The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has upped the ante in its annual battle of wits with Oscar campaigners, targeting parties and social media trash-talking with its most hard-hitting rules overhaul in years.
Known to be in the works for months, this year’s tweaks most notably bar film companies from inviting Academy members to any non-screening parties and events that promote nominees between nominations day (Jan. 24) and the final day of voting (Feb. 26). The move is clearly a reaction to last year’s flurry of fetes that irked AMPAS leadership, particularly when journos — who themselves benefit from increased access to kudos newsmakers — began to characterize the scene as spiraling out of control.
At the same time, the Academy loosened its restrictions on screenings with filmmakers’ live participation, hoping to lure voters away from the comforts of at-home screeners and into theaters.
“These campaign regulations play an important role in protecting the integrity of the Academy Awards process and the distinction of the Oscar,” said Academy president Tom Sherak in a statement released Wednesday. “Above all, we want Academy members to see movies as they were meant to be seen, in a theatrical setting.”
In the past, filmmakers, cast and catered receptions were forbidden at any screening held specifically for voters, no matter the time of year. This year, such events are OK’d, as long as they take place before the nominations — after that, individual filmmakers will be allowed two appearances at Academy screenings, but food and drink are strictly verboten.
In an interview with Variety, Academy COO Ric Robertson underscored the two reasons for the changes: excessive parties, lunches and receptions that followed last year’s nominations, and the Academy’s stated desire to get members into theatrical screenings.
However, this will also be the first year that studios will be allowed to digitally distribute screeners to Academy members, provided those copies comply with established rules for discs. Robertson said this change is a simple recognition of where homevid is headed.
“If we are going to tolerate DVD screeners, we should be able to allow any form of viewing at home as well,” he said.
The rule changes cater to the Academy’s longtime aim of leveling the playing field for smaller pics.
“We have made this goal of the Academy since the mid-’90s, when studios would send out those massive VHS screeners when campaigning for their particular films … and we hope that these additional rules will only continue to help make the award season fair for all films that are nominated,” Robertson said.
The changes also add social media to the list of places where negative campaigning and bad-mouthing are forbidden. Specific penalties include a one-year suspension for first-time violations and expulsion from the Academy for subsequent violations.
Robertson said monitoring all the media isn’t as difficult as it might seem, thanks to Hollywood’s gossipy, small-town vibe.
“The beauty of this system is people inform us on everyone else,” he said. “Once someone sees someone say something negative they usually come to us to complain.”
Though the Academy is concerned about the perception that schmoozing, campaigning and ad spending trumps voters’ perception of nominated films, it stopped short of forbidding endorsements, like the one Julia Roberts gave last year to Javier Bardem for “Biutiful” (which she followed up after his nomination with a screening and afterparty). While legal considerations over free speech come into play there, campaign strategists and AMPAS members say a gag order could be allowable — if difficult to enforce — as the org is really a private club.
But such rules in the future wouldn’t surprise awards-season insiders, who tell Variety that AMPAS honchos seem to be testing the waters to see how far they can go.
Oscar’s new rules
Among the new campaign rules are crackdowns on receptions and negative campaigning.
Prior nominations, screenings presented by or funded by film companies may be followed by a Q&A session by persons associated with the film. Such screenings may be preceded or followed by a reception that includes food and beverage. After nominations are announced, any one person associated with a film, nominee or not, may not participate in more than two screenings that include Q&A sessions. Additionally, during this time period, screenings of nominated films (with or without Q&A sessions) may not include food and/or beverage.
After nominations are announced, no Academy member may be listed as a “host” of a screening in any way unless that member is directly associated with the film.
Screeners may also be distributed to members digitally, via download or streaming, so long as the delivery of those motion pictures conforms to all other provisions of these Regulations
Before nominations are announced, CDs of eligible scores may be sent to members of the Music Branch only. No CDs of songs may be sent to any Academy member before nominations are announced. After nominations are announced, CDs of nominated scores and songs may be sent to any Academy member.
After nominations are announced, no member may be invited to or attend any event, including breakfasts, lunches, dinners, parties and receptions, that in any way promotes or honors a nominated film, a nominee, or is attended by a nominee or anyone with a direct association with a nominated film, except as permitted under Rule 1. These regulations apply to nominees as well as Academy members, and nominees are similarly prohibited from attending such events.
Excluded from this prohibition are sanctioned events and awards ceremonies presented by the various guilds, critics groups and other organizations.
References to Other Nominees.
Ads, mailings, websites, social media (e.g., Facebook and Twitter) or any other forms of public communication by anyone directly associated with an eligible film attempting to promote a particular film or achievement by casting a negative or derogatory light on a competing film or achievement will not be tolerated. In particular, any tactic that singles out “the competition” by name or title is expressly forbidden. Academy members that violate this Rule 16 will be subject to a one-year suspension of membership for first-time violations, and expulsion for any subsequent violations.
Complete rules can be found at the Academy’s website