Tinseltown and its suburbs, Film Twitter, are in uproar this week. The awarding of Best Cinematography, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Film Editing and Best Live Action Short are all to be done during commercial breaks at the 91st Academy Awards. As with pretty much everything the Academy have done recently, it was not well received.
On Tuesday, American Society of Cinematographers President Kees Van Oostrum responded by saying “we cannot quietly condone this decision,” claiming the move was an act of “minimizing our fundamental creative contributions.” Alfonso Cuarón – whose film Roma is nominated for 10 awards, including Cinematography – tweeted the following:
The likes of Seth Rogen, Russell Crowe and Peter Fonda all offered much the same viewpoint. Like Crazy and Equals director Drake Doremus called for a boycott of the ceremony. Even our own Editor-in-Chief, David Brake, asserted that “all of these categories are hugely important for the very existence of films. CINEMAtography. I mean, the clue’s in the name… ”
Far be it from me to pass judgment on any of the above (especially the latter, who might nix this piece entirely) but is this not just a complete non-issue?
Academy president (and professional cinematographer) John Bailey outlined the changes on Monday [via Variety] as part of his commitment to keeping the show down to three hours. In it he stated, matter-of-factly, that “our show must evolve to successfully continue promoting motion pictures to a worldwide audience”. In a subsequent letter clarifying the plan, he said that “four categories […] were volunteered by their branches to have their nominees and winners announced by presenters [during commercial breaks], and included later in the broadcast. Time spent walking to the stage and off, will be edited out.”
The award still happens. The nominees and winners are still announced in front of their peers. The winners still speak on national television. What’s more, the entire process is streamed online “for our global fans to enjoy, live” – according to Bailey. What is the problem?
The Academy’s reasoning makes sense. Last year, for context, the broadcast was seven minutes shy of four hours long; 2017’s show was 3 hours, 49 minutes. This is a long show. Maybe not for those nominated or who personally know someone involved, whether they’re serving Fiji water or filling seats, but for those who want to watch the whole shebang, it’s long.
And why? Well, there is a lot to include. One reason is that there are performances of each of the Best Original Song numbers. Previously the Academy has sought to consolidate these into a medley, while this year they sought to actually cut the number of performances broadcast. Neither were seen as acceptable. How they must wish for a repeat of 2011 when only two songs were even nominated (and neither were performed). This year there are five.
As well as musical performances, there’s a segment for the lifetime achievement Governors Awards (can’t get rid of that); there’s an In Memoriam VT that lasts as long as some attendees’ careers and still manages to miss someone each year; there’s a light-hearted gag that the execs hope will make a viral moment (pizza for the audience? NPH in his undies? Matt Damon?). Plus there’s the stilted banter between the wave after wave of award-givers. Ladies and gentlemen, presenting the award for Best Documentary Short are Sean Penn and the dog from Game Night!
The thing that takes up the most time though? The awards. The Academy currently hands out statuettes in 24 different categories. 24 sets of nominees, maybe a clip or two, some of that premium repartee between the presenters and some raw envelope-flipping action.
It’s wonderful that so many people can be recognised. I’d rather more awards than fewer – by all means give us a Best Stunt award and award it to Mission: Impossible – Fallout – but I don’t want to see it play out in real time. If only there was a professional who could cut the broadcast down and show bits of it out of order…
The Academy Awards is not a lecture. It is, in its current form, a combination of recognition and entertainment. It is a broadcasting opportunity that, back in 2013 and 2014, was averaging over 40 million pairs of eyes. 2018’s ceremony was witnessed by only 26.5 million viewers. We’ll probably never see the Oscars draw roughly a billion worldwide viewers again, but who can fault the Academy for changing with the times, just as the works and individuals they reward have done?
The first Academy Awards saw the winners’ names printed on the back page of the Academy’s newsletter, the ceremony happening three months later in a room of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in front of 270 people. Later came radio and, in the years after 1952, the kind of sex appeal and glamour only television and a lean Billy Crystal can provide. Audiences change; tastes evolve.
These days more people are likely to check in for a few big awards or view the results the next day on YouTube. Some clever folks don’t even watch the thing, preferring to check in with the One Room with a View Oscars live blog. Not everyone needs to see everything. By all means cut the broadcast down to three hours; cut Makeup and Hairstyling, Live Short, Cinematography and Editing from the broadcast. What better acclaim for editing than using it to make the Academy Awards somewhat bearable?