×

Popular Film Award Is Not Dead, Says Academy President John Bailey

Will the Motion Picture Academy resurrect the idea of outstanding achievement in popular film? Will audience fragmentation continue to drive a wedge between films that are widely distributed and films that win Oscars? Will the Academy ever be able to halt the declining ratings of the Oscars broadcast?

These and other issues took center stage at a wide-ranging discussion about the work of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences held at the EnergaCamerimage Film Festival in Bydgoszcz, Poland. The participants were Academy president John Bailey; Carol Littleton, a member of the board of governors and the film editors branch; and Brooke Boles, associate director of membership and awards.

When the Academy announced the possibility of the popular film award last summer, it drew a backlash so fierce that the organization suspended the plan. And yet, said Bailey, having some kind of additional recognition for “for best picture or best general release is very much on our minds.”

The idea, he affirmed, came about in direct response to the Oscars’ falling TV ratings.

Bailey pointed out that the first Academy Awards in 1929 handed out two best picture awards, one for a box office hit (William Wellman’s war epic “Wings”) and one for a film considered an artistic achievement (F.W. Murnau’s romantic drama “Sunrise”).

Having two such awards again “seemed like a good idea, the board approved it, announced it, but we got a lot of pushback,” Bailey said. “So the board reconsidered and tabled it – which is not to say that the idea is dead. Even after a stake was driven through its heart, there’s still interest.”

One problem today, said Littleton, is that a lot of the smaller, artistic films – including recent winners “The Shape of Water” and “Moonlight” – “are not widely distributed so TV audiences have not seen many of the nominated pictures.”

Bailey believes that the next Oscars could see the nomination of a wider spectrum of films, including the very popular “Black Panther” alongside “two very uncompromising black and white art films,” Polish foreign language contender “Cold War” and Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma.”

“It will be interesting to see how that plays out,” he added. “It might give us a strong perspective on how to move forward.”

Bailey also noted that the Academy’s “generous contract” with ABC for the telecast runs through 2028, “so we have another decade, and we’re already starting to deal with the problem. There’s desire to expand the awards to millennials, many of whom do not have TV.” He pointed out that ABC parent Disney will have its own streaming service starting next year.

Asked about the possibility of adding new awards categories, including ones for stunt performers, virtual reality and casting, Bailey noted that “a number of different crafts would like to be represented and there are ongoing discussions about creating new branches, but right now we’re trying to reduce the size of the board. However, nothing is written in stone.”

In a separate conversation with Variety, Bailey stressed the importance of boosting the Academy’s international profile. “One if the things I am most committed to is expanding awareness and visibility for the foreign language award,” he said. “To me that award is every bit as important as the best picture award – it’s the best picture award for the rest of the world.”

To that end, about half of the approximately 900 individuals invited to join the Academy this year are from outside the U.S.

Bailey added that despite the explosion of screening options like DVDs and streaming, the Academy, through its Future of Film committee, remains committed to supporting big-screen theatrical exhibition.

Home screening “is the reality now, but the Academy does not want to actively promote that,” said Bailey. “We are committed to having our members and the viewing public see films as they were intended to be seen.”

Bailey said the Academy is working on a program now whereby nominated documentaries could be shown as a package at such chains as Landmark or Arclight.

The Academy topper acknowledged that there have been “discussions” about the policy of requiring films to receive theatrical release in order to qualify, and that rescinding the rule “has its advocates. Some people have said a movie is a movie, it doesn’t matter how it’s screened. But there is not wide support for this.”

More Artisans

  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

    How 'Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood' Turned the Clock Back for Its Shoot

    Crossing the street took months for the crew that turned back the clock 50 years on Hollywood Boulevard for Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood.” Production designer Barbara Ling created false fronts for buildings that were constructed off-site and installed by crane just ahead of the shoot. Set decorator Nancy Haigh described [...]

  • Just Roll With It Disney Channel

    Disney Channel's Scripted-Improv Comedy Crew Shares How They 'Just Roll With It'

    The title of the new Disney Channel series “Just Roll With It” appears to be as much a directive for its cast and crew as it is a description of the multi-camera hybrid sitcom, which is part scripted and part improv. The plot revolves around the blended Bennett-Blatt family — strict mom Rachel (Suzi Barrett), [...]

  • "SpongeBob's Big Birthday Blowout" cast

    'SpongeBob' Voice Cast on Acting Together in Live-Action for 20th Anniversary Special

    On a brisk morning in February, the members of the voice cast of Nickelodeon’s flagship animated series “SpongeBob SquarePants” gathered to work on a new episode, like they’ve done most weeks over the past 20 years. But instead of being in a recording booth, this time they’ve assembled at a diner in Castaic, Calif., shooting [...]

  • Motion Picture Editors Guild to Honor

    Motion Picture Editors Guild to Honor Veteran Executive Martin Cohen

    The Motion Picture Editors Guild will honor veteran post-production executive and producer Martin Cohen with its Fellowship and Service Award. Cohen worked at Amblin, DreamWorks and Paramount. He was a co-producer on “The Hunger Games” and supervised the restoration Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather” trilogy and “Jaws.” The award recognizes an individual who embodies the values set [...]

  • Game of Thrones Iceland TV Incentives

    Iceland Offers Productions Majestic Landscapes, Stunning Architecture and a 25% Rebate

    Few places on Earth contain the natural majesty of Iceland. The Nordic island, nestled between the North Atlantic and the Arctic Ocean, holds some of the most breathtaking natural wonders on the planet: the fiery pyrotechnics of live volcanoes, steam curling up from natural hot springs, vertiginous drops from oceanside cliffs and waterfalls cascading into [...]

  • Schitt's Creek Wigs

    'Schitt's Creek': Inside Moira Rose's Iconic Wig Collection

    Moira Rose, the family matriarch of cult classic “Schitt’s Creek,” is known for several things: her pronunciation of the word “bebe,” her love for her TV family (and sometimes Alexis) and her countless vibrant wigs. Played by the always delightful Catherine O’Hara, each episode (and wig) is a joy to witness on screen. “I think [...]

  • Kira Kelly Cinematographer Queen Sugar

    'Queen Sugar' DP on How Ava DuVernay Encourages Creativity on the OWN Series

    Cinematographer Kira Kelly, who earned an Emmy nomination for her work on Ava DuVernay’s “13th,” feels that her time spent on nonfiction projects over the past two decades has improved her ability to cope with the demands of shooting narrative fare.  The scaled-down resources — often just Kelly and maybe a focus puller or a [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content