“We are in Week 7 of the global pandemic and we are looking at everything in front of us, but that Oscar show is 10 months away from us now, and we can’t predict what is happening between now and February 28th,” Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences CEO Dawn Hudson said when I asked about a possible date change for the 93rd Annual Academy Awards, which set to air exactly 10 months from today. There has been much online speculation about it, even as that date seems so far away.
In my joint conversation with Hudson and AMPAS President David Rubin just minutes after the Academy announced changes in eligibility for 2020 film releases amid the theatrical shutdown — and addressed other Academy business that has been ongoing for weeks, months or, in some cases, years — Rubin pointed out that there are still too many permutations of what the next months will bring to predict just how the show will be affected. In other words, no talk yet of a virtual Oscars. And no word on how all this will affect the Academy’s annual Governors Awards, which took place last year on October 27 and usually is held in November.
“There’s a reason why we postponed our board meeting a month — so we would have some more information about how this pandemic progressed,” he said. “We’ve done our best, but there are many more months to come. Rubin noted that unpredictability of the current state of the world and how it will affect all things including Oscar, but the Academy is sticking with the planned show — at least for now.
“I will say this has been a very deliberative Board of Governors who have spent a lot of time looking at this season and these scenarios,” Hudson said. “The board, as you see in these rules today, will respond accordingly.”
It was clear that the pair, speaking for the board, are very aware that this continues to be a fluid situation. That word came up a lot as we spoke, and. I noted California Gov. Gavin Newsom said just today that movie theaters aren’t part of the state’s slow reopening plans until Phase 3 of a four-phase plan — that last phase taking place when a vaccine is found. So the temporary relaxation of eligibility rules for the 93rd Oscars could be for quite a while, even as the Academy has significantly expanded the number of cities in which films can meet eligibility of a seven-day theatrical run, rather than just Los Angeles County. As Hudson notes, “We are just in Phase 1 [of the governor’s plans].”
Rubin explained the rules change to the membership in a direct message that went out as the results of the Academy’s board meeting were being made public to the press. “In order to contend with the mandatory closure of movie theaters during this devastating pandemic, a decision was made for this awards year only that films with a previously planned theatrical release, but which are initially shown on a commercial streaming or VOD service while theaters are closed, may qualify for the 93rd Academy Awards with some specific provisions,” he wrote. “One of the provisions requires submitting those films to the Academy Screening Room site, which will enable members worldwide to screen them through the member portal. I want to emphasize that this is a temporary exception, only until theaters successfully reopen. The Academy remains unwavering in its support of theaters and the theatrical experience.”
Hudson emphasized that in our conversation as well, noting that these changes are just temporary and the DNA of the Academy remains to promote theatrical. “But we can’t force filmmakers to do what is impossible,” she said. “Theaters are closed down.”
Rubin told me that part of today’s announcement reflects the usual debate that goes on after each Oscar show in order to look closely at awards rules and regulations that take everything into consideration. “But at the same time, we have had to contend with uncharted territory in this pandemic,” he said. That includes dealing with many Academy partners such as film festivals like Telluride that AMPAS supports each year; it even throws an annual membership party there over Labor Day weekend.
Among the changes today was allowance for impacted film festivals to continue with online virtual screenings of films originally planned for their fests and still have those films that otherwise would qualify remain eligible for Oscar consideration, when in a normal year an online debut would be unthinkable. “We are in consultation with our sister organizations and organizations that are part of this industry ecosystem, and with that new rule change in this time of global crisis we are trying to support them as well, to present their films in the best way they can,” Hudson noted. She added that the same is true of the competition for Best International Film in trying to be as flexible as possible.
“The same dynamic applies to the International Film award as to our other awards that we are being understanding that this is an extraordinary time, and people might not be able to place their films in theaters, but selection committees will choose their films and submit to the Oscars as best they can during this time,” Hudson said. “We will be as inclusive as we can be, and we will be as supportive as we can be of those countries.”
No change was made regarding the one-film-per-country submission rule that the Academy always has had for this category, which until last year was called Best Foreign Language Film. One of today’s significant changes is opening up the nominating process to the entire Academy of eligible voters, rather than just a select committee of volunteers, as has been the case. Members who participate now will be able to view entries on the Academy’s Screening platform as well. Previously they had to be seen in a theater, usually one run by the Academy. Now the process has been expanded.
What about the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, which scheduled to open on December 14? Construction coincidentally had ceased just a day before the state-mandated shutdowns, but now it has resumed. “The Academy Museum is on target, but, as in everything else, all the discussions about all of this are ongoing. According to L..A. County law construction can resume with all the, help they need, ” Hudson said
When I toured the facility a couple of months ago along with former AMPAS President Hawk Koch, it looked to be in great shape even at that point.
Among other changes made official by the board today is the consolidation of Sound Mixing and Sound Editing into a single category, some new requirements in eligibility for Best Original Score and the elimination after this year of all DVD screener and physical CDs, screenplays and hard-copy mailings. “There is the ongoing work of the Academy during this global crisis that a lot of these [new] rules are really just about the Academy moving forward, ” Hudson said about business as usual also proceeding.
“We are trying to keep our eye on the ball,” Rubin added with a laugh.