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The Game's New Rules

Oscar isn't so strict this year -- CDs are OK, as are digital documentaries. We detail . . .

November 05, 2008|Christy Grosz | Grosz is a freelance writer.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences grabbed headlines a few weeks ago with its decision to allow movie commercials to air during the Oscar telecast. Board members decided to ditch the 50-year ban on the ads primarily over revenue concerns. But behind the scenes, the organization's various branches have also been quietly loosening things up a bit.

Both the documentary and music branches have unveiled amendments to their voting rules that could result in Oscar nominations for a broader range of films in the documentary and original song categories.

For its part, the music branch has decided to limit any given film to no more than two song nominations. Why the restriction? Consider the last two years of original song Oscar noms -- in which "Dreamgirls" in 2007 and "Enchanted" early this year each occupied three out of the five nominee slots.

"We've found that sometimes if a film has a lot of songs in it, that it sort of blots out the competition," says Bruce Broughton, chairman of the music branch executive committee. "It weights [the race] in a way that we find to be unfair. This is our attempt to level the playing field."

The branch has also made the controversial decision to allow CDs of original scores to be mailed to members. Until now, the rule had required scores to be considered only as voters heard them while watching the movie.

"Some members felt that the CDs -- and I'm one of them -- didn't really relate to the film. You really have to see the music in context with the action to know whether the composer did a good job or not," Broughton says. "But there were a lot of really intelligent, hardworking composer members who disagreed."

For documentaries, filmmakers now have the option of submitting their work either in digital format or prints, whereas film had previously been the gold standard.

"The nomination for documentary is a tremendous tool to distribute and sell the film, so documentarians are very keen to be part of that process," says Michael Apted, chairman of the documentary branch executive committee. "We thought the film requirement favored filmmakers who have access to deep pockets, either their own or other people's."

Apted says that the end goal was to simplify the rules, which is why docs are no longer required to have a theatrical run in 14 venues in 10 states to be eligible for an Oscar.

"It's hard to get the right tone for the rules, so we don't eliminate people unnecessarily, and we don't set the bar ridiculously high," Apted explains.

While keeping the rules fair and current with industry trends is a focus for every branch of the academy, both Apted and Broughton say that it's crucial that the membership make a concerted effort to see as many films as possible every season to ensure that the process works. "It's the branches' obligation to nominate as well as possible," Broughton says.

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