Monday, June 24, 2024

Academy Alters Theatrical Run Rules for Best Picture Oscar

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In yet another effort to defibrillate the Oscars—the show’s ratings have been on the decline for years now—the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Science is once again fiddling with its rules.

This time, the Academy is focusing on the Best Picture category, doubling the number of days a film must screen in actual theaters from 7 to 14 and requiring that those screenings take place first in one of six U.S. cities (L.A., N.Y., Chicago, Miami, Atlanta, or San Francisco) and then in at least ten of the top 50 film markets in the United States.

In other words, take that, Netflix. Streamers that have been inveigling themselves into the Oscars with week-long theatrical releases in just one theater—Netflix has been known to screen some of its Oscar hopefuls in a lonely little arthouse in Glendale—will now have to shell out twice as much money for theater bookings in multiple cities if they want to continue to compete.

“It’s pretty toothless,” says one veteran awards strategist. “Netflix and a lot of the other streamers can easily afford to do this. It’s no big deal to them. What this is really about is that the Academy is rightfully fearful that the Oscars are turning into the Emmys. There’s so much streaming these days, people aren’t differentiating between TV and movies. So, the Academy is looking for ways to sharpen that distinction—so that real theatrical releases will be competing head-to-head—hoping that will help the Oscars with its ratings problem.”

In recent years, especially during the pandemic, that distinction has indeed become blurry. Was CODA a TV movie? Sure, since it was produced by Apple TV and streamed on that platform, where the vast majority of its audience found it. But it also spent seven days prior to its nomination in theaters so, technically, it was a theatrical release. Either way, it walked away with Best Picture in 2022.

Although Netflix hasn’t yet won a Best Picture award, it’s not for lack of trying. Eight of its films have been nominated since 2018 — Roma, The Irishman, Marriage Story, Mank, The Trial of the Chicago 7, Don’t Look Up, The Power of the Dog, and All Quiet on the Western Front—all of which needed to spend just seven days in theaters prior to their nominations in order to compete under the old rules.

The new rules, which take effect in January, may make Netflix and the other streamers somewhat more selective in which of their made-for-the-small-screen movies they book into big-screen theaters, but probably not. And in the meantime, the rule change could make life more difficult for cash-strapped independent productions that might not have the resources to mount a relatively prolonged 10-market release strategy. Think Whiplash, Boyhood and Moonlight, all of which squeaked into the Oscar race with limited pre-nomination theatrical runs, and ultimately ended up taking home the big prize.

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