Frank Gladstone Talks the Annie Awards
DS: Weren’t there also some changes in the categories? Isn’t there an audience vote now?
FG: We did this last year as an experiment. We did a member’s favorite for the features. It didn’t work. It didn’t work for a lot of reasons. It was very hard to do. We got some votes, but it was a relatively small number of votes. We offered it to the entire ASIFA community worldwide. It really didn’t play well. We also noticed it tended to diffuse the ceremony slightly. So, we’re not doing it this year. What we did do this year is something we think is going to be huge as years go by. We created a student Annie Award. It did quite well this year. We didn’t expect it to be quite as big as it has been. It has one of the largest number of submissions of all our awards. We think it will grow substantially. This is a chance to for students all over the world to take part. It’s been hugely successful in its first year.
DS: There has always been criticism as far as how the voting was done, the perception that the voting was a popularity contest that could be swayed by blocks of studio votes. What changes have you made to address this issue?
FG: The criticism has been that the voting could be gamed. That’s a criticism you find in almost all the awards ceremonies. Somehow, there’s a way to game it. You spend more money on ads, this and that, you influence the voting. In our case, the criticism was that a studio could manage to control the election. Historically that actually wasn’t true. But, be that as it may, the perception was that it could be done and in fact, it probably could have been if anybody really wanted to do it. So we had to come up with a way to change that perception.
What we did was take a lesson from some of the other awards ceremonies and from the Electoral College. First, we made it so voters had to be pro level members who had credits for work that contributed materially to the actual product. Not the sales of the product. Not the office infrastructure. They must be creatively and artistically involved in the product itself. An animator, a composer, a designer… a producer or a director. That’s the first thing we changed. In the old days, if you had $30, you could vote on the Annies. Right now, that’s not the case. This has been a long process and has taken a number of years to implement.
The other thing we did is after the popular vote, we will then have a group of noted individuals, with extensive credits, that looks at the top contenders and finalizes the vote. They look at the top three in each category and finalize the vote. So it’s possible, like in the Electoral College, for the top vote getter not to be the winner. What that does is not allow any studio to control the vote. This random selection of judges represents all the studios and is weighted absolutely fairly through the industry. There are individuals, studio people and representatives of each of the nomination committees, who all determine the actual winners. We have the popular vote, that establishes the highest vote getters, and then the Electoral College makes the final picks. That Electoral College does not allow any person or studio to try and game the system. Nobody even knows who the Electoral College participants are except the Electoral College. Each year the Electoral College changes. And it works. Last year it worked and I’m confident this year it will too.
DS: Can you tell me a little bit of the issue regarding Disney decision not to participate in the Annies. What caused the break and what did you do to fix the situation and bring them back?
FG: This started before I became president. I was on the board then, so I observed what happened. The issue, basically, was what we just discussed about potential gaming of the system. Disney felt they were under-represented and that the vote wasn’t fair. So, when I took over as ASIFA Hollywood president, I had two priorities. First, was to set some goals for ASIFA Hollywood in general. That was number one. There were several goals to set. One of those goals was to do what I could, and get members to do what they could, to get Disney back into the fold. That didn’t include going to Disney and saying, “Let me convince you.” That’s not what anybody was looking for. “Let me try and talk you into it.”
What I wanted to do was answer their issues. And the issues, quite frankly, were shared by other people besides Disney. So we made changes with the awards selection. I think Disney, Pixar and the whole group realized that these awards are important. I think they knew when they left that it wasn’t a good thing for the industry. And when they had the opportunity to come back, they felt comfortable that we were answering their concerns as well as the concerns of other studios. The board didn’t think, “What are the other studios going to say?” We asked ourselves, what would be the fairest thing we can do? I think Disney and everyone else recognized that. This decision about the voting wasn’t going to make everybody happy. But, it was the fairest way to do it. I think Disney and the other studios recognized that. I think, and I hope, that the independents recognized that as well.