Very rarely do we find ourselves in the presence of such a unifying issue. It’s worth taking a moment to appreciate its rareness before we get into the debate. Even then, there’s not much of a debate. On Tuesday, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences confirmed what had become a growing fear: on Oscar night, the awards for achievement in cinematography, editing, live action short, and makeup and hairstyling, will be handed out during the commercial breaks.
In this house, we believe that is wrong.
But, in fairness, let’s hear them out. Here’s the statement from Academy President John Bailey, sent as a letter to Academy members:
Dear Fellow Academy Members,
After months of anticipation and much talk, I’d like to address a topic that’s close to me.
Viewing patterns for the Academy Awards are changing quickly in our current multi-media world, and our show must also evolve to successfully continue promoting motion pictures to a worldwide audience. This has been our core mission since we were established 91 years ago—and it is the same today.
As you may remember, last summer the Academy’s Board of Governors committed to airing a three-hour show. I want to reiterate however, that all 24 Academy Award-winning presentations will be included in the broadcast. We believe we have come up with a great way to do this, and keep the show to three hours.
While still honoring the achievements of all 24 awards on the Oscars, four categories—Cinematography, Film Editing, Live Action Short, and Makeup and Hairstyling – will be presented during commercial breaks, with their winning speeches aired later in the broadcast.
And, with the help of our partners at ABC, we also will stream these four award presentations online for our global fans to enjoy, live, along with our audience. Fans will be able to watch on Oscar.com and on the Academy’s social channels. The live stream is a first for our show, and will help further awareness and promotion of these award categories.
The executive committees of six branches generously opted-in to have their awards presented in this slightly edited timeframe for this year’s show, and we selected four. In future years, four to six different categories may be selected for rotation, in collaboration with the show producers. (This year’s categories will be exempted in 2020.)
The Academy Awards honors the year’s best films and filmmakers. It is an international show, filled with great emotion, and (we hope) stirring acceptance speeches. This year, in addition to performances of all five nominated songs, the show will feature Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic playing during In Memoriam, as part of their own centennial celebration.
So, buckle up! We are committed to presenting a show which we all will be proud of.
So that’s it — the argument for relegating these four award categories is simple and it’s coming from one place. The Academy says that it’s about a shorter show, which in theory means a larger audience. Whether that is true or not is something we’ll know in time, when the ratings for 2019 are later compared to previous years. Maybe it’s true. Better ratings for The Academy’s big night. Better ratings for ABC.
What if that misses the point of The Academy Awards?
What is the point of The Academy Awards? This is pedantic, but according to Wikipedia, The Academy Awards are “are a set of awards for artistic and technical merit in the film industry, given annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), to recognize excellence in cinematic achievements as assessed by the Academy’s voting membership.”
Is the mission of The Academy Awards to “recognize excellence in cinematic achievements as assessed by the Academy’s voting membership,” or is the mission of The Academy Awards to make a shorter show so that maybe more people will watch?
In this house, we believe it to be the former.
And we’re not alone. Not by a long shot. In a conversation with our own Max Covill earlier this week for a series we’re running this weekend about the Oscar-nominated cinematographers, A Star is Born cinematographer Matthew Libatique was able to respond, as we were speaking to him a few hours after the announcement. When asked if he had a comment, here’s his full response:
“I wish it was a year where I wasn’t nominated. Of course I don’t like it. I don’t like it at all. I understand why they’re doing it and I’ve been told that the cinematography branch has agreed to do it. I’m part of that branch and I was never asked. So much of our businesses is about the above the line [categories]. So much of the media concentrates on the above the line and rightly so, but there are crafts people who work really hard to make movies as great as they can be and it’s a complete and utter disservice to all of us for this to happen. They have to do what they have to do, but I don’t have to like it.
I just want to say the thing that does hurt me about this entire thing is that so many people who work in this industry make sacrifices and time, where they spend a lot of time away from their families. I’m not saying producers, directors, and actors don’t do the same. But I’ll tell you this, directors of photography and hair and makeup artists arrive to set at ungodly hours, work the entire day, and only get wrapped when its finished. Nobody leaves early, no one comes in late. We’re there the entire time.
Film editors spend eons and hours pouring through footage. They stay later than film directors do. Get in earlier then directors do. What I’m saying is…its a complete disrespect to the people who actually sacrifice more time from their families, than the people who are actually going to be televised. And the fact that when you hear it is a honor to be nominated…but now only later in the broadcast will the winner get to say his or her speech to be broadcast later…and the nominees won’t.
Well then that statement completely loses all value. That its an honor to be nominated. So I do have a bit of a problem with the whole thing. And I think it is completely arbitrary which categories had to go by the wayside this time. I’ve been told it will change every year…that’s if this works. All I can say is that I hope this thing lasts only three hours and it works for them. Otherwise it is a big price to pay if it doesn’t.
It’s too bad. It just doesn’t do justice to the people who are making movies. Why didn’t they just eliminate the categories, like the Golden Globes. That’s what they want.”
The arguments against The Academy’s chosen decision aren’t just passionate, they are numerous. Mr. Libatique was not the only nominee for whom this is not sparking joy. Roma director and fellow Cinematography nominee Alfonso Cuaron spoke out via Twitter:
In the history of CINEMA, masterpieces have existed without sound, without color, without a story, without actors and without music. No one single film has ever existed without CINEMAtography and without editing.
— Alfonso Cuaron (@alfonsocuaron) February 12, 2019
He was flanked by the likes of Shaun of the Dead director Edgar Wright, The Handmaid’s Tale director and American Society of Cinematographers member Reed Morano, The Shape of Water director and recent Oscar winner Guillermo del Toro, producer and director Ben Stiller, legendary author Stephen King, actress (and daughter of legendary cinematographer and 2019 Oscar nominee Caleb Deschanel) Zooey Deschanel, Academy Award winner Russell Crowe, and more. Vanity Fair’s Joanna Robinson has created a wonderful thread on Twitter tracking statements from industry folks, if you’re keeping score at home.
WHEN RATINGS ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE THING YOU’RE CELEBRATING. WHEN REVENUE IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE ART. THE EASIEST THING TO DO IS JUST FOLD INTO LINE INSTEAD OF STANDING UP FOR… https://t.co/gn6dv7h7sW
— Reed Morano, A.S.C. (@reedmorano) February 12, 2019
Reposting, revised: I would not presume to suggest what categories should occur during commercials on Oscars night, but, please: Cinematography & Editing are at the very heart of our craft. They are not inherited from a theatrical or literary tradition: they are cinema itself.
— Guillermo del Toro (@RealGDT) February 13, 2019
I know the idea is for ABC to get higher Oscar ratings with a shorter show, but I don't think dropping key categories such as cinematography, editing & makeup / hair will bring in many new viewers. Treat these artists with the respect they deserve & just have a long show, dammit.
— edgarwright (@edgarwright) February 13, 2019
Cinema tography. https://t.co/B5Pe4ACTM2
— Ben Stiller (@RedHourBen) February 12, 2019
As an Academy voter, I'm not happy about the decision to squeeze down some of the awards.
— Stephen King (@StephenKing) February 13, 2019
What better way to celebrate achievements in film than to not publicly honor the people’s who’s job it is to literally film things.
— Seth Rogen (@Sethrogen) February 12, 2019
Can’t believe @TheAcademy isn’t airing the categories for the most important jobs in film. Try making a movie without a cinematographer or editor! Can’t be done! Try creating a character without make up and hair! It can’t be done! Film is a collaborative art, treat it as such.
— zooey deschanel (@ZooeyDeschanel) February 13, 2019
The Academy is removing cinematography, editing and make up from the televised show?
This is just such a fundamentally stupid decision, I’m not even going to be bothered trying to be a smart arse about it.
It’s just too fucking dumb for words.
— Russell Crowe (@russellcrowe) February 12, 2019
We’ve kicked this one around the FSR Slack and we’ve all come to a singular conclusion: The Academy is wrong. They are the only ones who think categories like Cinematography, Editing, Live Action Short, Makeup and Hairstyling, and others in the future, should be relegated to Oscar night’s commercial breaks. The people who produce, write, shoot, perform in, edit, bleed for, and sometimes will these films into existence — they don’t appear to agree.
Well, also in fairness, ABC and its parent company Disney appear to also have an interest in shortening the broadcast and driving up ratings. That goes without saying. Is there more to it on their end? Awards Watch‘s Erik Anderson has a theory:
ABC/Disney #Oscars nominations outside of the Top 8
Visual Effects – 3
Production Design – 2
Costume Design – 2
Score – 2
Song – 2
Sound Mixing – 1
Sound Editing – 1
Animated Short – 1
Documentary Short – 0
Editing – 0
Cinematography – 0
Makeup – 0
Live Action Short – 0
— Erik Anderson (@awards_watch) February 12, 2019
Intention aside, it’s not a good look.
We have reached out to the other nominees for Achievement in Cinematography for comment. As they come in, we will add them here. We support the cinematographers, the editors, the hair and makeup artists, and the many other filmmakers who deserve to be recognized as part of the main Oscars broadcast. If you’re truly interested in celebrating cinema, you can’t do it without them.