Students at MMI Preparatory School had a close encounter with Hollywood Thursday thanks to a visit from Cheryl Boone Isaacs, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), the organization behind the Oscar awards.
Boone Isaacs has enjoyed a lengthy marketing career in Hollywood, which began with her work as a junior publicist on Close Encounters of the Third Kind. She went on to hold executive positions at Paramount Pictures and New Line Cinema, promoting such films as Forrest Gump, Braveheart, Austin Powers: the Spy Who Shagged Me, and Rush Hour. As a consultant Boone Isaacs worked on campaigns for The King's Speech, Spider-Man 2, and The Artist.
The first African-American to serve as AMPAS president and just the third woman, Boone Isaacs spoke to MMI students, offering career and life advice about overcoming obstacles, as well as relating colorful tales of her life around Hollywood greats such as Steven Spielberg, Angelina Jolie, and Mel Gibson.
Boone Isaacs was invited to speak by her friend, MMI alumnus John H. Hersker ’76, who himself is no stranger to Hollywood. Hersker, who now serves on the MMI Board of Directors, is a former Paramount Pictures executive vice president, as well as the former CEO of Movie Tavern, a movie theater eatery concept chain with locations across the nation.
MMI Head of School Tom Hood said, “We are thrilled to enjoy a visit from such a highly placed Hollywood executive. I’m sure the impact she has made today on our students will help guide them through their lives, regardless of their chosen careers.”
Born and raised in Springfield, MA, Boone Isaacs worked several jobs after graduating from a small liberal arts college in California with a degree in political science. She worked as a buyer in a department store in Los Angeles, before becoming a flight attendant because of her love of travel. It was in her mid-20’s that she asked herself what she really wanted to do.
“I never had a plan,” she said. “I finally had to ask myself what I really loved to do.”
Entering the film industry is easier said than done, but hard work and perseverance paid off for Boone Isaacs. Despite having a brother who was already in the industry and had worked on the original Star Wars in 1977, she entered the industry on the ground floor.
Her early assignments were challenging, such as being told to read an entire room filled with files before she was allowed to attend any meetings.
“Sometimes you get an assignment that you think is below your education, but it’s not,” Boone Isaacs said.
It didn’t take her long before she was on the path toward becoming a top-level marketing executive for Paramount Pictures. She left Paramount to become president of marketing for New Line Cinema, and later formed CBI enterprises, a marketing consulting firm.
Boone Isaacs told MMI students to savor the challenges in life and avoid telling themselves self-defeating messages.
“I used to tell myself why something wouldn’t work out, before I had even tried. People put up their own barriers, such as ‘I’m not good enough’ or ‘I’m not smart enough,’ but you can take down those barriers just as you put them up.”
Other advice given by Boone Isaacs was about social media. She warned students that online is forever, metaphorically suggesting social media is like a tsunami that may seem calm when it’s at sea, but then wreak havoc later.
When asked what the best advice was for young people looking to enter the film industry, she said, “Just get a job. Hard work will be repaid.”
Boone Isaacs spoke at length about the voting process for the Oscar nominations and awards. She also talked about education initiatives that are central to the Academy's mission of advancing the art of motion pictures.