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Oscars: Academy Makes Key Changes in Documentary, Music and VFX Categories

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced updates to the organization’s rules and campaign regulations for the 91st Oscars on Tuesday. The most drastic changes come in the categories of documentary feature, original score, and original song.

For documentaries, the organization will now grant eligibility to any film that wins a “qualifying award” at a competitive film festival, regardless of distribution platform. That further opens the doors for a streamer like Netflix, or even television companies like HBO, to forgo the previously held theatrical release requirement entirely. That is, provided they win a prize from an Academy-approved list of festivals, which will be made available in the spring. It also levels the playing field for international hopefuls.

A critic review requirement is still in place for documentary features, but the list of approved outlets has expanded in New York and Los Angeles (though one of those outlets, LA Weekly, no longer employs a film critic). Reviews from television critics are still not acceptable, however.

The music branch, meanwhile, has opted for a two-step nominations process akin to the documentary branch’s. In both the categories of original score and original song, a preliminary voting round will produce a shortlist of 15 finalists for nominations. Five nominees will then be determined for each category. An added wild card: these two rounds will be decided using the preferential balloting system.

The visual effects branch has opened things up, making the bake-off procedure more inclusive for its nominating committee. Visual effects bake-off reels can now be streamed online and voters can attend satellite bake-off screenings as well, while voting can be done online. Previously, committee members could only vote in person at the Academy’s Visual Effects Bake-off in Los Angeles.

The number of post-nominations Q&A screenings has now been limited to four across the board, regardless of category or country. Documentary and foreign film nominees formerly enjoyed two additional screenings. Also, to align with credits eligibility in the best picture category, rules in both the animated feature and documentary feature categories have been updated to allow for more than one producer to be designated as a nominee.

Previously announced, the Academy will begin overseeing campaign outreach to the membership via its own mailing houses. Studios, distributors, and filmmakers will be required to use that structure, which is similar to the one employed by the Television Academy, to send sanctioned awards materials to members who have opted in.

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