The good news is the Oscars are charging forward with plans for the big show on Sunday, April 25. The bad news is more than a few nominees may not be there.
Going against the grain of other awards shows, and the reality of the Covid era, the Academy informed all nominees last week via letter that there would be no Zooming allowed and that all acceptance speeches could only be done by actually attending the 93rd annual Academy Awards in person at the Union Station in downtown Los Angeles — one of two locations AMPAS is employing for the show (the other is the Dolby in Hollywood being used for other production elements like song numbers, etc). This is causing headaches not only for those nominees who would be coming from international locales, but also publicists and studios/distributors who have to foot the bill and deal with the nightmare logistics of getting their contenders into the U.S. and Los Angeles, variants be damned. The complaints from those on the front lines are loud and the Academy has been hearing from them directly.
One source with scores of nominees situated around the globe told me the cost of hotel stays for two weeks or more, including the required 10 days of quarantine, will “bankrupt” their entire budget, not to mention the problems caused for some nominees who are working — if they wanted to come to the Oscars it might mean shutting down their productions for the better part of the month of April just for quarantining considerations alone that would have to take place both leaving and returning from all points international, many of them like Italy, France, the UK and more in various stages of lockdown or severe restrictions on travel.
The UK, for instance, is about to charge a £5000 penalty for travelers caught leaving for anything other than urgent business, medical reasons, etc. Is running off to Hollywood to win an Oscar related to urgent work? One publicist told me they don’t know what they will do but have an editing nominee in Greece, a filmmaker in Paris, an acting nominee in England, another in an “undisclosed” location but not L.A., with various nominated producers in the same boat.
One consultant, up in arms over what they call the “arrogance” of AMPAS for not allowing virtual participation in this unique environment, is advising studios to get a firm answer from Oscar producers that this is a final decision, and then decide how to proceed in either bringing their nominees into L.A. — or not. “Can we use Holiday Inn Express?” one staffer was said to have asked. Of course many filmmakers and actors have strict requirements in their contracts (some getting suites), and why would you want anything less if you were going to be stuck in your hotel room for a minimum of 10 days?
As for personal publicists who are always right in step guiding their clients through the awards process, the Oscars’ red carpet and other aspects of the ceremony, a virtual meeting to explain logistics has been canceled twice this week, with one PR rep handing at least one leading acting nominee saying they have been told by the Academy they won’t be accommodated at the Oscars and that “the Academy will take very good care of your client.” You can imagine this didn’t go down well. The rep speculated that some PR will eventually be allowed in, saying, “I would imagine with the number of nominees not coming because of all the restrictions there will be plenty of room.” The Academy says only presenters and nominees, with one guest each, will be permitted at Union Station due to social distancing and space restrictions.
For a time when this should be momentous in a career, these Oscar nominations are causing some great angst. Emerald Fennell, nominated for a historic three Oscars as producer, director and writer of Best Picture nominee Promising Young Woman, is a little nervous about how she will be getting the Oscars, as she told me from London this week when I asked if we will be seeing her at the first Academy Awards she has been invited to attend. “I hope so,” she said. “It depends on all the different rules, and if I am allowed in the country I will be there, of course. However I am a bit nervous in case the rules change and am not able to. It is kind of terrifying right now.”
On a Zoom interview from his native Denmark, Another Round Directing/International Film double nominee Thomas Vinterberg is really hoping, and planning, to be at the Oscars, but it ain’t easy as he told me yesterday from Copenhagen. “I am going to be there with 10 days in quarantine. Those arrangements are all over the place. We are trying to figure that out,” he said, adding he is in the process of scripting his first TV series so logistically could do that anywhere. “I am in the writing mode now. And indeed in modern times that can be brought to a hotel somewhere in the U.S. I am curious to see how the show will be, and how many there will be of us there. If I can do it in any legal way I will show up.”
For those working in overseas environs it is frustrating, as one Oscar-nominated producer told me via email. “The problem is this—there are still all kinds of travel restrictions leaving and re-entering the UK. Even for vaccinated people. There is clearly a lag between the rule makers and the science and what they now know about the tremendous results of the vaccine. So, we are stuck here, without wives, and will somehow watch the Oscars like any other civilian to learn of the results! Since our freedom of movement is highly restricted because of the pandemic and no other reason, we were of course thinking there would be the ability to be remote.”
In recent years the Academy has made a huge public push to diversify and become even more of a global organization than ever. This has resulted in a strong increase in internationally based members and nominees (witness the triumph of South Korea’s Parasite last year), but it also means nominees are spread out around the globe more than ever and getting to Los Angeles for Oscar night can be really daunting in a pandemic.
BAFTA is doing a virtual show, so is SAG and all the guilds, just as the Golden Globes, Critics Choice and Emmys have done during the pandemic. The Oscars want to be different and avoid the Zoom fatigue that is definitely settling in with all these shows. It could mean however that many winners won’t be getting to say, “I’d like to thank the Academy….” in person OR virtually.
For their part, sources close to the production say it is a fluid day-to-day situation, but there are no plans to go virtual in any way at this time. The Academy itself had no comment.