Producer Takes Academy to Task in Lawsuit


LOS ANGELES — Tension within the stately Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences spilled into public on Monday when a prominent producer sued the organization over a procedural matter and in the process attacked officials over the troubled state of the Oscars.

Michael Shamberg, a producer and executive producer of “The Big Chill” (1983), “Erin Brockovich” (2000), “Django Unchained” (2012) and other films, filed the lawsuit in Los Angeles County Superior Court. It claims that the academy did not adhere to its rules when its 54-member board declined to vote on bylaw amendments proposed by Shamberg. In conjunction with the filing, Shamberg, who unsuccessfully ran for an academy board seat in June, publicly admonished the organization, a rarity for a member of the Hollywood establishment.

“The place is being run into the ground,” Shamberg said in an interview, referring to the academy. “They think if they don’t talk about problems they will go away. I’m tired of it.”

According to his complaint, Shamberg in January formally proposed amending the 93-year-old academy’s bylaws to put a greater focus on engaging movie buffs through social media. He also asked the organization to conduct an annual survey of members, in part to solicit ideas about how to make the Oscars more relevant to young adults and to give members a way to have their voices heard. Television ratings for the most recent Academy Awards plunged 31 percent among viewers 18 to 49 compared with the previous year, according to Nielsen data.

An academy spokeswoman declined to comment.

Scott Miller, the academy’s general counsel, defended the board’s handling of the proposed amendments in a July 10 letter to Shamberg’s lawyer. Miller said Shamberg received “abundant consideration” in processing and reviewing his proposal, noting that the producer had presented his proposal, titled the Relevance Project, to the board in person.

“The fact that Mr. Shamberg disagrees with the academy’s social media strategy does not mean the board has failed to exercise reasonable business judgment in that area,” Miller wrote. “And it does not mean Mr. Shamberg is entitled to supplant their judgment with his.”

Total viewership for the Oscars telecast has declined 43 percent over the last decade. (To compare, the Golden Globes have increased by about 7 percent.) Various attempts by the academy to prop up the Oscars — shortening the televised portion of the ceremony by excluding certain categories, adding a category for achievement in “popular” film — have been poorly introduced and ultimately scrapped.

Shamberg, 75, said the academy could improve the fortunes of the Oscars if it had a sharper, speedier and more emotional presence on Instagram and Twitter, among other platforms. He said the academy should be in the league of a National Geographic, which has 140 million followers on Instagram, or a Nike, which has 117 million. The academy’s account has 2.6 million followers and largely posts archival stills and images of celebrities on red carpets. Shamberg called the organization’s voice in social media posts “bland and formulaic.”

“It is the academy’s stubborn refusal to engage the audience on social media that dooms the Oscars to a has-been awards show,” he wrote in a June 30 email to the board. “None of you filmmakers, publicists or studio executives would approve a digital marketing campaign for one of your movies that is as bland and all over the map as academy posts.”

He added, “It’s time for the academy and the board of governors to step up and publicly admit that the Oscars are in crisis.”

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