Inside Move: Acad pulls fast one on ballots

Move dismays Oscar strategists

Oscar picked an odd time to get media-shy.

Without any fanfare, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences on Dec. 29 mailed out nomination ballots for the 76th Academy Awards, nearly two weeks earlier than usual — and four days earlier than the Acad’s own announced mailing date.

The ballots went out to 5,803 voters, a slight dip from last year’s 5,816. (There are also approximately 600 non-voting members.)

All eligible voters received ballots. For those who are easily confused by Oscar-season rules — which is virtually everyone — a voter need not have returned his or her “pledge card” to receive a ballot. (“Pledge cards” are those Acad pledges whereby a voter vows to accept full responsibility for any screener tapes received.)

As of last week, about 4,800 voters had returned these “cards,” or about 80%.

The Acad’s low profile on the mailing was surprising. Instead of the usual hoopla, the org sent out a press release simply stating, “Ballots were sent out today.”

Back in April, the org had announced ballots would be mailed Jan. 2 and most media outlets, including Variety, have continued to print this date.

But in August, when the Academy sent out its annual rules book, the date was given as Dec. 29.

Conspiracy theorists were fretting: In a year when the Acad is cracking down on campaigning, was this shift designed to undercut campaign timing and plans? Maybe.

But one insider shrugged that the org probably just wanted to get it over with and extend the New Year’s holiday for staffers.

Still, the shift dismayed Oscar strategists, who had scheduled contender events, print ads, etc., surrounding the anticipated Jan. 2 mailing.

A few also feared they had lost prime campaign time: Conventional wisdom says the vast majority of ballots are returned within the first few days of receipt, and they were nervous that voters would return ballots before the campaign machine went into high gear.

News orgs also were disappointed at the low-key mailing: On a slow news week, they would have been happy to send out film crews to cover anything that wasn’t a mudslide, holiday disaster or Michael Jackson.

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