Earlier today, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced some changes to the Oscar ceremony and broadcast. It seems a good opportunity for this space to do something it should be doing more, go beyond the thoughts on films watched.
At the end of this post, I’ll paste the full letter that was sent to AMPAS members, copied from one of the many trades reports, but I’ll give my thoughts point by point. The main motivation of all these changes seems to be to make the telecast more accessible and attractive, to improve its ratings.
The first change is aim for a three-hour telecast, and the way they intend to do that is to hand some awards off-air. This is, by far, the most troubling of the changes. While they state the intent to honor all categories, by not showing them on air does all but that. It’s a great disrespect to the professionals of below-the-line categories. It’s one of the few opportunities for the public-at-large to see these very talented people be honored for their hard work and its impressive results. It may be an unattainable goal to properly honor the industry as a whole in a three-hour telecast.
Also, when one considers the telecast must be brought down from nearly four hours to three, and that extra time must be given to the edited segments at some point, it means that nearly one-third of the categories may get this treatment. It’s preposterous.
However, if they truly decide to go forward with this (hope springs eternal, after all), I hope they will stream online the actual, live footage of the awards being given, so those that actually want to see the action as it unfolds may do so.
To make things worse, they will introduce a new category to the mix, Best Popular Film (or something similarly named). It’s a pointless, silly award, introduced so people who care exclusively for blockbusters will have something to watch in the ceremony. Exactly what is eligible for this category still needs to be disclosed, but it has been pointed out by many that these films will probably already have the award they were looking for, a sizeable box-office.
Furthermore, it creates a situation where films that fall in that category will, for all practical purposes, be excluded from the conversation in the Best Picture category, as already happens with Best Animated Feature, Best Documentary Feature and Best Foreign Language. It’s a new ghetto, created so AMPAS can pretend they care. Ultimately, why stop at those ghettos and not have Best Comedy, Best Gross-Out Comedy, Best Western, Best Noir, Best Non-Dancing Musical, Best Dancing Musical etc?
(This is as good a spot as any to reiterate this idea: Best Picture should be fixed at 10 nominees, and each voter should be able to vote for 10 films when determining the nominees. That is the only way that a much desired greater variety in the Best Picture race could be achieved.)
The third measure is the least bad, but it also has its implications, internationally. I haven’t conducted an in-depth study on release patterns in most markets, but I can speak in detail about Brazil. While (following international trends) major releases get released day-and-date with the US (or, at most, with a few weeks delay), smaller films (which includes most Oscar fare and prestige films in general) get a much delayed release. Distributors, in tandem with exhibitors, usually hold on to release likely Oscar nominees after their nominations are announced.
It’s very rare nowadays for Best Picture nominees to not be released before the Oscar telecast, but films with solo nominations in the acting and writing categories often slide past that weekend. That creates a very crowded landscape between the Golden Globes and the Oscar, with many nominated films being released in those weeks. By making that window shorter, it’s more likely that more films will slide to after the ceremony, which will reduce their commercial interest (and may kill their prospects entirely, keeping them away from the big screen).
Of course, the effect here may end up being positive, as distributors may choose to release those films earlier, closer to when they were originally released in the US (or in their original countries). Again, one can only hope.
All of these suggest AMPAS is trying to make the Oscar be something it’s not. I would rather they would embrace what they are.
The Academy’s message to members is below:
Last night, the Board of Governors met to elect new board officers, and discuss and approve significant changes to the Oscars telecast.
The Board of Governors, staff, Academy members, and various working groups spent the last several months discussing improvements to the show.
Tonight, the Board approved three key changes:
1. A three-hour Oscars telecast
We are committed to producing an entertaining show in three hours, delivering a more accessible Oscars for our viewers worldwide.
To honor all 24 award categories, we will present select categories live, in the Dolby Theatre, during commercial breaks (categories to be determined). The winning moments will then be edited and aired later in the broadcast.
2. New award category
We will create a new category for outstanding achievement in popular film. Eligibility requirements and other key details will be forthcoming.
3. Earlier airdate for 92nd Oscars
The date of the 92nd Oscars telecast will move to Sunday, February 9, 2020, from the previously announced February 23. The date change will not affect awards eligibility dates or the voting process.
The 91st Oscars telecast remains as announced on Sunday, February 24, 2019.
We have heard from many of you about improvements needed to keep the Oscars and our Academy relevant in a changing world. The Board of Governors took this charge seriously.
We are excited about these steps, and look forward to sharing more details with you.
John Bailey and Dawn Hudson