Now that the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts And Sciences has announced its campaign rules for the 85th Annual Academy Awards, I got on the phone with Academy COO Ric Robertson to clarify what they mean and why they were made. According to him, there was no major surgery involved this year. “I characterize these as tweaking and reacting to a couple of things we got feedback on last year,” he said, specifically mentioning input from Academy members and studios directly involved in campaigning for Oscars. Almost all of the “tweaking” is for the post-nomination period starting with the noms announcement January 15, 2013 through the return of final ballots on the previously unannounced date of February 19.
The most significant change is essentially refining last year’s new, rather revolutionary change that members are allowed to attend screenings with filmmaker Q&As. Previous to the 84th Oscar season they were forbidden at any time. As with last year, prior to nominations virtually anything goes and there are no limitations in terms of numbers of Q&As per film or participant, food can be served and parties are allowed. Events such as Deadline’s own The Contenders, which contains numerous Q&As, also is not affected by these new regulations according to Robertson.
Post-noms, the rule last year was that a participant including actors and key crew members could do up to two Q&As each. Now that’s been amended to say that Academy may be invited “to up to four screenings of a nominated film that are preceded or followed by filmmaker Q&As or other such participation”, with a fifth UK event also permitted. Participants must either be nominated or at least eligible for a nomination. According to Robertson, it got out of hand last year thus necessitating the change. “One of the things we saw in the case of ensemble casts or main crew members being available, that it still allowed for a tremendous number of Q&As. There are just too many going on. On one given night there were nine different Q&As. This (new rule) may look like more but this is really an attempt to rein those in a bit”, he says. Hence film companies and campaigners will now have to pick and choose carefully where they plan their Q&A screenings post-noms as they only get up to five shots period.
The one tweak affecting pre-nom rules revolves around mailings. Now, members may be sent only one piece of mail or email per company each week. This usually involves screening schedules and that kind of thing. Blatant promotional materials and “links to websites that promote a film using audio, video, or other multimedia elements” are still forbidden, But the Academy (in an attempt to promote its own member screenings, which as of June began allowing post Q&As with filmmaker participation in what is known as the “Academy Conversations” series), will now allow companies to link to videos of those Q&As on the Acad’s own website Oscars.org as part of their promotional materials. This move will definitely make doing Q&As at the Acad’s official screenings — generally held on weekends at its Samuel Goldwyn Theatre — all that more attractive, a must-stop during the season. “That’s the idea,” says Robertson. “It is all done with the interest of getting people into a theatre to see a movie.” Or, in this case, the Academy’s theatre. Robertson says so far adding Q&As to their own screenings has been “getting a tremendous response both from filmmakers who participate and our members who are coming, so it looks really promising”. For instance, as first reported on Deadline, attendance was so high the Academy had to add an unprecedented second theatre for last Saturday night’s The Dark Knight Rises official screening even though the planned post-Q&A with cinematographer Wally Pfister was cancelled due to the Colorado shooting tragedy.
Also of note in today’s announcement is a pre-emptive move in which the Academy has cleverly banned something that hasn’t actually happened yet. The new rules state that while guilds and other awards organizations may hold non-screening events after the nominations (such as their own awards shows), film companies may not use those occasions to sponsor promotional events that might violate other Acad regulations. When I asked what this means, Robertson suggested a company might try to do a “night before” the BAFTA awards or DGA Awards celebrating a particular nominee for those awards. No one has really done this yet to anyone’s knowledge, but the Academy decided to be pro-active in banning it if anyone tries. “We were the first ones to think of this idea,” Robertson laughed.
The other tweak involves language specifying that companies can’t send out stand-alone ads or promotional materials using a third party (such as the trades) to do it. It doesn’t affect trades and others from including that advertising material as part of their own publication, a common practice. Another new rule allowing members to receive a film on both DVD and as a digital download was actually quietly implemented mid-stream last season and officially announced today.
So how effective are all these yearly tweaks to the campaigning process, which often gets criticized for being too long and too in-your-face? Robertson is pleased for the most part. “We find companies are willing to work with us as long as they feel everyone is playing by the same rules”, he says. “That’s the key to all of this. As long as there is a level playing field they’re generally pretty happy and we’re generally pleased as well”.
And how does the Academy police what has become a massive awards season with many moving parts around the world? Robertson says they don’t have to. “All of the various awards marketers or campaigners out there — they have our phone number and they are an excellent investigative squad. They tell us when something’s being done that’s amiss.”