The furor over the Academy’s note to members detailing the decision to hand out four Oscars off-air has not died down. On Wednesday afternoon, some of the most respected and acclaimed filmmakers, cinematographers and cinematic artists put their concerns in an open letter to the Academy. The letter was signed by the likes of Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Roger Deakins, Spike Lee, Ang Lee, Damien Chazelle, Dee Rees, Tatiana S. Riegel, Sandy Powell, Rachel Morrison, Wally Pfister, Emmanuel Lubezki and Reed Morano, among others (full list of signatories to follow).
The Academy revealed on Monday that the Cinematography, Film Editing, Makeup and Hairstyling and Live Action Film categories would be tape delayed on the broadcast. The reaction to that news this evening was the following:
“An Open Letter to The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and The Producers of the 91st Annual Academy Awards Broadcast:
On Monday, February 11, 2019, John Bailey, President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, announce that this year’s Oscar presentations for Best Cinematography — along with Film Editing, Live Action Short and Makeup and Hairstyling — will not be broadcast live, but rather presented during a commercial break. This decision was made to reduce the length of the show from four hours to three. The vocal response from our peers and the immediate backlash from industry leaders over the Academy’s decision makes it clear that it’s not too late to have this decision reversed.
The Academy was founded in 1927 to recognize and uphold excellence in the cinematic arts, inspire imagination and help connect the world through the universal medium of motion pictures. Unfortunately, we have drifted from this mission in our pursuit of presenting entertainment rather than in presenting a celebration of our art form and the people behind it.
Relegating these essential cinematic crafts to lesser status in this 91st Academy Awards ceremony is nothing less than an insult to those of us who have devoted our lives and passions to our chosen profession.
The show’s director, Glenn Weiss, has stated that he will determine what “emotionally resonant” moments from the four winners’ speeches will be selected to air later in the broadcast. The show will cut any additional comment from presenters, as well as any recitation of the nominees as they see fit.
Since its inception, the Academy Awards telecast has been altered over time to keep the format fresh, but never by sacrificing the integrity of the Academy’s original mission. When the recognition of those responsible for the creation of outstanding cinema is being diminished by the very institution whose purpose it is to protect it, then we are no longer upholding the spirit of the Academy’s promise to celebrate film as a collaborative art form. To quote our colleague Seth Rogan, “What better way to celebrate achievements in film than to NOT publicly honor the people whose job it is to literally film things.
Anthony Dod Mantle
Newton Thomas Sigel
Hoyte van Hoytema
Kees van Oostrum
Cary Joji Fukunaga
Alan Edward Bell
Sophie De Rakoff
Mary Jo Markey
Tatiana S. Riegel
Anna B. Sheppard
Terilyn A. Shropshire
Less than an hour later, the Academy responded with the following statement from President John Bailey and the Executive Committee of the Board of Governors.
It began as follows, “As the Academy’s officers, we’d like to assure you that no award category at the 91st Oscars ceremony will be presented in a manner that depicts the achievements of its nominees and winners as less than any others. Unfortunately, as the result of inaccurate reporting and social media posts, there has been a chain of misinformation that has understandably upset many Academy members. We’d like to restate and explain the plans for presenting the awards, as endorsed by the Academy’s Board of Governors.”
The statement then went into more detail to try and clarify the changes:
“- All 24 Award categories are presented on stage in the Dolby Theatre, and included in the broadcast.
– Four categories – Cinematography, Film Editing, Makeup and Hairstyling, and Live Action Short – were volunteered by their branches to have their nominees and winners announced by presenters, and included later in the broadcast. Time spent walking to the stage and off, will be edited out.
– The four winning speeches will be included in the broadcast.
– In future years, four to six different categories may be selected for rotation, in collaboration with the show producers. This year’s categories will be exempted in 2020.
– This change in the show was discussed and agreed to by the Board of Governors in August, with the full support of the branch executive committees. Such decisions are fully deliberated.
Our show producers have given great consideration to both Oscar tradition and our broad global audience.
We sincerely believe you will be pleased with the show, and look forward to celebrating a great year in movies with all Academy members and with the rest of the world.
John Bailey, President
Lois Burwell, First Vice President
Sid Ganis, Vice President
Larry Karaszewski, Vice President
Nancy Utley, Vice President
Jim Gianopulos, Treasurer
David Rubin, Secretary”
The most important thing to note is that the Academy, in the only way they know how, is trying to hold the line on the changes they say was implemented in August. However, there are a number of reasons members are angry over the changes.
First, the decision was not fully communicated from the branch governors to the membership. Branch governors did not ask their members to sign off on the changes. That was clearly a mistake.
Second, at the time the announcement was made it was vague and also came with the new of a “popular film” category that the membership was much more focused on, eventually having it tabled for consideration next year.
Third, the details of what the Academy, ABC and the show producers planned were not detailed to the membership until less than two weeks before the show’s air date. Convenient to say the least.
Fourth, the idea that cutting nominees walking to the stage to save time is utterly ridiculous. At best it might save five-six minutes total.
What the Academy is simply not understanding is that the members want every category to be treated fairly. This current change is simply not that. After the popular film fiasco and with this drama, the Academy is also demonstrating that they care more about ratings than the opinion of their dues-paying members. That is a very bad cocktail to try and swallow.
ABC is also guilty of this having decided to debut a new series after the telecast. They are clearly pushing a no longer than 3 hours rule and have put the Academy in a position where they simply can’t win.
This controversy isn’t a crisis, but it shows that the needs and wants of the membership clearly differentiate from the Academy leadership. That is a crisis and that needs to be rectified before the membership trusts its leaders again.
The 91st Academy Awards are scheduled for Sunday, Feb. 24 and will be aired semi-live on ABC beginning at 5 PM PT, 8 PM ET.