Today, the Academy giveth and taketh away. The new Academy Award campaign regulations announced earlier are clearly a mixed bag, significantly relaxing some long-standing rules and creating a good deal of freedom pre-nominations while really tightening and restricting activities by nominees and studios post-noms. Essentially what the new regulations do is try to encourage members to see films the way they are meant to be seen, in a theatrical setting. To that end, Oscar consultants can now freely invite members to Q&A screenings and in the pre-nomination period, even hold food and cocktail receptions before or after. It’s almost like the Academy realizes members need an incentive to get out of the house and the lazy habit of watching contenders on screeners. Previously, as noted in the Academy’s press release, members were not permitted to attend screenings that had filmmaker Q&As and/or receptions attached. Consultants got around this by inviting guild members who also happened to hold an Academy card (clever consultants). Now, no problem, although after the noms are out, members can only go to screenings and Q&As, not receptions. Whether this will open the floodgates and have the desired effect of encouraging members to get their butts in those theater seats is anyone’s guess since Acad members who wanted to go to Q&As and receptions went anyway with their guild cards. Still, it is a nice admission by the Acad that their previous rules had gone too far. I am told by one member of the Academy’s PR committee that this all came up due to a Deadline article I posted Jan. 7 about the Oscar party circuit. “I think it’s what we’ve all been talking about,” said one studio consultant. “The important thing is to get members to see the movies, preferably on the big screen. Rules are one thing, but it’s nice to see the Academy realizing they can sometimes be to the detriment of  the goal we are all trying to achieve. It’s clearly a new era at the Academy with Dawn Hudson.”

The new regs also seemingly offer no restrictions on all those campaign “events,” lunches and parties hosted by members for specific contenders that were so rampant last season. That is, before January 24 and the announcement of nominations. After that period the Acad promises to beat nominees and their campaign staff with a stick (and stiffer penalties too) if they appear at any non-screening event. This would include the numerous lunches usually hosted by another member in honor of a nominee or private parties like those held last year for nominees The Fighter, The King’s Speech and others. Now any of these parties will have to take place before the Academy has officially announced their finalists so that that three-week period between noms and final ballots being due will be barren as far as this sort of activity goes. In other words, voters need to stuff their face and do all their schmoozing before  January 24 (check with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for tips on this, Academy members). This will make all those Guild dinners that come after Oscar nominations a prime target for consultants to try and get as many members and nominees in the same room. They already do that, but you can expect it to intensify. The Cinema Audio Society awards are about to become a hot ticket. “No lunches or parties after nominations?”  one incredulous consultant who organizes some of those asked me. “Well, that sure makes my job a lot easier!”

Another player in the Oscar game who expected the Academy to get really tough this year was puzzled by today’s announcement. “It’s a real mixed bag. The Academy membership clearly doesn’t want to be policed but your article last year pointed out that the perception was that some of this campaigning was getting out of hand. But in a way they are opening the floodgates  by putting no similar restrictions on pre-nomination campaigning. And now we can go directly to members and we could never do that before. It plays into Harvey’s (Weinstein’s) hands. It will just encourage more campaigning pre-noms while then letting the Academy get clubby and official only afterwards.”

The bottom line is this is a very long season. The three-week period between nominations and final ballot deadline is just a small part of it.  The relaxation of rules before that period is a major step. And it is a smart one. After all how can you tell an Academy member they can’t be invited to a Q&A or reception with someone who isn’t even an official nominee yet? The Academy has found a middle ground by loosening some of its previous restrictions while trying to protect the dignity of its process once it officially begins with the actual nominations. It is the same sort of compromise they crafted in deciding to alter their best picture rule this year by allowing anywhere from 5 to 10  noms instead of a rigid set number. The interesting thing will be to see how these new rules affect the race after this year when, acccording to some Academy honchos to whom I recently spoke, there is a very real possibility the Oscars could move to the last Sunday in January. “The date is available,” one top official told me.

Let’s just get through this season first, OK?