Simplicity the best policy for original song, Acad decides

For the rules regarding original songs at the Oscars, good intentions lost out to common sense.

Last week, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences reverted to a system that guaranteed there will be five nominated songs at each Academy Awards, based on the collective 1-to-5 rankings of the music branch. Gone are the rules that required tunes to earn a minimum judging score from the branch in order to earn a potential nomination.

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“It didn’t produce the effect we were hoping for,” former music branch chair Bruce Broughton told Variety today.

The goal of the scrapped system, as Broughton noted, was to elevate the quality of the songs on display, but the pitfalls were never more evident than this past Academy Awards, when only two songs earned noms: “Man or Muppet” (“The Muppets”) and “Real in Rio” (“Rio”).

That result not only stung branch members, it scared them. And though it was out of their power, the fact that the production team for this year’s kudocast didn’t carve out time for the songs to be performed added insult to injury.

“With those two things happening,” Broughton said, “we didn’t think we were doing anybody any good, least of all the branch.”

The fear rose that things might get even worse.

“it was rather terrifying to think that we could have no songs,” Broughton said. “When it actually got down to almost that … it was almost as unpleasant. It was embarrassing. What made it more aggravating is that there were many people who felt there were other songs that could have been nominated.”

One option was to lower the minimum score for qualification, but Broughton said that “we felt, rightly or wrongly, lowering the level was the same as lowering our standards.”

“We talked about it, and we felt the best thing to do would be ensure there would be five songs, the five best songs of the year.”

Broughton, who is taking a hiatus from Academy board activity this year because of term limits (succeeded by Charles Fox), noted every rules change brings the potential for unforeseen pitfalls. But from new his vantage point away from the fray, last week’s rules change struck him as a nice Occam’s Razor solution.

“Maybe it’s kind of a ‘duh,’” he said with a laugh.

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