The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and its board of governors, meeting virtually, have approved rules changes for next year’s 93rd annual Academy Awards, including lightening eligibility requirements for films debuting on streamers and VOD, There are are changes for some categories including broadening eligible voters in the International Film nominating process and combining Sound Mixing and Sound Editing into one. This also will be the final year that physical DVD screeners are allowed as the Academy moves boldly into the digital frontier with its own screening platform for members.
Some of this became necessary in light of the continuing coronavirus pandemic, which is affecting the way many films, and potential Oscar nominees, are being distributed since most theaters remain shut down. However, rumors and speculation to the contrary, there are no plans to cancel or move the date of next year’s Oscar show, still scheduled to be broadcast by ABC exactly 10 months from today on Sunday, February 28. All of this is fluid, of course and the Academy remains open to more adjustments as required by world events.
Among the highlights:
After this morning’s board meeting, eligibility rules for films opening on streaming services and video on demand are being “temporarily” altered to allow those films to qualify even if not first appearing with the standard seven-day theatrical qualifying run, or day and date (much like the Golden Globes also has done). This affects the growing number of films appearing initially on streamers such as Netflix and Amazon, as well as VOD such as Universal’s VOD premieres of Trolls World Tour and the June 12 date for Judd Apatow’s The King of Staten Island among an increasing number of films including Bleecker Street’s Military Wives, just announced today as switching from theatrical to video on demand and Hulu premiere on May 22.
To be eligible for this year’s Oscar race, however, films still will have to qualify by being made available on the Academy’s exclusive streaming site within 60 days of streamer or VOD release and must have been previously intended for a theatrical release. The Academy for the first time is expanding the number of eligible theaters to include some outside Los Angeles County and into other areas and several cities as well to make this all that much easier to accomplish for distributors. After theaters are reopened, any new releases will revert to the previous standard of seven-day qualifying run in a theater with at least three shows daily during that time. The Academy also stresses its strong support of the theatrical experience and emphasizes this is temporary due to unforeseen circumstances surrounding the pandemic.
The Academy noted that the streamer rules are “for the 93rd Awards year only.”
The Academy, which last year debuted its own digital screening platform that featured more than 80 contenders before voting began, is broadening that service and now will make this year the last one in which physical DVD screeners will be allowed to be sent to members. That’s not unlike the move instituted this year by the Television Academy, which banned physical screeners for the current and future Emmy seasons.
At the request of the Sound Branch itself, the current Sound Mixing and Sound Editing categories are being combined into one, thus reducing the number of Oscar categories to 23. I am told this consolidation was made by the Sound Branch members themselves and is not the result of any perceived attempt by the Academy at large to help reduce the running time of the Oscar broadcast. The past few years have produced the same winner for both categories, and that started discussions on perhaps just combining them — though the 2019 winners did split, with Ford v Ferrari taking Sound Editing and 1917 winning for Sound Mixing.
In terms of the Best International Film category, all eligible voters in the Academy now will be allowed to vote in the preliminary nomination rounds, just as they are now once the five nominees are chosen. They also will be able to do so by seeing the qualifying films on the Academy’s viewing platform. Previously, this was done by a large committee of volunteers who were attended screenings of the films or could prove they had seen them elsewhere in theaters.
The current rules requiring each country to select its own submission for Best International Film remain in place and, in light of the upheaval created by this worldwide pandemic, the Academy is in discussions with local film commissions around the globe to facilitate this process. It seems still to be a fluid situation, considering the number of countries whose theaters have been shut down, thus making it difficult to qualify under current rules in the category.
As for Oscar-qualifying film festivals, those impacted events that present an online platform for films to debut virtually (such as Tribeca and SXSW thus far) are being given an exemption this year, making films that otherwise qualify but that debut online in this way, or through transactional paywalls, still eligible to compete in the Academy Awards.
Here is the Academy’s full statement:
The devastating COVID-19 pandemic forced the closure of all Los Angeles County movie theaters as of Monday, March 16, 2020. Current Academy Awards rules (under Rule Two, Eligibility) require that a film be shown in a commercial motion picture theater in Los Angeles County for a theatrical qualifying run of at least seven consecutive days, during which period screenings must occur at least three times daily. Until further notice, and for the 93rd Awards year only, films that had a previously planned theatrical release but are initially made available on a commercial streaming or VOD service may qualify in the Best Picture, general entry and specialty categories for the 93rd Academy Awards under these provisions:
- The film must be made available on the secure Academy Screening Room member-only streaming site within 60 days of the film’s streaming or VOD release;
- The film must meet all other eligibility requirements.
On a date to be determined by the Academy, and when theaters reopen in accordance with federal, state and local specified guidelines and criteria, this rules exemption will no longer apply. All films released thereafter will be expected to comply with the standard Academy theatrical qualifying requirements.
“The Academy firmly believes there is no greater way to experience the magic of movies than to see them in a theater. Our commitment to that is unchanged and unwavering. Nonetheless, the historically tragic COVID-19 pandemic necessitates this temporary exception to our awards eligibility rules. The Academy supports our members and colleagues during this time of uncertainty. We recognize the importance of their work being seen and also celebrated, especially now, when audiences appreciate movies more than ever,” said Academy President David Rubin and CEO Dawn Hudson.
For films to more easily meet theatrical exhibition requirements when theaters reopen, the Academy also will expand the number of qualifying theaters beyond Los Angeles County to include venues in additional U.S. metropolitan areas: the City of New York; the Bay Area; Chicago, Illinois; Miami, Florida; and Atlanta, Georgia. The Awards and Events Committee will evaluate all matters of rules and eligibility.
Film festivals that have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic may provide films online through either a transactional pay wall or password-protected entry, which will not affect the films’ eligibility for future Academy Awards qualification. The Academy will allow an exemption for those films that are released online through an impacted festival’s online platform, provided that proof of inclusion in the festival is submitted. With these provisions, films will be expected to comply with all other eligibility requirements for the 93rd Academy Awards.
The Board of Governors also announced rules changes in the Sound, Music and International Feature Film categories.
• The two Sound categories, Sound Mixing and Sound Editing, have been combined into one award for best achievement in Sound that emphasizes the team effort. The number of Oscar® statuettes remains the same; up to six statuettes may be awarded. Eligible recipients may include one production sound mixer, two supervising sound editors and three rerecording mixers.
• In the Music (Original Score) category, for a score to be eligible, it must comprise a minimum of 60% original music. Additionally, for sequels and franchise films, a score must have a minimum of 80% new music.
• In a procedural change in the International Feature Film category, all eligible Academy members will now be invited to participate in the preliminary round of voting. For the first time, film submissions will be made available through the Academy Screening Room streaming platform to those members who opt-in. These members of the International Feature Film Preliminary Voting committee must meet a minimum viewing requirement in order to be eligible to vote in the category.
The following campaign regulations were also approved:
• The regulation prohibiting quotes or comments by Academy members not directly associated with the film in any form of advertising in any medium, including online and social media, was eliminated. Academy governors and Awards and Events Committee members, however, are still prohibited from participating in such activity.
• All screeners will be required to include closed captioning.
• After nominations, film companies will be allowed to send mailings announcing the availability of song and bake-off materials on the Academy’s streaming platform.
• As part of the Academy’s sustainability effort, the 93rd Awards season will be the final year DVD screeners will be allowed to be distributed; these mailings will be discontinued starting in 2021 for the 94th Academy Awards. Access to the Academy Screening Room will continue to be made available for all eligible releases. The distribution of physical music CDs, screenplays and hardcopy mailings, including but not limited to paper invites and screening schedules, will also be discontinued next year. Digital links to materials will be permitted.
Due to the shifting landscape surrounding the global pandemic caused by COVID-19, all matters of rules and eligibility for the 93rd Academy Awards are subject to change based on national guidelines, state-mandated government orders and Academy-determined best practices.
Additional adjustments to Academy rules, eligibility requirements and scheduling may be required. As previously announced, the 93rd Oscars telecast is scheduled to air Sunday, February 28, 2021, on ABC. Any updated information about the show will be shared at a later time.
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