Despite today’s announcement from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences that the new category for what had been referred to as “popular” movies was being “postponed” and not presented for this year’s Oscars, Academy CEO Dawn Hudson assures Deadline that the Board of Governors still is committed to the basic principles of it. “The board governors are committed to this principle of just slightly widening the scope of films that we’re honoring for excellence,” she told me over the phone this afternoon. “So we’ll continue that study. We’ll continue the study of this award and hear from our members and also take a beat so that it is not being announced or implemented nine months into the awards year.”
She would not comment on specifics of what went on at the special board meeting (which I hear was held Wednesday morning) but did indicate the board’s initial purpose at its early-August meeting was misunderstood and said it should have been better explained. “I realize that people misunderstood the principle of this award, and that was to honor excellence in a wider scope of movies. That’s the principle, and I don’t think that was as well communicated as we could have,” Hudson said, adding that she was surprised at the backlash and negative response from some quarters.
“I was surprised. I am always surprised, including many times over the last several years, at the passion for the Oscars that people have, and I am heartened by it,” she said. “It is still true every single time from whatever initiative we undertake or the Oscars — the responses we get from around the world, it’s stunning.”
Hudson explained that the idea behind a new category honoring more widely seen films was a pure one. “The impetus for this was, how do we celebrate achievement and excellence in a wider scope of movies than the Academy has been honoring over the past several years? It has slightly narrowed over the past years.” she said. “So how do we celebrate those movies, how do we widen the scope a little bit? And that principle we all believe in and the Board of Governors agrees that is unchanging, something everyone adheres to. So we’ll continue to refine it and study this award and any other improvements. We talked to a lot of our members. We had a lot of small focus groups and discussions with members prior to this direction that we announced, and we will continue to do that. In fact [Academy President] John Bailey and I are going on this member tour this fall in San Francisco, New York, London, everywhere.” Their plan is to get the pulse of the rank and file on this and other concerns.
From what I have heard directly from many of those members, using the word “popular” to describe the new category was a bad idea and just added to the problem. Hudson agrees that it wasn’t the best choice. “People misunderstood how we were using that phrase,” she old me. “We really meant films that audiences had wide access to. It’s always about excellence, but excellence and widely embraced films are not mutually exclusive. They forgot that the Academy members are choosing excellence. That is all they ever choose. It seemed to be more confusing than it was helpful.
The Academy’s official press release today omitted the word “popular,” instead referring to it as just a new category.
The Academy, noting declining ratings, knew it had to do something to goose interest from viewers of the ABC broadcast in order to stay current. “Many of our film fans around the country and the world wake up in January and hear our nominations, and they don’t know a lot of those films,” Hudson said. “They haven’t played their cities and they have no access to those movies. The films they do have access to are not always included or recognized in the Academy Awards, especially over the past years. We recognize that so we want to try and engage our film fans, but in an organic way that never compromises our standard of excellence, our mantra of excellence. That is always what the Oscars are about.”
As for other changes, it is full speed ahead — and that includes the idea of presenting some craft awards during commercial breaks, editing them and then running those segments later in the broadcast. Those categories affected will be rotated in any given year so it won’t always be the same ones. “That is exactly what we will be doing,” Hudson said. “We’ll rotate categories that are presented during commercial breaks, but all 24 categories will be shown during the telecast. Some of them will be edited, but all will be shown, and the edited versions will be very respectful of that art form, of the nominees and the winner.”
This year also marks the end of paper ballots for Oscar voters; all voting now will be done online. Hudson said very few paper ballots were coming in anyway, and sometimes those that did were too late to meet the deadline. She also reiterated the Academy is serious about shortening the show and keeping it to three hours.
“It is a changing audience — that’s long for a show,” Hudson said. “We are committed to three hours. ABC has been great partners, but we want the Oscars and the show to continue to be relevant to our film fans, so we wanted to make these improvements.”