Filed in: Awards, Crafts, Featured
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Opinion: Through a Glass, Darkly – Reactions to the Academy’s Broadcast Cuts

February 15, 2019 | By

If the Motion Picture Academy thought it was going to have smooth sailing once they retreated from the firestorm on a “most popular picture” category, and decided to go “host-less” this year, well, they were wrong.

Storm clouds returned immediately upon the announcement that the awards for cinematography, film editing, live-action short, and makeup and hairstyling would  be relegated to commercial breaks on this year’s Oscar telecast, with winner comments served up later, toward the end of the broadcast.

Steven Poster, ASC, President of the ICG — IA Local 600 — called the move “disheartening,” in comments to the press, saying that he “immediately reached out to Academy president John Bailey, a member of our own guild, who assured me that all of the nominees would be ‘noted’ during the broadcast. It’s not the same. This is a collaborative process and THIS CHANGE appears to elevate certain crafts above others. People wait their ENTIRE lives to receive an Oscar in front of millions and it is humiliating to have that moment reduced to an afterthought.”

The fact that Bailey is, as noted, a cinematographer, brings up “only Nixon could go to China” aspects of this particular move. And yet Bailey, and the Academy, later clarified that these categories were “volunteered” by their own branches to have the winners announced by presenters (with “stage walking” time cut out), and that full acceptance speeches would be aired later.  Additionally, the categories for “live broadcast exclusion” each year are expected to rotate, so that it will be a different four — though not, one suspects, the acting categories — rotated out next year.

Or as Paul René Roestad, FNF, the President of IMAGO — the European Cinematographers Federation — said in a statement, “one can have as many stars in front of the camera as one wishes, but without a highly competent Cinematographer behind the camera, there will be no film.”

And in a Tweet, following the announcement, Guillermo del Toro said the choices speak to what is essential about film in the first place: “I would not presume to suggest what categories should occur during commercials on Oscars night,  but, please: Cinematography & Editing are at the very heart of our craft. They are not inherited from a theatrical or literary tradition: they are cinema itself.”

Cinema itself — or at least its Motion Picture Academy — may be yearning for simpler days when the awards were a non-broadcast banquet at the Roosevelt Hotel. But even then, pioneers like D.W. Griffith were inventing “close-ups” by moving cameras around, part of that specific vocabulary that del Toro referred to.

Whether the exiling of these same four categories will remain by broadcast night this year remains unclear, but an assessment of the ratings — as the Oscars keeps conflating itself with a Super Bowl halftime show, rather than a specific celebration of what is unique to cinematic storytelling — will doubtless bring further brouhahas for the 2020 edition.

UPDATED: February 15 2019 at 2:03 PM

The glass, apparently, got less dark from a crafts point of view, as late Friday, the Academy announced they were reversing course, and that all winners of the formerly exiled categories will now be able to take their winners’ walks, and give their speeches, live in prime time. “All Academy Awards will be presented without edits, in our traditional format. We look forward to Oscar Sunday, February 24,” the Academy said, as part of a brief statement.

This year, they are perhaps looking forward to Monday, the 25th, even more.

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