The Academy mailed final ballots for the 83rd Awards on February 2 to 5,755 voting members. The completed ballots are due at 5 PM February 22. Most members–whether in London, New York or Borneo–will anxiously mail their ballots or, if they are in Los Angeles, walk them into PricewaterhouseCooper’s offices. After tabulating the votes, PricewaterhouseCoopers will place winners’ names in the sealed envelopes that are opened on the Oscar show February 27.
This seems positively archaic in the digital age. Why can’t Academy voting take place online? The Broadcast Film Critics, the Canadian Genies, BAFTA and others do it that way. According to Academy president Tom Sherak, the Academy can’t use electronic ballots because when they started to explore the possibility of moving up the Awards date, one of the things that they realized they would have to do is to online voting. It was a prerequisite of making that happen.
But the Oscars are a fat juicy target. “I’ve yet to be convinced that you couldn’t find someone to hack into it,” Sherak says. “Nobody has said to me, ‘you can’t get in.’ The Academy is as pure as the driven snow.” Until Sherak is convinced that no one could influence the voting by hacking into an online voting system, he’s sticking with paper ballots. It’s safer. “They can hack into the Pentagon!” he says. “The chances of getting online ballots are slim to none.”
This suggests that moving up the Oscar Show date isn’t going to happen any time soon. The Academy Awards used to be held in April, then March, now February. Move the date any earlier, and how can all Academy members see what they need to see–especially on the big screen–and vote on the prior calendar year’s films? Some studios like Fox are now streaming contenders online, but piracy could become an issue with streaming. “There are a lot of moving parts,” admits Sherak, who stopped the process of moving up the awards for this year because “we weren’t ready,” he says. “We can only move it up so far.” The biggest issues, he says, are keeping the integrity of the voting and showing the movies. “The Golden Globes are the biggest party in town. But we’re the gold standard.”
And having ten best picture Oscar candidates, the brainchild of 2009 Oscar show co-producers Bill Condon and Larry Mark, is still at the experimental stage. “The group believes in doing ten,” Sherak says. “The thinking is to go one year at a time. The board of governors agreed to try it again this year and see what happens with a different group of pictures. Then we’ll go back to the board and see if it’s worth doing a third year. It’s something the board will decide. The voters are getting used to it.”
Basically, the Academy is trying to come up with ways to make the Oscar telecast more relevant, says Sherak. “Why not try something different?” The thinking was to allow more popular films–as well as docs, foreign and animated features–enter the Oscar fray so that viewers would have more reason to tune in. “The biggest concern is we didn’t want to take away what it meant to be one of the five,” says Sherak. “We did not want to dilute the nominations. We did a lot of research and we found that to the public we weren’t diluting it. We’re giving them a wider range of what’s out there. It does become important to the ratings. And 90% of the revenue to run the Academy comes from that show.” As well as mounting the Oscar telecast, the Academy runs an archive library and ongoing screenings and exhibitions throughout the year.
Abandoning the traditional comic host by hiring young actors James Franco and Anne Hathaway was one way to update the Oscars, Sherak says, relieved that he was able to hire this year’s Oscar producers, Bruce Cohen and Don Mischer, so early, back in June. “It’s about who they needed to fit into the role of host,” says Sherak, “of what they are going to do that night. These two people are a perfect fit for what Don and Bruce are trying to do. They’re vibrant and funny.”