Under revised process, number of contenders won't be revealed until noms day

Five was apparently not enough, and 10 may be too many. So how many best picture nominees is juuust right? That’s going to be up to Academy voters, according to a new system.

After the late-Tuesday announcement, the film biz on Wednesday was trying to figure out whether this means a change for other kudos orgs — the Producers Guild said it is weighing its next move — and in the nature of campaigning: Under the new plan, strategists may feel even more pressure to get the requisite number of first-place votes.

Two years after doubling the best picture category from five nominees to 10, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences governors voted at Tuesday’s board meeting to again revise the nominations process, limiting the honor to only those films that receive at least 5% of first-place votes from Academy members. With a set minimum of five films and a maximum of 10, the actual number will usually fall somewhere in between — though that number won’t be revealed until the Jan. 24 nominations announcement.

“One of the things I had always promised to do each year was to bring up the 10 movies item to the board, because there had always been some concern that 10 movies were too many,” Acad prexy Tom Sherak told Variety. He said that he and exiting exec director Bruce Davis “talked about it while sitting together one night and began manicuring it into a plan.”

In a rare moment of candor about its voting results, AMPAS noted that had the system been in effect from 2001 to 2008, it would’ve yielded five, six, seven, eight and nine nominees. The Acad also let on that it ran a test on what would have happened had it been selecting 10 nominees over the past 10 years (not including the 2010 and 2011 races).

The Academy did not reveal which additional pics would’ve made the cut — and of those, which might have given them second thoughts about sticking with 10. That’s because PricewaterhouseCoopers presented the governors with a year-by-year breakdown but mixed up the years and masked the identity of individual films to prevent them from making correlations.

“It was never done with any films’ names, and we didn’t want to know any of the films used when Pricewater was compiling this data,” Sherak said.

The acknowledgement of different results in past years was, in itself, a big switch from standard procedures, because PricewaterhouseCoopers execs have remained tight-lipped about revealing any details of voting, remaining mum even on percentages of ballots filed or how quickly ballots are returned.

Though the Academy caught some flack for lesser films that snuck into the race in the past two years, no title stood out as egregiously inappropriate, a situation the Academy has now set itself up to likely avoid. The sliding-scale formula surfaced when Davis brought it up to Sherak, based on an idea germinated by an early committee. Recently elected Acad CEO Dawn Hudson and chief operating officer Ric Robertson weighed in, and the board of governors approved it Tuesday night.

“In studying the data, what stood out was that Academy members had regularly shown a strong admiration for more than five movies,” Davis said in a statement. “A best picture nomination should be an indication of extraordinary merit. If there are only eight pictures that truly earn that honor in a given year, we shouldn’t feel an obligation to round out the number.”

The announcement noted that the average percentage of first place votes received by the top vote-getting movie was 20.5%.

The final round of voting for best picture will continue to employ the preferential balloting system, regardless of the number of nominees, to ensure that the winning picture has the endorsement of more than half of the voters. In the past, the complex preferential system meant that sometimes a voter’s second- or third-place selection would prove as important as their first choice.

Though campaigners are likely to feel more pressure to get their films more first-place votes, whether they can tailor their campaigns to that end — or will even try — is debatable.

“There will probably be very little difference in campaigning because the last two years (hasn’t been) widely different from previous years,” one veteran awards-season publicist told Variety. “The independents worked harder and were more aggressive than the studios in part because the studios were able to spend more money, so how independents handle campaigning may change now that there is a greater possibility that their film would not get nominated.”

The move does not change the way AMPAS will collect or tally the ballots — only the way they interpret the results. As such, the Acad’s timetable of dates and deadlines, which has already been set, will not change.

Hollywood was still processing the change Wednesday.

“The (Producers Guild of America) is going to study the decision over the next few weeks, and it will be discussed at board meetings,” a PGA rep said Wednesday. Following suit with the Oscars, the PGA had gone with 10 nominees for its feature award for the past two years. And AMPAS has relied upon the PGA’s credit rules to determine the nominated producers.

“I think it’s a good idea. I like it because the films get in on merit,” Dana Brunetti, a producer on “The Social Network,” told Variety. “Look, there’s gonna be people that are going to not like this because there’s some smaller films that might not garner a nomination. They’re not going back to five, but they’re not forcing 10. I think that’s fair that it’s not being forced.”

(Chris Krewson and Dave McNary contributed to this report.)

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