Oscar Troubles: Online Balloting Confusing Some Members; Controversy Over Best Song Omissions

There’s exactly one week left to vote for Oscar nominations and there’s still ‘trouble in River City’.

After reporting on all the problems regarding the registration process for the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ initial foray into the perilous world of online voting for Oscars this year, and then breaking the story about paper ballots being sent automatically to any voter who didn’t register or didn’t want to attempt voting online, there still seems to be frustration on the part of a number of voters.

Since the voting period opened for nominations on December 17th (it runs thorugh January 3rd) , some disgruntled members have told me it just isn’t working very well.  As my colleague Mike Fleming reported the site was even completely down early in the process. The system, which requires members to have a special password (this in addition to their regular password that gains them entrance into the Academy’s website) and a code supplied by a phone call to an appointed phone number only when they actually set out to vote, is designed specifically for the Academy by a company, Everyone Counts (the result of an 18-month search), that does the same thing for the U.S. government with clients including the Department of Defense. It’s so loaded with specific safeguards and military-level encryption methods to keep hackers and imposters out that it is causing extreme frustration for some who have tried to vote. As a result some fear it could supress voter turnout although we won’t know since the Academy has never released figures of how many actually vote.

“It’s so poorly conceived. When you think about it I probably won’t vote this round as it’s too much trouble. They had to reset my password as it wasn’t taking it. This requires me to write everything down and know where I put it,”  said one voter who has a vested interest in the race as they represent a couple of contenders. “Next year I am signing up for a paper ballot.” This person did email me earlier today to say they finally voted but only after getting TWO security codes via text message. The first was incorrect but the second finally worked and enabled them to vote, “but I’m pissed off about it”.

The code that voters get only comes up AFTER you get your VIN and then password correct. A warning then comes up and says , “A one-time security code has been generated for you. You should receive this code via phone call or text message depending on the preference you selected during the Electronic  Voting Registration process. If you do not receive this code within 15 minutes, please click the ‘Send New Code’ link and a new code will be generated and sent to you”.  Problem is the voter must be by the phone number provided for a call verification before getting the code. The bottom line is many members just don’t realize the process they signed up for can be more complicated than writing down a few names and pressing ‘send’, which is the way it works for other voting organizations that don’t provide the kind of hacker temptations  of the Oscars.

One voter told me he accidentally put in the wrong password (his regular Academy password instead of the special one provided for the balloting) and was locked out and had to start over although he said the Academy’s support line was very helpful. At least it is not staffed in India. Yet.

One studio campaign consultant and longtime Academy member told me they were locked out three times before giving up to start trying again tomorrow. For an organization like the Academy coming into the electronic age is not easy and there will always be strong resistance. But unlike every other awards organization the Oscars would really be in danger of getting hacked if some enterprising individual could find a way in. It would be big news. The secrecy and integrity of the Academy’s voting process has never been breached in 84 years. It is a dream target. That is why the Academy has meticulously designed a system that is highly secured against hacking. Unfortunately that’s precisely how some of its frustrated, less techy members must be feeling when they try to simply cast a ballot.

For at least one member just getting on that ballot has been frustrating this year.  Six-time Oscar nominated songwriter Diane Warren had her title song for Silver Linings Playbook ruled ineligible. The song, Silver Linings  plays under one scene for about 40 seconds in the film but the Academy’s Music peer group committee that decides these things (Warren herself is a member) held a vote recently and decided it wasn’t enough to make it eligible. They also ruled another song in the film ineligible for similar reasons and even deep-sixed Danny Elfman’s score which comprised about 15 minutes of straight underscore. Apparently the committee felt it was overwhelmed by other elements of the soundtrack, meaning a large number of songs, and wasn’t “substantial” enough. Producers of the film and The Weinstein Company were understandably miffed and Warren says Harvey Weinstein and director David O. Russell even wrote impassioned pleas on her behalf which she read to the music board, but to no avail. “Their reason is my song wasn’t substantial enough in the film, but they don’t define what that is. It is a key scene in the film where Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence’s characters are rehearsing their big dance. There are 75 songs eligible this year and I can’t be one of them?,” asks Warren. “If a song says something important, and even if it is only 10 seconds, then it should be eligible. I’m not saying that I should be nominated, I just wanted to be eligible. The music is like a character in the film.”

Warren said she was the one who spoke up a couple of years ago about how ridiculous the music branch’s complicated  point system of voting was and that changed. She spoke up last  year about returning to the ideal of having five songs nominated instead of two or three  in recent years and that was changed too, but she doesn’t believe her song’s exclusion from eligibility was any kind of retribution for being a squeaky wheel on the committee. She just believes in the tune and its significance for the film. “I worked harder on this song than any other song in my career. It’s the first time I’ve had a title song in a movie,” she said.

Warren wasn’t alone. Among other songs scrapped for various reasons was superstar Taylor Swift’s Golden Globe-nominated “Safe And Sound” from The Hunger Games.

Rules are rules.

  1. I think the decision my the Music Branch to omit Diane Warren’s song entitled “Sliver Linings” for eligibility for nomination is horrible. Having the film’s director and the Head of the studio write letters on behalf of her contribution should have been enough to sway the panel to allow it to be eligible. Once again there is controversy in the Music Branch that seems to just screw things up for deserving talent such as Diane Warren and Taylor Swift.

    1. Yeah, good point. They should just right now give all the Oscars to Dianne Warren and Taylor Swift. Keep mixing, my man.

  2. I voted electronically today and it was without any hitch. I believe the main problem with those bitching about the process is because they don’t read and understand instructions very well. When you register initially it is spelled out that you will have to create a specific password for voting only. There was also a letter that was sent to all voting members outlining the entire process. Once you register there are frequent emails, again with instructions. I liked the extra security of the mailed VIN. Once you vote the setup is clear, a list of the eligible titles is available and filling in the Nominees is made simpler as you type a title with a drop down list of those that match as you type. That is a hell of a lot easier than writing in the title by hand.

    I also participate in another guild with electronic voting and the Academy setup is clear and less confusing.

    Perhaps the problems are all due to Academy member’s brains shriveling to only understand sentences of 140 characters or less?

    1. “Perhaps the problems are all due to Academy member’s brains shriveling to only understand sentences of 140 characters or less?”

      Wow, this coming from an Academy member?

      Yet, truer words were never written (though the maximum number of characters is debatable).

  3. If “Moon River” was only 10 (or 40) seconds long, it wouldn’t have won “best song” and no one would know it 50 years later. I saw “Silver Linings Playbook” just yesterday and I had to go back to remember there was a song there at all– and I thought the movie was great and I liked the music too. But that doesn’t make it a title song. “The Way We Were” is a title song. “Fame” is a title song. “Falling Slowly” from “Once” is a title song. If this were a title song, they would have played it at the end of the movie so you could hear everything it had to say.

    1. By definition, a title song is “a recorded song having the same name as the album or movie it comes from”.

      Hence, “Falling Slowly” is not a title song, as the title of the movie was “Once”.

      1. I think the term “title song” means (or also means)– it takes place over the titles, front or back… Where it’s featured in some way (Way We Were, Skyfall)… This “Silver Linings” song plays for 23 seconds, and too inaudible for it have any lyrical meaning to the movie. She can still have a hit record and win a Grammy, but to win an Oscar it has to play as more than just a source cue. If it was that crucial to the movie, it should have played over the end titles and then it might have gotten nominated or even won. Maybe it’s a great song. We can’t hear it.

    1. Excellent point Norm. Just give her all the Oscars going forward. You can’t get in an elevator without still without hearing the theme from Con Air. it’s a real travesty. Way to be on it, Norm. Go back to work now, Norm. Seriously. Ridiculous as it is– as much as you’re making a difference here, you still have to go back to work.

  4. The poor man had to write down an online password and remember where he put it? The horror! What sad bubble do these people live in?

    1. Let’s not forget that the majority of Academy members are either geriatric or, worse yet . . . ACTORS!

      1. People! “Form filling” is not a qualification to be invited to be an Academy Member! Members are invited for their status and experience in the film business. It is the voting system that should work FOR the members. I’m sure the Academy will learn from this and correct it for next year: they are very open to criticism. They have my support!

  5. “One voter told me he accidentally put in the wrong password (his regular Academy password instead of the special one provided for the balloting) and was locked out and had to start over although he said the Academy’s support line was very helpful. At least it is not staffed in India. Yet.”

    Suddenly, upon reading this section of the article, an image popped into my head of Hrundi Bakshi operating the future support line. “Birdy Num Num”!

  6. True. I may not read directions as carefully as I should. Nor am I an accomplished computer geek.
    But the online set up to vote is exceedingly complicated. Ive had nothing but problems arise and i DID graduate from college.

    Considering the average age of most members (THEY’RE OLD, OK?!) I think the Academy fucked up its first digital foray into the voting process.

  7. Why was Taylor Swift’s “Safe and Sound” ruled ineligible? That’s one of the best movie songs this year.

    I’m surprised “Skyfall” hasn’t been ruled ineligible. The Academy must have a lot of Adele fans. Otherwise, they would have ruled the song recycles too much of Bond’s classic theme.

    These days, I pay more attention to which movie songs the Grammys honor. They seem to “get it”; the Academy doesn’t.

    1. Safe and Sound was probably ruled ineligible because it had some sort of life BEFORE it was used in the film: possibly meaning it was not originally INTENDED for use in the film. Obviously, I don’t know for sure, but from experience I know this often happens.

      1. In 1986 Stevie Wonder won a best song Oscar for “I Just Called to Say I Love You” from the movie “The Woman In Red”. The only problem is, they later found out that the song had been released on a previous album and wasn’t even remotely written for the film– the single biggest violation of the “best song” category. People will do anything for an Oscar nomination. Why does everyone want to be in the Academy? It’s not about voting. Half of them probably forget to vote, or don’t even watch most of the movies anyway. They want free DVDs so they can lend them to their friends and not have to wait in line at the movies. That’s why they need a music branch, so someone can govern this. Film composers nominate their peers, mostly successful veteran, often Oscar winning, musicians who really care about film music and its legacy. It’s not a conspiracy. But there have to be rules. Diane Warren has 100s of gold records and she’s crying to the press because this one particular song isn’t eligible– my god, that’s embarrassing! If she’s so upset, cry to the director and tell him “If you love the song so much, why did you cut almost the entire thing out?”

  8. I’m an Academy member. Apparently my first voting password did not have a capital letter in there. I just wish the site had told me this when I created it. I tried a few times, called the hotline, was given a new password and told to wait an hour and a half. I tried again and still had not success. I swear I did everything correctly! No, I did not leave the ‘caps lock’ on! Yes, it was at least 8 characters, with a number in there etc etc. I called the hotline again and my next helper had no answer as to how this might have happened. I’ve now got my THIRD password and am told I have to wait until tomorrow to vote. If I fail again, I might not have the time to do this. Sure I can wait until the next round but that really would seem unfair. Before anyone attacks me for being stupid: I really did everything correctly the second time around!

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