EXCLUSIVE: 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 he 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.
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 The nomination was rescinded by the Motion Picture Academy’s board of governors because it was felt that I, the composer (Dennis Spiegel was the lyricist of the song), had abused my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.