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HomeAwardsOscars: Eight Below-the-Line Awards to Be Handed Out Before the Ceremony, Angering...

Oscars: Eight Below-the-Line Awards to Be Handed Out Before the Ceremony, Angering Artisans

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On Tuesday, the Academy angered many — especially below-the-line workers — with its asinine announcement that eight Oscars categories will no longer be presented on the live broadcast this year. Instead, they will be handed out an hour before the start of the official show and “folded seamlessly into the live televised show,” according to Academy President David Rubin.

This year, those categories include Documentary (Short Subject), Film Editing, Makeup and Hairstyling, Music (Original Score), Production Design, Short Film (Animated), Short Film (Live Action), and Sound.

The outcry was both fierce and ferocious across social media, where awards guru Kris Tapley tweeted that he wasn’t a fan of the decision as it pertains to the feature categories, arguing that “There is no broader audience to court that won’t be brought in by the movies themselves. Maintain the audience you have. You’re at risk of losing them.” Then he steered his followers to a Variety article he wrote several years ago when a similar idea was proposed, though back then it was only four awards that would’ve been handed out during commercial breaks.

“Ugh, this is pathetic,” added notable Oscar watcher Mark Harris. “Somebody please save the Oscars from the people who think they know how to save the Oscars.”

Noted film critic Tomris Laffly called the move “horrific,” adding that, “What you’re basically saying is some awards are less important & don’t deserve the live screen time. A nice f*ck you to those winners.”

Critic Devin Faraci titled his Patreon post “The Oscars Turn Their Back on Cinema,” which is predicated on the idea that cutting Editing from the live telecast “strikes at the very heart of cinema,” adding that “the cutting of each category is a travesty and a sign of incredible disrespect for the below-the-line workers.”

The list goes on and on, and several below-the-line workers have already reached out in private to express their own alarm and dismay. Awards bloggers didn’t even try and spin this thing, though Rubin sure did, sending an email to viewers in which he explained that the Academy chose to prioritize “the global audience” this year. I guess no one ever told Rubin not to go chasing new customers at the expense of current ones because he seems to take for granted the viewers he already has.

The Oscars are coming off their lowest-rated show ever, so I fully understand the pressure that Rubin must be under. He’s trying to meet the ratings expectations set forth years ago by ABC, which pays tens of millions in licensing fees each year, and also rescue the public perception of the Oscars so it doesn’t just fade into the ether. But I still fail to see how this move benefits the audience, as in, the actual people watching the show, not the hypothetical audience that ABC wishes to court with a shorter broadcast. Those people want to see Best Original Score handed out live far more than people who just want to see the Oscars end within three hours.

Of course, it’s important to keep in mind that these eight categories aren’t being removed from the Oscars ceremony altogether, they’re just being pre-recorded an hour early so that clips can be integrated into the live televised broadcast for viewers at home. Most people watching at home won’t even be able to tell the difference, and plenty of other awards shows have taken similar measures, plus Rubin promised that the Academy will see how things go and reevaluate things next year — when you just know that other below-the-line categories will be targets for the Academy as opposed to the “major” awards.

And yet, in this hour-early scenario, there’s a very real possibility that exists in which the pre-recorded winners will be leaked prior to the telecast, which takes a whole lot of suspense out of the actual show.

Meanwhile, the decision to pre-record these categories was made in the interest of saving time, but saving time for what? Personally, I don’t think the length of the show is a problem. The Oscars used to regularly go well over three hours and bring in three or four times as many viewers as the show does now. So I don’t think running time is an issue. Titanic, Avatar, and Avengers: Endgame are three of the most popular movies ever and they’re all super long. So even though I don’t agree with the #FanFavorite Award, if you’re going to add it, then add it, don’t “subtract” or shorten other categories in order to accommodate it, because those artisans deserve their moment far more than Amazon’s Cinderella or Netflix’s Army of the Dead deserve theirs.

Image via Aaron Poole/AMPAS
Image via Aaron Poole/AMPAS

Personally, I’m fine with the shorts categories being cut from the telecast altogether, as the other 20 awards honor features, and almost no one has seen any of the short films, though I can see how it sends the wrong message — that the Academy doesn’t care about up-and-coming filmmakers. The Academy is, of course, far more than the Oscars, just like Sundance is far more than a film festival, so I know that it invests in educational programs. But the below-the-line workers who win Oscars aren’t up-and-comers. They are typically industry veterans who have toiled in the shadows and paid their dues, and they deserve their moment in the spotlight just as the winners of the acting prizes do.

It’s funny, everyone has ideas to “fix” the Oscars, but what if — and hear me out on this one — the Oscars don’t actually need to be fixed! It’s the Academy’s attitude that needs to be fixed, as the org almost seems embarrassed to be putting on the show. Its leadership is far too reactionary, which only results in a series of head-scratching decisions that they inevitably walk back in one way or another 48-72 hours after announcing them. Don’t be surprised if it happens again should there be enough pushback from industry guilds.

Regina Hall, Amy Schumer and Wanda Sykes will host the Oscars, which will air March 27 0n ABC, though I’m still not sure why the network isn’t also streaming the telecast on one of its corporate siblings such as Hulu or Disney Plus. So many young people have cut the cord and can’t watch live events on TV, it’s no wonder ratings are in the toilet.

Below the Line readers are invited to weigh in with their thoughts by emailing me at [email protected]. In the meantime, Rubin’s letter to AMPAS membership can be found below:

Dear Fellow Academy Members,

We’re excited to present a 94th Oscars broadcast that both honors the year’s achievements in motion pictures and provides boundless entertainment for our global audience of movie lovers.  After carefully listening to feedback and suggestions from our film community, our network partner, and all those who love the Oscars, it was evident we needed to make some decisions about the broadcast that are in the best interest of the future of our show and our organization.

When deciding how to produce the Oscars, we recognize it’s a live event television show and we must prioritize the television audience to increase viewer engagement and keep the show vital, kinetic, and relevant.  This has been an important focus of discussion for quite some time. We do this while also remembering the importance of having our nominees relish a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

In order to provide more time and opportunity for audience entertainment and engagement through comedy, musical numbers, film clip packages and movie tributes, a change in the show’s production will take place. This year’s show producers and Academy leadership with oversight of the Oscars have made the decision, with endorsement from the officers and the Awards Committee, that every awards category must be featured on the television broadcast, though eight awards will initially be presented in the Dolby Theatre in the hour before the live broadcast begins.

They will not be presented in the pre-show nor on the red carpet, as some have speculated. Instead, the in-person ceremony at the Dolby Theatre will begin one hour earlier to present eight awards categories before the live telecast starts. Those presentations will then be edited by our creative and production teams and will be folded seamlessly into the live televised show.

To be clear, 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.

For the audience at home, the show’s flow does not change, though it will become tighter and more electric with this new cadence, and the live broadcast should end – yes, with the Best Picture category – at the three-hour mark.

This year, those categories presented in the evening’s first hour and seen later in the live broadcast are, alphabetically: Documentary (Short Subject), Film Editing, Makeup and Hairstyling, Music (Original Score), Production Design, Short Film (Animated), Short Film (Live Action), and Sound.

The categories to be presented live on this year’s broadcast are, alphabetically: Actor in a Leading Role, Actor in a Supporting Role, Actress in a Leading Role, Actress in a Supporting Role, Animated Feature Film, Best Picture, Cinematography, Costume Design, Directing, Documentary (Feature), International Feature Film, Music (Original Song), Visual Effects, Writing (Adapted Screenplay), and Writing (Original Screenplay).

We realize these kinds of changes can prompt concern about equity, and we ask you to understand our goal has been to find a balance in which nominees, winners, members, and viewing audience all have a rewarding show experience. Moving forward we will assess this change and will continue to look for additional ways to make our show more entertaining and more thrilling for all involved, inside the Dolby Theatre and watching from home.

Every Academy branch and award category is indispensable to the success of a film and vital to this industry. Both our challenge and our goal is to create an exciting, streamlined Oscars show without sacrificing the long-held fundamentals of our organization.  We appreciate your understanding and will be grateful for your unwavering support.

Sincerely,

David Rubin
Academy President

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