93rd Oscars: New Eligibility Requirements and a ‘New’ Category – Special Features #69

The coronavirus pandemic has had a serious impact on the film industry. Universal has pulled several films from their theatrical release schedule and made them available on-demand, and, allegedly, they have found a lot of success with the VOD release of Trolls World Tour. Meanwhile, we still don’t know when theaters all over the world will reopen. It could take several weeks, but it could also take several months. Your guess could be as good as mine. As a direct result of the coronavirus pandemic, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ (AMPAS) Board of Governors has approved several noteworthy rule changes that, among other things, change which films are eligible for the 93rd Academy Awards.

The Board of Governors‘ response to the coronavirus pandemic is to change the eligibility requirements to be able to be nominated for Oscars. Previously, AMPAS’ eligibility requirements dictated that a film had to have played in a commercial theater in Los Angeles County for at least one week. This rule is one that Netflix has had to abide by these last few years, even though the rule is, in theory, at odds with the platform’s modus operandi. Now, for the 93rd Academy Awards, that rule has been changed temporarily. This year, films can qualify for nomination eligibility, even if they haven’t been shown in theaters.

To specify, only films that were originally intended to be released in theaters can now basically opt-out of a theatrical release and still be eligible for potential Oscar nominations. But, again, only if they were previously planned for a theatrical release. This means that Universal’s Trolls World Tour, which has found great success on VOD, is still eligible to be nominated for the 93rd Academy Awards. However, traditional TV films like HBO’s Bad Education, which was never planned for a qualifying run in theaters, is still ineligible. This rule change should, in theory, make it easier for a studio to opt-out of a theatrical release, but it is only a small, timid, and temporary push towards the acceptance of VOD and films distributed by streaming services.

It has also been decided that the Academy Awards category line-up will change going forward. Fear not, AMPAS has not created some outlandish new category. Instead, the Academy has decided to effectively retire the Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing categories and instead combine them to create a new category known simply as the Best Sound category. This category line-up change is not a huge shock. There have been some rumblings about the Academy’s desire to do exactly this. This change does make some sense. Several anonymous Oscar voters have time and time again proclaimed that they do not know the difference between ‘sound mixing’ and ‘sound editing,’ and this is a pretty significant problem since the entire Academy decides what films ultimately win each and every category.

The Board of Governors also approved the following not-so-newsworthy rule changes:

  • “For films to more easily meet theatrical exhibition requirements when theaters reopen, the Academy also will expand the number of qualifying theaters beyond Los Angeles County to include venues in additional U.S. metropolitan areas: the City of New York; the Bay Area; Chicago, Illinois; Miami, Florida; and Atlanta, Georgia.”

  • “The 93rd Awards season will be the final year DVD screeners will be allowed to be distributed; these mailings will be discontinued starting in 2021 for the 94th Academy Awards.”

  • “In a procedural change in the International Feature Film category, all eligible Academy members will now be invited to participate in the preliminary round of voting. […] These members of the International Feature Film Preliminary Voting committee must meet a minimum viewing requirement in order to be eligible to vote in the category.”

  • “In the Music (Original Score) category, for a score to be eligible, it must comprise a minimum of 60% original music.  Additionally, for sequels and franchise films, a score must have a minimum of 80% new music.”

So, what do the major changes, ultimately, mean in the grand scheme of things? Well, the first and most newsworthy change, the eligibility requirement change, has made the decision to release a film on VOD much easier for ambitious distributors. I think it is a necessary push in the right direction for AMPAS, but I also think the movie theater industry will be slightly disappointed by the decision.

Although the eligibility requirement change may be the most newsworthy change, I think the decision to create a single sound-category is the most interesting change that the Board of Governors has approved. I think it is a shame that the sound branch has not put up a fight for the honor of having two different categories. I think it would have been wiser for the Academy to educate its members than to retire two awards because members did not understand the difference between them. I fear that the Academy will soon decide to retire or combine other awards in an attempt to shorten the show. We will have to wait and see what happens, but even though I understand the decision to combine the awards, I can’t say that I agree with it.

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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