Music branch adds ‘bake-off’ this year

The music branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences tweaked the song rules again this year, but the impact may be minimal and it won’t appease the crowd that has been clamoring for an overhaul of the process.

Original song nominees are chosen by the approximately 240 music-branch members, some of whom attend a “bake-off” screening of all the entries. Those unable to attend, mostly members outside L.A., can ask for a DVD of the songs.

Members — composers, songwriters and music editors — use a point system to vote on all songs (from 6.0 to 10.0, 10.0 being best). The catch this year is that “if no song receives an average score of 8.25 or more, there will be no nominees.” If one song hits the magic 8.25 or more, then it, and the next-highest-scoring song, will be the nominees. If two or more (up to five) make it, they’ll be nominated. “This came from the songwriters,” says music branch senior governor Bruce Brough­ton. “They really would like to nominate the best-quality songs. In the last four or five years, we’ve tried to do as much as we can to acknowledge the best material. That was the motivation in taking (the process) from just voting for your five favorites to having the bake-off — so that all the songs, from all the eligible films, were being viewed.”

The Acad’s song choices have come under fire in recent years. Last year’s snub of Bruce Springsteen’s song for “The Wrestler” and, the year before, Eddie Vedder’s songs for “Into the Wild,” outraged many observers. But Acad officials defend their process as fair and have quietly modified their stance on judging music and lyrics.

We now vote on two standards,” says Broughton, “how it’s used in the film and how it is as a song — in other words, a song in the context of the drama and a song as an artistic achievement that can stand alone.”

Twice in the past five years, only three nominees were chosen. Complaints ensued, including many from past Oscar nominees and winners who railed against the numerical scoring process and bake-off regulations, including the fact that no one who enters a song can vote.

This year’s rule change suggests the possibility that there could be no nominee at all, although that seems unlikely given such high-profile songs as those from “The Princess and the Frog,” “Nine” and “Precious.”

If there is no nomination, I would expect to take a lot of flak,” concedes Broughton. Everybody listens to songs. It’s where the film business meets the record business.”

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