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Academy halts mailings of CDs

Board bans sending recordings to Oscar voters judging the best original score and original song categories.

August 08, 2007|Robert W. Welkos | Times Staff Writer

In what is sure to hit a sour note with Hollywood studios plotting their Oscar campaigns, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has banned the mailing of music CDs and related materials to Oscar voters judging the best original score and original song categories.

The academy's board of governors took the action amid increasing concern that the flood of "for your consideration" CDs sent by studios and other distributors make it tempting for its members to evaluate the music on their home stereo systems and car CD players, and not in context with the films.

"They were concerned that the CDs might be listened to out of context and the scores might be voted on solely on the basis of the CDs and not only on the basis of how the music worked in the movie," said Charles Bernstein, a music branch governor.

"If you're listening to a CD, you're listening to a record and pretty much can't tell how it is used in the film," added Bruce Broughton, another music branch governor.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday, August 10, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part Page News Desk 1 inches; 49 words Type of Material: Correction
Academy Awards: An article in Wednesday's Calendar section about the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' decision to bar the mailings of recordings to Oscar voters identified Ray Costa, president of the public relations firm Costa Communications, as composer Danny Elfman's publicist. Elfman does not have a publicist.

Mailing music videos of eligible songs or scores as well as sheet music are also banned under the new rules.

But the ruling, adopted by the board at its June meeting but not disclosed until this week, has left some studio executives scratching their heads and fearing that smaller films could be hurt by the decision.

"I don't know why this was handed down," said Robert Kraft, president of music at 20th Century Fox. He noted that Fox Searchlight has two small films, "Once" and "Waitress," that would benefit by mailing CDs.

"Andrew Hollander wrote this amazing score for 'Waitress,' " Kraft said. "It is a tiny movie with an unknown composer. This is his first or second score. That is the exact scenario" that can benefit from scores being sent out in advance to voting members.

Kraft also wondered why the theory behind this new rule doesn't extend to screenplays -- which still are allowed to be mailed to Oscar voters. "I'm a big fan of the theory that the composer is the last writer on a film," he said. "Why would one writer be allowed to share his or her work -- the words -- with voters, where another writer can't share his or her work -- the notes?"

Publicist Ronni Chasen, whose clients include composers John Williams, Hans Zimmer and Howard Shore, called the ruling "disappointing."

"The truth is these mailings are all optional," Chasen said. "No one has to have these mailings if they don't want to. They can easily opt out of them voluntarily."

Publicist Ray Costa, whose clients include composers Danny Elfman, John Debney and Javier Navarrete, said one problem he foresees with the ban is in the original score category. On a film, he noted, "there sometimes is other music that isn't done by the composer. If someone is going by the film alone, the composer can be unfairly credited with it or unjustly credited with something he didn't write." Sending out a CD makes authorship clear.

Costa said composers are required to turn in cue sheets, which determine how much music -- scene by scene -- they wrote for a film. "With someone just watching the film, they may or may not check the cue sheets. I think it will be more confusing without having the CD as part of it."

But Oscar consultant Tony Angellotti holds a different view: "The new rule seems to me an honest effort to retain the original spirit of the category, that is, to honor songs that enhance or propel the story forward. Voters now have to see the film or part of it to judge the merit of the song. A catchy song playing over the credits provided on CD doesn't really speak to how the film is served by the song. I think it's a solid move on the academy's part."

Ric Robertson, the academy's executive administrator, said the decision to ban the CD mailings did not come without internal debate within the executive committee of the 236-member music branch, which selects the nominees, with the ultimate Oscar winners then being selected by the membership at large.

"At the committee level, there was a good back and forth," Robertson said. He conceded that among the music specialists who make up the branch, listening to a CD after watching the film to evaluate its musical score might allow branch members to "dig a little deeper" when making their Oscar choices.

But in the end, he added, the executive committee felt that the benefit of listening to the CDs was outweighed by the desire to make sure "the evaluations weren't being done outside the context of the film."

The ban might not be permanent, however. Robertson said the ban would be in force this year and then they would "see what happens."

The 80th Academy Awards are scheduled to be held Feb. 24 at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood.

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robert.welkos@latimes.com

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