OSCARS: Denied Song Nom, Bruce Broughton Composes Case For Tune Category Reforms

Bruce-Broughton-mug__140129235814EXCLUSIVE: Bruce Broughton speaks. The composer and former Academy Music Branch governor, whose title song from Alone Yet Not Alone received an Oscar nom but later was disqualified because of improper campaigning following an expose written by our Awards Columnist Pete Hammond, has written a letter for Deadline. In it he explains his side and calls for reforms in a current system alone-yet-not-alonehe feels makes it impossible for smaller films to compete with the star-studded songs that now fill studio Oscar-season movies. Broughton was said to have used his position and familiarity with voters to give a listen to a song from an obscure movie and it shocked everyone when it got a nom over much higher-profile tunes in movies people actually heard of. We were pretty tough on Broughton — this was the most significant blemish on the Academy during a relatively clean, wide-open race that ends Sunday — but he has asked to speak his piece and so we are allowing him to do so. To Broughton, there are flaws in the system that need to be addressed. Deadline readers can decide whether his explanation charts or not.

Related: OSCARS: On The Academy’s Most Obscure Nominee – Maybe Ever

The recent rescinding of the Oscar® nomination for Best Song in this year’s Academy Awards contest draws attention to a major problem in the Academy’s campaign methodology. The nomination was rescinded by the Motion Picture Academy’s board of governors because it was felt that I, the composer (Dennis Spiegel was the lyricist of the song), had abused my position as a former Academy governor and present member of the Music Branch Executive Board by writing an email to about 70 persons drawing their attention to the song that was included on a DVD that contained all of the 75 eligible songs in three-minute clips from their films. The song list was anonymous; no songwriter names were included. It was alleged by the press that I had “played the system” by using my position to somehow get people to vote for my song. The Academy, in a statement about the board’s action, said that my emails, by identifying the song, had “called into question whether the process was ‘fair and equitable,’” and said it was dedicated to insuring a “level playing field for all Oscar® contenders.”

Although I admitted to writing the emails and pointing out the song, I did not ask anyone to vote for the song, nor did I promote the film. Neither did I make any phone calls. These are forbidden by Academy rules: an email “may not extol the merits of a film, an achievement or an individual.” But there are no restrictions on writing the email. None. There is nothing in the rules to discourage an erstwhile governor or any member from indulging in some promotion. The major studios and many independents send out DVD screeners of their films which list all of the eligible contestants on the jacket – including the songwriters – and follow up with invitations to screenings, meet-‘n-greets, sometimes including a fully produced, non-film version CD of the song, something that is disallowed by Academy rules. When major studios “campaign,” there’s no way a small independent can adequately compete. And there’s nothing anonymous about any of it.

At present, there is no playing field level enough that a song in an independent film can compete with a song in a high profile studio picture. The Oscars are not the Grammys; this is an element of confusion both within and outside the Academy. Although a song may be performed by a well-known singer or songwriter, it does not qualify for inclusion as a Best Song nominee for that reason; nor does it automatically become eligible because it appears in a highly touted film. There are rigorous conditions to be met before any song becomes eligible for nomination. The four remaining songs however, were well known and familiar before the nomination balloting, and were all examples of songs that had the advantage of huge marketing campaigns.

The letter sent by the Academy accompanying the Best Song DVD read, “We hope that you will watch the enclosed DVD and use it to better inform your voting decision.” That’s not the same as insuring voters watch all of the songs and then choose the top five. In order for the contest to be “a level playing field,” all of the songs must be watched and evaluated, no small request for a nearly 4-hour viewing session, but part of the member’s responsibility as a voter. It was suggested by a former governor of the Television Academy that, similar to what takes place before voting for an Emmy nomination, the member sign an affidavit affirming that he/she has in fact watched all of the songs — the entire DVD — before marking the top five choices. That way, what the Academy claimed was written in the above letter – “Members were asked to watch the clips and then vote in the order of their preference for not more than five nominees in the category.” – would more likely be followed and become the reality.

The Motion Picture Academy needs to come up with a structure that insures what happened this year doesn’t happen again. Songs from independent films should have an equal chance to be seen and evaluated regardless of marketing and financial clout of large studios or of well-known singer/songwriters and bands. Some method of insuring the fair evaluation of all of the eligible submissions must be put into place.

The good news is, that as far as the disqualified song is concerned, if there’s any doubt as to its worth, as of this writing Alone Yet Not Alone is charting very high in Billboard as #2 in Christian Digital Songs and #8 in Hot Christian Songs.

My co-writer Dennis Spiegel and I will survive the Academy’s de-nomination. The song already has. But as to the issue of a “level playing field for all Oscar® contenders,” rather than to arbitrarily remove a nomination from the race, the Academy must find a way in which the competitive playing field can be truly level, so that the opportunity to be recognized applies to all who are eligible, not just to the bigger, the richer or more famous.

Bruce Broughton

  1. The fact that the Academy didn’t replace the retracted song with another nomination was clearly a mistake, when not only should Lana Del Rey have been nominated for Best Song, she should have won it.

    1. I was thinking they should have added a nomination, too, but if they did, then whatever song they added clearly would have been an indication that it was the lowest vote-getter among the nominees. I can understand why they didn’t add a replacement nominee.

  2. “At present, there is no playing field level enough that a song in an independent film can compete with a song in a high profile studio picture,” says Broughton.

    Right. Except for, oh I don’t know, “The Weary Kind” from CRAZY HEART (2009)…. “Falling Slowly” from ONCE (2007)…. and the ever-popular “Al Otro Lado del Rio” from THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES (2004)…. All winners in the last 10 years. Not to mention the songs from SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH, HUSTLE AND FLOW… all of which look like indie films to me.

    “Alone Yet Not Alone” was just not a great song. Without Broughton’s campaigning, it would never have gotten a nomination. Can we move on now?

  3. “The good news is, that as far as the disqualified song is concerned, if there’s any doubt as to its worth, as of this writing Alone Yet Not Alone is charting very high in Billboard as #2 in Christian Digital Songs and #8 in Hot Christian Songs.?

    Since when do sales of any kind relate to a product’s quality? No one saw “Shawshank Redemption” in the theaters, yet it is now a huge success. Horror movies that generally get a D or F in reviews often open at #1 at the box office.

  4. @Listen to the music — Independent films? Really? CRAZY HEART was a Fox Searchlight film, as was ONCE; THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES was distributed by Disney (Buena Vista); SLUMDOG was a Warner Bros. flick; and INCONVENIENT TRUTH and HUSTLE AND FLOW are both Paramount shows. I don’t know what your definition of “indie film” is but, if these are your examples, I think you need to reevaluate it.

  5. Talk about first-world problems. Get over yourself buddy. There’s no level playing field in life. Period. In any case, as an apparently ‘legit’ song writer, he should be aware that there is no objective way of judging one song against another. It’s all silly subjectivity, pretty much like every other category in these self-congratulatory awards shows. Life is a popularity contest. Deal with it. (And FWIW using insider-connections to influence votes is tacky).

  6. While not taking a position on Bruce Broughton’s letter, I do think that the Academy should have moved up whatever song received the next number of votes into the Nominated category. If a song is disqualified (for any reason), then move the next song up. If a rule change is required, then change the rules. Songwriters, composers, producers, engineers and musicians work very hard to do great work and feel fortunate to be recognized with an Oscar nomination. The voting members of the Academy should be doing everything they can to acknowledge the incredible partnership of music and film. To have only four nominated in a field of rich, varied and emotionally powerful songs is a true missed opportunity.

  7. Haters hate.Lovers love. Believers believe. It’s a beautiful song sung by a Christian paraplegic- – Had she been gay, black , transgender or insert a minority- no action would have been taken by the academy. So pray for those who persecute you- pray forgive and seek not revenge.

  8. First of all, “Alone, Yet Not Alone” is not solely Bruce’s song. When so many in the press simply fail to mention the fact that the lyrics were written by Bruce’s co-writer, Dennis Spiegel, I guess it’s no surprise that so few also disclose that Bruce violated no AMPAS rules. No quid pro quo was asked by Bruce. I have received countless written appeals from professional colleagues over the years along the lines of “If you vote for me, I’ll vote for you,” and that is simply not what happened here.

    There is also no law against AMPAS governors, current or former, being eligible for Oscar nominations. The current 51 members of the AMPAS board of governors have about 70 Oscar nominations between them. The list of governors includes some of the biggest names in the business, for example, Tom Hanks. Hanks wasn’t nominated this year, although hundreds of thousands were spent on a campaign on his behalf. I’m sure he didn’t spend any money on himself – but neither did Bruce.

    Wouldn’t all the members of the Public Relations Branch of the Academy be out of business if all it took to garner an Oscar nomination was sending out a single email to 70 people? Wouldn’t any PR professional be quickly fired for suggesting such a strategy to, for example, Disney or Universal? Isn’t it just possible that the Music Branch made their selections solely based on merit?

    Finally, most of the general public, and many in the movie business and the PR world, simply don’t understand the Oscar song category. The award is given to the creator/creators of the song judged to be the best achievement in serving the film for which the song was written. Serving the film is the key.

    The award is not based on the celebrity/notoriety of the singer, the grosses earned by the film, Billboard sales chart figures, or trendy production values. A song written to be sung on-camera by characters in 1755 colonial America, not surprisingly, does not employ samples, drum loops, or auto-tune. This may be enough to label “Alone” as not a great song to those who don’t understand the role of music and song in film, but the members of the AMPAS music branch, who do this for a living, do understand.

    The rescission of the nomination of Bruce Broughton and Dennis Spiegel wrongly and shamefully impugns their integrity. The actions of the Academy further imply that the members of the music branch cannot be trusted to use their own musical judgment, and their conscience, to properly evaluate their professional peers.

  9. If the song was not disqualified, would it have gotten all this free PR? The song has gotten more attention now than it ever would have as proven by the chart topping sales. The revoking of the nomination was a blessing in disguise!

  10. So basically instead of doing a PR public campaign, he went indie for his indie song and got caught. Just because he didn’t “Ask them to vote” for the song doesn’t mean he didn’t try to influence them by specifically pointing it out in the email either. He should have done this publicly which would have been accepted. I have to agree with the Academy on this, it was just a little too shady of him.

  11. The Academy has its head up its “you know what” on this, and, once again, we are reminded that the whole Academy Award idea, especially in current times, is totally driven by power, commerce and profit….. that it’s sole motivation is to promote the business of getting people to go to/rent/download motion pictures…..

    The “Art and Science”?????? Pardon me…. I never hear anyone talk about art and/or science on the Academy Awards show (please correct me if I am mistaken!)

    Why was Bruce and Dennis’ song disqualified? Because, firstly, they make such a big deal about the anonymity of the creators… That one is supposed to hear the music without knowing who the participants (creators/performers) are.

    So… what that means is (in real life, mind you) that a song by an unknown performer competes anonymously with a song sung by, for example, Bono…. where there is NO OPPORTUNITY to make him an anonymous participant.

    So…. in reality, the ONLY WAY to level the playing field is for no one to be anonymous… PERIOD! Does anyone in their right mind think that if someone like Bob Dylan wrote and performed a nominated song… that the anonymity required has any real value…. It’s BS.

    Also, in my opinion, if Bob Dylan, had been on the Academy Board and had done 1/100th of the good that Bruce Broughton has in his professional lifetime of giving so generously to upcoming composers and to the Academy itself in terms of trying to improve the landscape for all music members, the Academy would be as mute as possible…… This was provoked by professional jealously, and abject selfishness…. There is no reality or justification for what they did, and their argument has no validity.

    Secondly, if you follow the illogic of this requirement, then…. all creative participants in the making of a film should be anonymous…. the producers, the director (for sure, the director), the film editor, etc…. and so……

    How do we “anonymize” the actors?????? Oh, that’s simple… we just make their faces unrecognizable during any presentation of the film… or any of its elements. No problem?

    Okay…. that works great, right?

    NOW (!)!!!) — what about all the promotional screenings, where every element of the filming IS singled out and identified…. and, especially, those like the SCL, where not only can you see the credits of the songwriters, score composers etc… but you get to hear them in person deliver a Q & A…. you even get to ask them questions…… WHAT KIND OF PROMOTION IS THIS????

    How can that be okay and a polite email from a composer only asking that someone listen to his song (amongst all the others) and come to his/her preferred choice not be??????

  12. I find this so heart breaking. To the Academy…..That song, that incredible song….was the ONLY reason I tuned into your broadcast. Every year we hear about people campaigning for a certain actor, director, and movie without a problem. You sought a loophole until you could find something to disqualify this song. I listened to the other songs and the one from Frozen was identified as the favorite days ahead of time and they showed a video with a myriad of different people in everyday life singing it. Who produced and put out that video to promote it? And that song in no way matched up to the Alone Yet Not Alone selection. Anybody can point a finger and find a way to disqualify something, but what you did was disgusting! Shame on you and your made up rules!

  13. “The award is given to the creator/creators of the song judged to be the best achievement in serving the film for which the song was written. Serving the film is the key.”

    So if ‘serving the film is the key’, how did all of the supposed ‘experts’ end up nominating “Alone, Yet Not Alone” when pretty much nobody (on the entire planet) had seen the movie? I’d love to see a survey of how many of the people who voted for the song had actually seen the film. Have they even seen it now?

    All of these excuses are so bogus and self-serving. It’s got nothing to do with religious bigotry or the ignorance of the general public. Just call it what it is – cheating.

  14. He clearly didn’t break a rule. That’s the point. They made a judgement call based on feeling that Disqualified him… if anyone else did what he did (and they do)… they aren’t disqualified because they aren’t breaking a rule. Because he was formerly on the board, they claimed this was unfair because of his proximity to the choosing. It was a judgement call not based on rules. And as with any judgement call there are clashing world views that make a call like this one easier for some. In this case, if you didn’t want an overtly Christian song in the mix, then your judgement would be to resend the nomination.

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