fully functioning seven days a week with the full staff and a marketing campaign.

Los Angeles is experiencing the unusual coincidence of two major movie museums opening on the heels of each other: The Academy Museum and the $1 billion Lucas Museum of Narrative Arts in Exposition Park. How are they different? (The Lucas Museum originally slated to open at the end of 2021, has experienced pandemic construction delays. A Lucas Museum spokeswoman told TheWrap that no new opening date has been set but substantial construction is expected to be completed in 2022).
We love Sandra (Lucas Museum president Sandra Jackson-Dumont) and (museum co-founders) George (Lucas) and Mellody (Hobson, Lucas’ wife). They’re great, great, great friends of our project and partners to us. You know, George has been a major donor, both financially to our project and in collections items he’s loaning us. But our museum is solely focused on telling the stories of cinema, the history, the present, the future, the artists, the genres, telling it in a complete and diverse and dynamic way. From what I know, and from what I’ve heard, his is a museum of narrative arts… the vast majority of the museum will not be connected to moviemaking. So we’re really we’re the only standalone museum, especially of this scale, in the entire country that’s devoted to cinema.

It seems that at the same time the Academy Museum had gotten past its financial woes, you had to take on the scandal surrounding your former board chair in August, leading to Ted Sarandos stepping into the board leadership role. How did that affect progress?
There were absolutely no adverse impacts to the project. Ron (Meyer) is a great friend of the project. We adore him; he was a great board chair. And Ted (Sarandos) was vice chair. So he was really positioned to step into the chair role (and it was) completely seamless.

The irony of streaming king Sarandos leading the board of a museum devoted to theatrical films and big-screen exhibition has not been lost on Hollywood.
You know, Ted’s an exceptional leader. And there’s no denying that Netflix is a very big player in the movie landscape today. He’s been a great partner and donor. And, you know, when you build a nonprofit board, which is what our board is, you want to bring in a wide variety of experiences. You want an international board; you want a diverse board, so you want a lot of different perspectives at the table.

How have you placed your stamp on the museum during your brief tenure as president?
I was on the project from 2012 to the beginning of 2016, and then went back east for a new position, and I actually came back last October. It’s been amazing to be back on the project. And I feel like I’ve been able to build on the great work that’s happened over the last many years, you know, success has many parents. We’ve really been able to re-look at our core exhibition, the design of it, and the content. We’ve been able to expand our Inclusion Advisory Committee chaired by Effie Brown. We’re now building and presenting an exhibition that tells very complex and diverse stories. And I think that that is what the world is waiting for in a film museum, especially today.

Diane Haithman