Oscars Keeping Show Date But Make Big News As Academy Lightens Eligibility Rules, Combines Sound Categories, Ends DVD Screeners and More — HOLD DRAFT

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and its Board Of Governors, meeting virtually, have approved  changes in the way films will be eligible for the 93rd Annual Academy Awards including lightening eligibility requirements for films debuting on streamers and VOD, as well as changes for some categories including broadening eligible voters in the International Film nominating process, and combining  Sound Mixing and Sound Editing into one . This will also be final year physical DVD screeners are allowed as the Academy moves boldly into the digital frontier with their own screening platform for members. Some of this became necessary in light of the continuing coronavirus pandemic which is directly  affecting the way many films, and potential Oscar nominees, are being distributed since most theatres are still shut down. However, rumors and speculation to the contrary, there are no current plans to cancel or move the date of next year’s Oscar show, still scheduled to be broadcast by ABC exactly ten months from today on Sunday February  27, 2021.  Of course all of this is fluid 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 in a change 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 has also done).  This affects the growing number of films appearing initially on streamers like Netflix and Amazon , as well as VOD such as Universal’s VOD premieres of Trolls World Tour and the upcoming 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 22nd.  To be eligible for this year’s Oscar race however films will still have to qualify with a seven day run once theatres reopen.  The Academy however is expanding the number of eligible theatres to include some outside LA County and into other areas as well for the first time to make this all that much easier to accomplish for distributors.  The Academy also stresses its strong support of the theatrical experience and emphasizes this is temporary due to unforseen circumstances surrounding the pandemic.

The Academy which last year debuted its own digital screening platform that featured over 80 contenders before voting began, is broadening that service and will now make this year the last one in which physical DVD screeners will be allowed to be sent to members, not unlike the move instituted this year by the Television Academy banning 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 Oscars previous 24 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, although ironically the 2019 winners did split with Ford v Ferrari taking Sound Mixing and 1917 winning for Sound Editing.

In terms of the Best International Film category, all eligible voters in the Academy will now be allowed to vote in the preliminary nomination rounds, just as they currently are once the five nominees are chosen. They will also 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 theatres.  The current rules requiring each country to select their own submission for Best International Film are still in place and , in light of the upheaval created by this worldwide pandemic, the Academy is in discussions now with local film commissions around the globe in order to facilitate this process. It seems still to be a fluid situation considering the number of countries whose theatres have been shut down, thus making it difficult to qualify  under current rules in the category.

As far as Oscar qualifying film festivals are concerned those impacted festivals  which present an online platform for films to debut virtually (such as Tribeca  and SXSW currently) 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.

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