A likely decision by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to move its 2004 Oscar telecast up a month to February, vastly shortening the Oscar campaigning season, has touched off a scramble by other awards shows to find earlier dates as well.
The two-year experiment shifting the ceremony and its highly rated ABC telecast up a month has caused Hollywood's various guilds as well as the British Academy of Academy of Film and Television Arts to jockey their schedules, frantically call hotels and choose new dates for their banquets much the way Hollywood studios pick release dates for their movies.
"You pick a date and hope nobody else will land on your date," said Debra Hill, co-chairman of the Producers Guild of America awards show.
The frenetic search for new dates and hotel banquet rooms began after the academy's board of governors moved to explore holding the Oscars earlier than usual and a date of Feb. 29, 2004, was selected.
"We are planning to go ahead with the Feb. 29 date," said Bruce Davis, the academy's executive director. The key to that decision was whether the organization's contract with ABC and the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, where the show takes place, would allow for an earlier show.
"[ABC] made it clear that they had hoped we could move the event well into February to have the show appear during their sweeps period," Davis said, "but they understand an Oscar show is not a readily portable item, and we went back to them and said the earliest we are confident we could do it is at the very end of February." An Academy spokesman said the date of the ceremony will be moved unless there are last-minute objections raised at the academy board of governors' meeting on Aug. 8.
Moving up the Oscars is designed, in part, to shorten what has become an overly long and sometimes nasty campaign season and also to try to reduce the number of competing televised awards shows that have sprung up in recent years.
Davis agrees that shortening the Oscar season will have an impact on many aspects of the process, such as giving Oscar voters enough time to evaluate the movies.
"The main problem is the December releases," Davis said. "Historically, there have been a large number of releases with big ambitions released in December, and if that pattern continues, the trick will be to get a very large number of very busy filmmakers a chance to see those films before they cast their ballots."
For Hollywood's guilds, the timing of their awards shows is important because not only are many of their members also academy voters but the awards they bestow in their professions also can be precursors to the Oscars.
"What we've done thus far is we've booked two dates for 2004," said Andrew Levy, special assignments executive at the Directors Guild of America, which holds its annual awards banquet at the Century Plaza Hotel.
"If [the Oscars] do end up doing the switch, we've got Feb. 7 blocked out, which is the first Saturday in February," he explained. "If they end up not doing it, we've got our normal March 6, which is the first Saturday in March."
Levy said any move to shorten the Oscar campaign season could have a major impact on how studios conduct those campaigns, including releasing their Oscar-caliber movies around Thanksgiving instead of Christmas to allow voters more time to see the films and sending out DVDs and videos to voters around the times the movies are released in theaters to ensure that they see the movies.
"Because it's a month earlier," Levy said, "you have to be out of the starting gate and hit the ground running all of January and February."
A February Oscar show could cause some headaches at the BAFTA awards in England, which shifted their 2004 show to Sunday, Feb. 8.
Bruce Cohen, who along with Hill oversees the Producers Guild awards show, said the guild has chosen Sunday, Jan. 25, 2004, as the new date for its show at the Century Plaza Hotel.
"What traditionally happens is the Directors Guild and Screen Actors Guild hold their awards banquets four weeks before the Oscars," Cohen said, "and the writers and producers about five weeks before. "
However, Kathy Connell, who produces the Screen Actors Guild Awards, which are televised on TNT, said earlier this week that SAG has not yet decided on a course of action for 2004.
The Writers Guild of America, which has held its show at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills for probably two decades, said it will move up its event and discuss venues, but nothing is finalized yet. It has to coordinate any move with WGA East, which has its show in New York.
In recent years, the Oscars have televised their gala ceremony in late March, giving the guilds, the Golden Globes, the American Film Institute and other awards shows time to leisurely roll out their own banquets week after week, inviting the stars to parade up the red carpet before paparazzi and generally build the suspense leading up to the Academy Awards.