My phone started ringing off the hook shortly after the Academy of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences sent out their press release today detailing key dates in the voting schedule for the 85th annual Academy Awards. Awards consultants I spoke to were clearly thrown for a loop and expressed dismay over the new dates — particularly the Academy’s switch from the previous Oscar nominations announcement date of January 15 to January 10, an unprecedented three days before the Golden Globes.
Does this blunt the impact of the Globes? In some ways it definitely will as the Academy’s nomination announcement will get enormous attention just as the Hollywood Foreign Press Association is drumming up attention for its own big night. Also, the usual window in which studios use Globes wins for newspaper, online and TV advertising is, well, out the window as Oscar nominations will likely take precedence. Last year, there was a week-and-a-half between the Globes ceremony and the Oscar noms. Now the two are much, much closer. The impact, if any, of Globes nominations on Oscar voters is also minimalized as the Globes noms are announced December 13 and Oscar nom voting starts four days later on December 17, with ballots now due back January 3.
And then there is the Broadcast Film Critics Association’s Critics Choice Movie Awards, another big telecast movie awards show that usually falls on the Thursday or Friday before the Globes. No date has been announced for 2013, but the group’s decision will certainly be impacted by today’s Academy news. Certainly they don’t want to show to fall on the same day as Oscar nominations, but will they move earlier because of this? There’s only so much wriggle room here. Making things even more crowded and headache-inducing for awards consultants, The National Board Of Review also holds their awards ceremony in New York on January 10th
How this new nomination voting window (Dec 17-Jan 3) affects voter turnout in the Academy is another issue as it falls smack-dab in the heart of the busy holiday season, with ballots due just as many in the industry are coming back from vacation. Consultants usually use that period to screen heavily — even in winter vacation spots like Aspen and Hawaii — so there’s now a time crunch to make sure everyone has a chance to see the films, particularly those late-breaking December releases. There also will be a huge crunch with the Academy’s official screening schedule as there are only so many slots and now much less time to see everything before ballots are due; this end of the process puts more pressure on members scrambling to screenings. Getting DVD screeners or downloadable movies available earlier will be more important than ever even though the Academy prefers members see contenders on the big screen, a much tougher task for a busy Academy voter. Of course, with the new electronic voting Academy members won’t have to deal with paper ballots and snail mail and will able to send in ballots with the click of a button on their laptops or iPads.
What will be the impact of all this on those big December releases like The Hobbit (December 14), Zero Dark Thirty (December 19), Django Unchained (December 25) and Les Miserables, which Universal announced today was switching from December 14 to Christmas Day, getting it out of the way of The Hobbit? Major reviews won’t even appear for Les Miz and Django until Oscar voting has already been going on for a week. In the case of Kathryn Bigelow’s much-awaited and controversial Osama bin Laden film Zero Dark Thirty, there was word Sony would hold back screenings until a couple of weeks before opening, which will give Oscar voters even less chance to see it pre-nominations. The December releases need to screen like crazy to make up for lost time. You can bet today’s announcement will bring on some hastily called strategy sessions over at the affected studios.
“What’s gonna happen with the poor Palm Springs Film Festival?” one consultant asked me this morning. That fest’s black-tie gala awards ceremony where studios and distribs trot out their Oscar hopefuls has traditionally taken place during the Oscar nomination voting period. This year it is scheduled for January 5 — now after polls have closed — meaning minimal impact. Looking on the bright side, the consultant said the press releases announcing Palm Springs honorees will be the major reason for getting talent to participate, instead of the actual ceremony.
In the run-up to the final voting for Oscars, the Academy has shrewdly placed its nominees luncheon four days before that vote begins, giving it maximum impact. In fact, the actual dates for final voting (February 8-February 19) are similar to recent years and ballots are due back the same Tuesday before Oscars they always have been. I might have thought electronic voting could have extended that a few days but apparently the Academy does not want voting going on during key events that Oscar week.
Despite the increased time-crunch to see movies pre-nominations, the Academy is to be congratulated for finding a way to extend the period between nominations and final ballots being due by two full weeks. It’s good for members who won’t feel as rushed in seeing the actual nominees, and from the Academy’s point of view it further blunts the less-savory campaign elements of Oscar season as rules for parties and personal campaigning are far more stringent post-noms than pre-noms — effectively giving the Academy more control where they want it. It’s also good for the business: A longer window for theater owners to tout Oscar-nominated films is something exhibitors with whom I have spoken have long wanted, and it will give moviegoers and potential Oscarcast viewers more time to see the films and get invested in the race. That should help ratings — at least in theory. And the Academy has done it without making the potentially foolhardy move of staging the Oscars a month earlier as was rumored but never really true. There was never much taste for that on the part of the Board of Governors or ABC.
With these tweaks to the schedule, the Academy is putting the emphasis on seeing the nominees and making voting for them easier. Nothing wrong with that.