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Academy’s Music Branch Still Wrestles With Rules Change

Last year’s much-talked-about disqualification of a song nominee prompted rule changes for the 2014 Oscars, but they remain controversial for some of the Academy’s 240-member music branch.

“Alone Yet Not Alone,” from a little-seen, faith-based film, was yanked from the 2013 competition when word leaked that its composer, former branch governor Bruce Broughton, had emailed fellow composers and songwriters calling attention to the tune (one of 75 eligible from the 2013 batch).

In June, Acad governors amended the campaign regulations to state: “Music branch members may not contact other music branch members to promote the nomination of their own song in any way, including via mail, email, telephone or social media account.”

Composers and songwriters were, and still are, divided over the idea that you can’t inform your friends, who toil in the same business, about your own work.

“Everybody’s working it,” says one Oscar-nominated songwriter who did not want to be identified. “I have friends in the branch. Am I not supposed to tell them about my song?”

The fact that the governors voted to disqualify “Alone Yet Not Alone” without any specific recommendation by the branch’s ruling executive committee is an indicator of the division within the branch on what is acceptable and appropriate in campaigning.

“There was a chill in the room” when the subject arose, says one committee member who thought last year’s rules “were not explicit enough” to specifically prohibit what Broughton had done, hence the revisions for the 2014 campaign.

Acad music branch governor Charles Fox adds: “We all wish that last year had not gone down the way it did. But people understand the new rules, they’re very clear, and everyone is fine with them. There’s not been much discussion about them.”

Members are now also prohibited from attending “any special live performances of eligible songs unless attached to a screening.” Last February’s lavish Disney presentation of “Frozen” songs with Idina Menzel and Kristen Bell, and this year’s “Unbroken” luncheon featuring Coldplay’s Chris Martin, are the kinds of events being targeted.

“People are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to promote these songs,” says one branch member who expressed confusion over why the promotions are allowed but an email (that, Broughton insisted in January, did not specifically ask anyone to vote for his song) on behalf of a low-budget movie is grounds for disqualification.

Also, according to Academy rules, no song CDs can be sent to members before the nominations, although DVD screeners of films are permitted.

Two documentary films, “Virunga” and “Garnet’s Gold,” both with eligible songs by last year’s “Chasing Ice” nominee J. Ralph and labeled specifically to promote the songs “for your consideration,” have been sent to music-branch members, for example.

“We want people to see the song in the context of the film,” Fox says. “That’s how we need to judge the value of the songs, how they work in the film.” So the screeners are OK but the CDs are not, he adds.

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