At the latest Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences Zoom Board meeting on June 15, the Governors finally voted on a date for the Oscars 2021 telecast. It’s April 25, eight weeks back from the old date, February 28.
Monday morning, the governors (who total 54, representing 17 branches) weighed in fresh and hashed things out. With a date change comes an extended eligibility period (to February 28), to give a wider swath of films (many of them independent) a chance to finish production and reach audiences.
Before making the decision the Academy checked in with the Los Angeles Department of Health, which advised them to push back as long as possible, as well as studios and distributors, paying heed to what they needed as they struggle to get back up and running.
With a two-month extension, studios will have extra time to finish their movies and postpone release dates without sacrificing their chances at Oscar contention. Ridley Scott, for example, is prepping to virtually direct the last few weeks of shooting in Ireland on “The Last Duel” (Twentieth Century/Disney) starring Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, which was interrupted March 13. He has edited one hour of the period adventure after four weeks filming in France, and was trying to finish in time for a December 25 release date. (When the actors will be willing to turn up is another question.)
ABC had been prepared to make the change. Now Hollywood studios, specialty distributors, documentary producers, and shortsmakers, among others, can plan accordingly. And dates for the various Guild awards and the Golden Globes could also back up. (“It’s fluid,” wrote one Hollywood Foreign Press Association member in an email.)
With so many uncertainties, the change seemed inevitable. While there are precedents for changing the Oscar date — the Oscars were delayed in 1938 (the 50-year flood in Los Angeles), 1968 (the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.), and 1981 (the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan) — nothing like the 2020 pandemic has ever happened to Hollywood. Even during the 1918 Spanish Flu, Hollywood production continued and most theaters remained open.
The film industry is on its knees, with some theaters around the country slowly reopening, and others closed as COVID spikes alarm theater owners and public officials alike, amid speculation about a second wave even as the first one continues to crest.
The summer movie schedule is in flux, with Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” moving back two weeks to July 31, and Disney’s live-action “Mulan” poised as the first big-studio wide release on July 24. Even now, that could change; it’s also unknown how many theaters will open by then.
Many 2020 films were pushed back to 2021, which should see plenty of releases during a shorter 10-month eligibility window. But as one Oscar campaigner likes to point out, “you only need 10.”
Most Oscar seasons are comprised of movies that opened after Labor Day weekend, which marks the start of the fall season. But festivals from Venice and Telluride to Toronto and New York don’t know what form their annual events will take this year. Big titles like David Fincher’s biopic “Mank” starring Oscar-winner Gary Oldman, may thrive without a fall festival launch (Netflix has not committed to sending its films to festivals), but smaller, less pedigreed titles, that need discovery from media and audiences, could fail to build buzz and attention to become must-sees.
There’s another possibility with the Academy date shift: the festivals themselves can move back as well, allowing for safety concerns as well as finished titles to catch up with them.
The Academy has also changed its Oscar submission deadlines and awards calendar. General entry categories: January 15, 2021. Specialty categories: December 1, 2020. Oscar shortlist voting: from February 1 through February 5. Nomination voting: March 5 through March 10. Nominations announcement: March 15. Final voting: April 15 through April 20.
Canceled is November’s usual annual Governors Awards, which has presented honorary Oscars for 11 years at a Hollywood & Highland gala packed with Academy contenders. More information about a possible new date is forthcoming.
The Academy has also postponed the June 20, 2020 Scientific and Technical Awards presentation, which will presumably also find a new berth on the revised awards calendar.
Inevitably it seems, the Governors pushed back yet again the opening of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, which was planning to open on December 14, 2020, but will now be unveiled on April 17, ahead of the April 25 Oscars, and then to the public on April 30.
At the June 11 meeting, the Academy did optimistically commit, for the 94th Oscars in 2022, to a full 10 Best Picture nominees, in order to give some breathing room to next year’s potential Best Picture nominees. (This may not prove a permanent rule change.)
In a move to ensure that Academy voting members have a chance to see all eligible movies, the Academy is making its award-season Screening Room, the streaming site for Academy members, available year-round, starting with the 94th Academy Awards. The Screening Room will stream movies to members throughout the year, with availability during the quarter they are released. The goal is to broaden each film’s exposure and level the playing field. The 2021 Oscars marks the last year DVD screeners will be sent to members.
With the impending date change, as well as permitting some streaming titles to compete, the Academy is clearly leaning in to helping filmmakers get what they need. This could benefit lower-budget films with more time to play in theaters, especially since campaign overspending may not play during this Oscar season.
Expect something far more stripped-back and frugal. One huge change that actors are already confronting as they conduct Zoom interviews in their homes, is that the old culture of celebrity may undergo a radical change. Time to revisit that old red carpet glam frivolity.
Revised Oscar Calendar below:
Monday, February 1, 2021
Preliminary voting begins
Friday, February 5, 2021
Preliminary voting ends
Tuesday, February 9, 2021
Oscar Shortlists Announcement
Friday, March 5, 2021
Nominations voting begins
Wednesday, March 10, 2021
Nominations voting ends
Monday, March 15, 2021
Oscar Nominations Announcement
Thursday April 15, 2021
Oscar Nominees Luncheon
Thursday April 15, 2021
Finals voting begins
Saturday, April 17, 2021
Tuesday, April 20, 2021
Finals voting ends
Sunday, April 25, 2021
Friday, April 30, 2021
Museum Public Opening