We still don’t know when the next Oscars will be. On Tuesday morning, after a two-week delay, the 54-member Academy Board of Governors conducted a well-attended secure Zoom meeting to decide rule changes for Oscars 2021. First up was what would not be under discussion: Nine-year Academy CEO Dawn Hudson and new president David Rubin deferred any consideration of this year’s Governors Awards, for starters, or even the 93rd Oscar show, currently set for February 28, 2021 on ABC.
“We are having an Oscars,” said Hudson in a follow-up phone call. “It’s all under discussion. We are in week seven of a stay-at-home mandate and we are in stage one of dealing with this global crisis. We are not ready to make final decisions without even more conversation and information and the benefit of time.”
Conversations about the Oscar date are ongoing with ABC, which is contracted to air the Oscar show through 2028. And for this year, the telecast won’t be about ratings, said Hudson: “What they want is what’s good for the Academy and the film community, what we think is the best scenario.”
Aa expected, the governors agreed to provide the global film world with some flexibility around awards eligibility, as most stateside theaters have been shut down since March 16, with no wide-scale reopenings coming anytime soon. For this year, until theaters reopen, the Academy will not demand a one-week qualifying run in theaters in Los Angeles County for Best Picture candidates, nor L.A. and New York runs for documentaries. And unlike before, when shorts and features shown at online film festivals prior to theatrical release were not eligible, they will be this year as long as they meet other requirements.
VOD and streaming releases will be eligible, per the Academy, as long as they are “made available on the secure Academy Screening Room member-only streaming site within 60 days of the film’s streaming or VOD release.”
That means that March specialty release “Never Rarely Sometimes Always,” for example, will now be able to qualify for the Oscars without having completed its one-week run before theaters closed, even though Universal’s specialty arm Focus Features moved the film straight to VOD. Many films with spring and summer playdates are taking the VOD or streaming route and will continue to do so, rather than wait for the fall or winter.
When theaters do reopen, for the first time the Academy will broaden the number of cities beyond Los Angeles that can play Oscar-qualifying runs to include New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Miami and the Bay Area. “We don’t know what the landscape is going to look like when theaters reopen around the entire U.S. and all the films needing theatrical release,” said Hudson. “Demand could exceed inventory. It’s very fluid. Let’s at least create more opportunities for when that happens.”
This year, the Academy is giving up mandatory Los Angeles screenings for international submissions. All Academy members, no matter where they live, are invited to watch foreign-language films via the Academy Screening Room and vote in the first round, if they watch enough films. It remains to be seen how many countries will be able to submit films this year, much less subtitled digital prints. The number will likely be substantially lower than last year’s 92 international feature submissions.
“We are excited to expand phase one to all of our members who want to participate and watch the requisite number of films,” said Hudson. “It’s an innovation for our worldwide members. Of course, we have to ask for digital copies of their films so we can enable our members to see the films. The new rule makes sense for the future and definitely this year.”
Many L.A. members miss the ritual of weekly screenings at the Academy’s lush Samuel Goldwyn Theatre at their Wilshire Boulevard headquarters. But as the Academy continues to move online, just like the rest of the world, this will be the last year that DVD screeners will be distributed to the some 8,000 voting members, many of whom have yet to adapt to the Academy’s new online screening portal. No more DVDs, music CDs, printed screenplays and promo materials. Links only, please.
It was no surprise that the board voted to merge the two sound categories, Editing and Mixing, into one: Best Achievement in Sound. This change was approved by the Sound branch after polling the full Academy membership. As technology has changed sound design in movies, the entire team will be rewarded at one time on Oscar night.
Still to be decided is what the Academy wants the 2021 Oscars show to be, and when it will be held. Many distributors and filmmakers are going to find it challenging, if not impossible, to complete post-production on such films as Ridley Scott’s scheduled December 25 opener “The Last Duel” (Twentieth Century/Disney) in time to meet the Academy’s usual year-end eligibility deadline.
Meanwhile, every studio faces a financial morass and must figure out the best possible course of action for their films. While the Oscars may not be high on the list of distributor concerns, assuming they have finished pictures, they have decisions to make about how to release them. The Academy could decide to push back the date of the Oscars, or the eligibility period, or both, to give films more room to play.
“We’ll be celebrating film with an Oscars broadcast,” said Rubin. “But everything is fluid. What it looks like is so unclear. We don’t know what the next week or month will bring.”
Meanwhile, on Tuesday the The Hollywood Foreign Press Association announced that until theaters reopen in the Los Angeles area, movies no longer have to be screened for Globe members ahead of or within one week of theatrical release. If a distributor booked a movie into theaters, but moved it to cable, television, or streaming after theaters closed, the film will be deemed eligible for the Golden Globes, as long as the members receive a screening link or DVD to view at home ahead of another scheduled screening. The HFPA’s reminders list committee will continue to review every submission.