More than anyone, acclaimed cinematographer turned Academy President John Bailey has become the face of the decision to have the winners of four Oscar categories — Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Live Action Short, and Best Makeup and Hairstyling — accept their Oscars during commercial breaks on the telecast in order to shorten the show. Their truncated walks to the podium and speeches will then be swiftly edited into the broadcast for the national audience watching the Academy Awards on ABC.
Bailey believes this long-debated solution to the lengthy show — which ran three hours and 45 minutes last year, for the lowest ratings ever — will work seamlessly, he told IndieWire at the cinematography film festival Camerimage in Poland last November.
IndieWire: Now I realize not everyone’s highlight of the evening is Roger Deakins finally winning, but I’m wondering, in context of Camerimage – which is this wonderful celebration of cinematography – does it make you sad that you won’t be able to do more of that on Oscar night?
Bailey: This is the tenth anniversary of the Governors Awards, which used to be part of the regular Oscar show, but they were just kind of a small part and nobody knew what they meant. Then the Board of Governors decided to remove them from the main show because people didn’t understand. There was a lot of opposition to it, but as we started to do it, people understood, “no, this is great.” This is taking world filmmakers, giving them an evening of their own, honoring them, highlighting their careers. It has become, really, second only to the Oscars itself.
These honorary Oscars, or Governors Awards, which include the Thalberg and the Hersholt awards, are really very, very magical. I remember highlights last year when Agnes Varda won the award. It’s extraordinary.
Now this year on the Oscar show, we are really very publicly, and I certainly am very exposed and committing to a three hour show. I just don’t think the show could run more than three hours mainly because three hours is 11 o’clock on the East Coast. Where the lights go out, and you think, “We’ll wait and find out who won the big awards.” We don’t want four or five of the major awards to be given out after we’ve lost a good percentage of the East Coast audience, so we’ve gotta do that.
I never understood that logic until I had young kids, but I’ll admit watching the World Series from New York this year was the first time midnight was a real stretch.
Bailey: We get the message. You know, Carol [Bailey’s wife, legendary editor Carol Littleton] and I have had an apartment on the Upper West Side for 35 years. She has edited five or six movies completely in New York. I have shot all or parts of at least six or seven in New York. I was, before the camera locals merged, I was the first West Coast cinematographer to ever get a New York card to become a member of 644. They were adamant in not letting Hollywood cameramen in even though New York cameramen would come to Hollywood. I broke that, and we really consider ourselves part of the New York Community. I’ve always been very mindful of that situation, and we’re going to respect it this year. We’re still starting to develop the format of the show, but I think it’s gonna be very different.
We have also said we’re going to have, probably a half a dozen of the awards, that will be in a rotation basis, that will essentially be slightly edited. They will be given out during commercial breaks and then tightened up and get rid of the perp walk from the seats and shorten the speech and things like that. We’ve done breakdowns of this, in fact one of the cinematographers, one of our governors, Daryn Okada, actually cut some of these down and showed it to the board. And they were so good, they played really well.
So you got to see how it will work, and it played well?
Bailey: It played really well.
So you took last year’s Production Design winner, Best Costume, and so on, and you cut them down?
Bailey: Yeah, yeah, well of course we took cinematography. So, we really realize that, no, this can only help the show. We’ve gotta do other things as well. We need to cut an hour out of the show, but it’s going to, I think these things cumulatively, will help. They will still be on the main show. There was all kinds of fear, “Oh, they’re taking the crafts off.” Well, no. All the awards will be given in the main show, all 24.