Academy members contacted by IndieWire are fuming about Tuesday’s email letter from president David Rubin announcing that five craft and three short film category presentations will be cut out of the live broadcast at the Dolby Theater on March 24. The eight categories consist of animated, documentary, and live action shorts, editing, makeup and hairstyling, original score, production design, and sound.
One member of the sound branch is so upset that they’re “considering everything up to and including resigning from the Academy,” the member said. “I’m furious. It shows a complete lack of respect for ’the crafts.’ Sounds like we’re weaving baskets rather than creatively participating in making a film. I’ve been communicating with people…about this, and as far as I can tell there’s unanimous anger and disappointment among the sound branch at this move. There’s discussions going on about a broad response. We’re contacting directors too.”
There is speculation that some shunned craft nominees are considering mutiny and may not show up at the telecast at all.
This is the second time that the Academy has attempted to deny live airtime to select craft and short categories to rescue the prestige and sinking ratings of the Oscars in the 21st century. In 2019, cinematography, editing, make-up and hairstyling, and live action short were earmarked, but, thanks to a successful membership protest — galvanized by the influential cinematography branch — the Academy reversed its decision.
But this time the circumstances are even more dire after last year’s disastrous Covid-hampered telecast, which saw ratings sink to a historic low. The rationale is “to increase viewer engagement and keep the show vital, kinetic, and relevant,” Rubin wrote in his members letter. However, to soften the blow, Rubin emphasized that “all the nominees in ALL awards categories will be identified on air and ALL winners’ acceptance speeches will be featured on the live broadcast. Every awarded filmmaker and artist in every category will still have the celebratory ‘Oscar moment’ they deserve on the stage of the Dolby, facing an enrapt audience.”
Yet one production designer doesn’t buy Rubin’s explanation, he said: “As visual effects and the costume department work hand in hand with, or under the direction of, the production designer, we find this new method of presentation inconsiderate of the Academy’s history and of the history of the cinematic arts in general. Perhaps you should consider dedicating the hour before the live show to ALL THE ‘ARTISANS’…. This would leave room in the live show for a new CASTING AWARD?” [Rubin is a member of the casting branch.]
The decision is short-sighted, one animated shorts voter said: “It is especially egregious that they’ve short-changed the short film categories…and this decision bans three of those Oscars…to second tier status. Making an excellent short is hard. Many Oscar nominated feature directors have tried and they have learned that making an amazing short film that gets the nod from the Academy is incredibly difficult. And the short film categories have a huge global audience. When the winners from ‘Bear Story’ won their Oscar [in 2016], they were met with a Presidential welcome, and this year’s animated short film nominee ‘Bestia’ has already been tweeted about by the President-elect, Gabriel Boric. What feature film gets that kind of support anywhere? The Academy needs to do a re-think and ask their members under 40 for input.”
An editing member found the decision “outrageous” and suggested that improving the Oscar show requires greater examination. “[It] feels arbitrary and disrespectful to all those who pour their heart and soul into a movie. I could argue a million reasons why each and every one of us deserves recognition….The problem is how do we make the Oscar show more watchable, more appealing to an audience?
“That requires a bigger rethink than simply shortening the show. Perhaps, the Academy could conduct a survey of viewers (like a preview focus group) of what they’d like to see. We need to ask the question: Does an audience care and are they invested enough in a show which might under represent the broader movie going public? How can we re-energize the show without shorting the talent that creates movies? That’s a conversation I would get involved in.”
Meanwhile, the American Cinema Editors Board of Directors (ACE) released the following written statement in protest:
“We are deeply disappointed by the Academy’s decision to alter the way certain categories, including film editing, will be presented in the Oscars telecast. It sends a message that some creative disciplines are more vital than others. Nothing could be further from the truth and all who make movies know this. As a group of artists wholly dedicated to advancing the art and prestige of film editing, we passionately believe that editing — and all other creative disciplines that are part of the collaborative art of filmmaking — should be treated equally. Our contributions to that collaboration may sometimes appear invisible but they are undeniable. We hope that film editors and other artists affected by this change will be honored and celebrated with the passion, dignity and inclusion they deserve.”
Additionally, Alan Heim, president, Motion Pictures Editors Guild, IATSE Local 700, offered his own written statement:
“We understand the Academy’s desire to make a more arresting show, but this move renders the ‘invisible art’ of editing even less visible. The Oscars should be a night to celebrate all of the labor and artistry that combine to bring stories to life on the screen, and we think deserving craftspeople have more than earned their time in the spotlight.”
Mark A. Lanza, president, Motion Picture Sound Editors, IATSE Local 700, was even more forceful in his written statement:
“The Academy’s mission is to honor the craft of filmmaking in all its parts. Eliminating certain categories from the live broadcast degrades that mission. That is not to mention the bill of goods the sound branch was sold just last year when the Academy made an explicit promise not to eliminate sound from the live broadcast if they agreed to the travesty of combining sound editing and sound mixing into one category. I am still not OK with this part either. They are two different disciplines.”
However, Nelson Coates, president, Art Directors Guild, IATSE Local 800, provided a more unifying written statement: “We support the Academy’s commitment to identify all nominees on-air and feature all winners’ acceptance speeches on the live broadcast.”