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Oscars: New Shortlist Procedure Aims to Shake Up Score and Song Categories

Will the motion picture Academy’s new “shortlist” approach for scores and songs in Oscar contention make room for newcomers?

That’s the idea, according to those familiar with the creation of the Academy’s new music rules, announced last week. The changes are designed to streamline the nominating process and give fresh faces a shot at Oscar glory.

The music-branch governors — composers Michael Giacchino, Laura Karpman and Charles Bernstein — declined to be interviewed about the reasons for the rule changes. They oversee the branch executive committee, which spearheaded the move.

An Academy spokesperson said the committee was concerned that the large number of scores entered for Oscar consideration often led to the same composer choices year after year, and that creating an advance “shortlist” might give lesser-known films a better shot at nomination.

The new process applies to both the original score and original song categories, adding a preliminary round: The branch will use a preferential voting system to produce a shortlist of 15 titles in each category, according to the new rule. A second round of balloting will produce the final list of five nominees in each.

Six other Oscar categories also operate this way, creating a shortlist from which the final nominees are culled: documentary feature, visual effects, foreign language film, makeup/hairstyling, animated short and live-action short. The sound editing category used a similar method up until 2006.

An Academy memo circulated to “frequent contacts for music submissions” said that, while voting dates haven’t yet been established, they will “likely be in early-to-mid-December, in line with the other shortlist categories.”

What’s unclear is whether the branch membership will make the extra effort to see more films earlier, and whether the December releases (some of which aren’t even screened until mid-December) will be shut out due to the early voting deadline for the shortlist.

Last year, 70 songs and 141 scores were declared eligible by the music branch. No one knows how many of the 305 active voting members actually watched most of the films, or the three-and-a-half-hour song collection that was made available online.

Interestingly, this is a return to an Academy tradition. From 1950 to 1979, the branch created a shortlist of 10 scores (the exception being 1977, when the list expanded to 23) from which the final five were chosen. The song category did this from 1958 to 1979, choosing 10 songs per year (although, again, 1977 was the exception, choosing only seven pre-finalists).

Some Oscar consultants are worried that the shortlist will derail studio marketing plans, which tend not to reach high gear until late December or early January, when final ballots are due. But it will also neuter the impact of the later-announced Golden Globes and Critics’ Choice nominations, which often remind voters of the most high-profile (and most highly promoted) candidates.

The other new rules are less controversial. Studios, for example, can now initiate the submission; previously it had to be the songwriter or composer, although they must still sign the submission form.

The issue of multiple songwriters penning a single tune, which has vexed the committee for years, led to another rule tweak. If a songwriter has less than 20 percent of the songwriting credit split, a “letter of justification” must be submitted explaining why he or she should be considered Oscar-eligible.

The committee is also demanding, for original score submissions, a much more detailed “music breakdown form” that explains the difference between score cues, original songs, source music and licensed or pre-existing music, all indicated by percentage.

And if a final score is the product of several hands — as is now much more commonplace than 20 or 30 years ago — “a letter signed by all listed composers, explaining the contribution of each, must be submitted.” This, it appears, is a response to recent instances of cue-sheet submissions that list several composers, making it impossible for the branch executive committee to determine who really was responsible for the final score.

Last year’s score and song winners were Alexandre Desplat (“The Shape of Water”) and “Remember Me” from “Coco,” respectively. Meanwhile, this year’s original song race is already heating up with early looks at Bradley Cooper’s “A Star is Born” at CinemaCon (a number of Lady Gaga tracks are expected to contend), as well as the success of Kendrick Lamar’s “Black Panther” soundtrack, featuring hopefuls like “All the Stars” (with SZA) and “Pray for Me” (with The Weeknd).

Oscar nominations will be announced on Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019.

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