50 Shades of Grey: Oscar Campaign Reformers Keep Rule Changes Vague

Blame Peggy Siegal for the new Academy rule changes designed to curtail excessive wooing of voters with star-studded lavish parties.
Lady Gaga
Lady Gaga

Blame Peggy Siegal.

As there’s always a low rumbling about “excessive” Oscar campaigning, every year The Academy’s Board of Governors approves new Oscars rules and campaign regulations for the Academy Awards designed to keep the out-of-control awards marketing in check, and did so yet again at their most recent Board meeting on Tuesday June 28.

What Siegal may be to blame for is new changes in the rules for party campaigning, inspired by her New York Times profile in which she explained how to woo Oscar voters with glitterati and fine dining. (In the story eventual “The Revenant” Oscar-winner Leonardo DiCaprio wields the microphone at New York’s Michelin-starred Japanese restaurant Kappo Masa.)

READ MORE: Academy Announces Dates for 2017 Oscar Nominations and Voting

Luckily, despite some of the breathless “no parties” coverage in the wake of the announced rule change, the Academy is so vague in its language that distributors and publicists and campaign marketers know full well that their jobs are safe. The Academy is basically waving an admonishing finger at anyone like Siegal who goes overboard with a star-packed party with no screening attached (although Siegal and others like her do often include a screening option before a glitzy dinner or lunch).

Peggy Siegal
Oscar campaigner Peggy Siegal at the Academy AwardsAnne Thompson

How vague is this? “Academy members may not be invited to or attend any non-screening event, party or dinner that is reasonably perceived to unduly influence members or undermine the integrity of the vote. Members who fail to comply with this regulation will be subject to a one-year suspension of membership for first-time violations and expulsion for subsequent violations, as well as all other available remedies.”

Anyone who is on the Academy party circuit (hey, I do this for a living) can instantly conjure up images of events past semi-attached to screenings, say, a Bel Air Hotel champagne lunch hosted by Paramount chairman Brad Grey with “Flight” star Denzel Washington and director Bob Zemeckis working the room (following a 10 AM screening at the Aidikoff), or countless fetes in the Hollywood Hills hosted by the likes of Hollywood royalty Quincy Jones or Peggy Siegal’s ebullient LA counterpart, Colleen Camp.

The Academy music branch has been easy to mock for years, and stopping the practice of having music stars like Lady Gaga and The Weeknd performing songs from movies like “The Hunting Ground” and “50 Shades of Grey” makes sense. God forbid the music branch should listen to the submissions.

READ MORE: Academy Embraces Diversity With 683 New Members, Including John Boyega and Michael B. Jordan

But while we all would like to see the entire out-of-control crazy circuit cool down (see Edward Norton’s plea) — exactly how is the Academy is planning to police the scores of events that are growing like kutzu every year? The pressure from distributors is huge, say some publicists, many of whom are afraid to ask the Academy exactly what is inside and outside this hazy line. (The Academy wants event planners to call in and check.)

The goal is to lure Academy voters to see possible contenders via food and drink and conviviality. Lavish hospitality aiming to sway one’s vote is what the Academy is seeking to tighten up. “We need clarification,” said one Oscar player.

Other rules are less controversial, designed to create a more level playing field among the categories, so that narrative and doc features, for example, are playing by similar qualifying rules concerning their Los Angeles and New York qualifying runs; docs can now play in the New York suburbs, outside Manhattan.

The intensified campaigning has encroached on areas like foreign films and documentaries, even shorts, now that everyone votes via screeners.

Check out rules and eligibility here.

The 89th Oscars will be held on Sunday, February 26, 2017, at the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland.

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