The Academy Originals is a terrific series of documentary-style videos focusing on the people who make movies, their creative process, and key moments in the history of filmmaking.
Why Watch Academy Originals?
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is comprised of 6000 movie professionals and is the organization that produces the Oscars each year and this new weekly web series.
If you want to learn more about how top filmmakers, writers, directors, costume designers, production designers, composers and other talented film professionals practice their craft, I highly recommend Academy Originals.
I’ve been loving the series and highlighted six screenwriters and writer-directors who shared their writing process. Josh Spector and his team at the Academy conceive, create, and produce these wonderful films. I asked Josh to share some insight into how the films come about.
Inside The Academy Originals
Can you explain what you do?
JS: I’m the Managing Director of Digital Media and Marketing for the Academy, which means I oversee social media, our website, online content, and digital marketing for the Academy and everything we do including the Oscars.
What was your first job in the business and how did you get it?
JS: My first job out of college was for a PR agency that worked primarily with television shows. I have a relative who is a voiceover actor and he was working on the animated series Duckman, which was represented by that agency. He helped get me an informational interview when I came to visit LA over spring break my senior year in college. They weren’t hiring at the time, but said to keep in touch if I decided to move to Los Angeles.
A couple months later I moved to LA without a job, got back in touch with them, and they wound up having a position open up and hiring me a couple weeks after I moved here.
What’s the goal for Academy Originals?
JS: We want to inspire, educate, and entertain people. We want to tell stories that nobody else is telling – and in many cases nobody else is able to tell. The Academy is a unique organization with a membership that consists of the most creative people in the world and we use Academy Originals as a way to share their expertise with the world.
One of the aspects of the Academy Originals that stands out to me is that you aren’t following typical “rules” for online video- such as being supershort and focused on celebrity gossip, but rather to focus on the artists and to create films that make an impact. Can you talk about how you decide what ideas to produce and what to include in the films?
JS: The productions run through my Digital Media department and it’s a very collaborative process. We look for interesting stories to tell that are in line with our overall goals and ways to tell them that are compelling. We really approached Academy Originals from the outset with a belief that the “rules” of web series don’t really exist.
Those “rules” – things like videos need to be short, or gossipy, or have click bait titles – are really driven by assumptions of what it takes to deliver impressions for advertisers. But that’s not our goal. Our videos are not ad-supported and we’re essentially playing a different game.
When we set out, we believed we could create a different kind of web series – one that was reflective of the standard of excellence that the Academy represents. We believed that there was a highly underserved audience out there that was looking for higher-quality material and a more in-depth approach to documentary storytelling online. And certainly an audience that was fascinated by movies and the people that make them.
The success of Academy Originals so far has been very encouraging in proving that on some level we are correct in that assumption.
What is the process for making one of the films?
JS: Each one is different, but it usually begins with a concept that my team dreams up or that has come as an extension of another Academy program or project. Then, we reach out to specific Academy members or other people that we believe have an interesting perspective or expertise to share on the subject to get them involved.
Once the film is shot, we go into post-production where internally we edit and fine-tune the film. The process is very self-contained and I think one of the reasons we’ve been able to be so productive and effective is that we keep the number of people involved in each production very small – there’s not too many cooks in the kitchen.
How did “Moments That Changed The Movies: Jurassic Park” come about? Can you share the process (how many people were involved, how long from idea, to production, to post, to release)?
JS: When we initially started thinking through our Academy Originals strategy, one of the recurring episode ideas we had was to hone in on very specific moments – as narrow a moment in time as possible – that had a big impact in changing the course of how movies are made.
In thinking about what some of those moments have been, we felt the visual effects in Jurassic Park was a perfect moment. We then started researching the backstory of what actually happened by interviewing our members and the story turned out to be even more fascinating than we had first envisioned.
It’s tough to say how many people were involved, but as you can see in the video we interviewed several people who had worked on the film and it was produced over the course of a couple months.
In your job, when do you pitch and to whom?
JS: I don’t necessarily formally pitch on a regular basis – the closest thing to a formal pitch was probably internally to get initial sign-off on the idea of an Academy Originals series in the first place.
We work in a pretty fluid fashion on the episodes, but I’d say that my team and I are regularly pitching Originals episode ideas to each other to determine what we want to pursue moving forward. Producing an episode a week is a huge undertaking, so there’s no shortage of idea pitching that has to go on in order to fill that volume of production.
When do you hear pitches and by whom?
JS: Up to this point we haven’t really solicited pitches from anybody outside of the Academy. That said, we do regularly communicate with our members and other Academy staff members who often have suggestions or ideas for episodes that they share with us.
What’s your favorite part of the process?
JS: I’m really proud of the quality of the videos that we’ve produced and love seeing the way people have reacted to watching them. It’s one thing to set out to inspire people, but it’s another to actually see people sharing videos and commenting on them about how they have been inspired by them.
It’s also great to be able to see something that may start as a fragment of an idea turn into a final product that’s even better than you imagined it could be. That’s happened with several of the episodes we’ve produced so far, which is really fun.
What has been something that you’ve learned from producing the Academy Originals so far?
JS: I’ve learned how hungry people are for content that digs a little deeper than the average YouTube video. There’s a huge audience out there that wants to hear filmmakers talk about much more than just the promotion of their latest project – they want to know how people actually create things, they want to see the process, and they want to see how even the most talented people in the world still struggle to create their art.
I’ve also learned that even though there’s a million things competing for people’s attention these days, if you produce something that’s interesting they will stick with it. Our average viewer spends more than 5 minutes watching our episodes, which really speaks to that.
What’s something you’re looking forward to in the next year?
JS: With 52 episodes coming in the next year, I’ve got 52 things to look forward to…and a whole lot of work to do.