The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences rocked the Oscar boat on Wednesday with sweeping changes to the annual awards telecast aimed at boosting its ratings potential.
But for many members of the group, it was another ill-conceived episode in a long line of them.
“I feel like it’s problematic for the Academy, just for their front-facing public image, to constantly keep coming up with these changes,” one member said.
The 90-year-old organization has made aggressive strides in recent years to address its overall demographic makeup. Massive waves of new members have been granted passage each year — too many, for some tastes, and many of them unqualified in the views of longtime voters. Those moves came not long after the Academy inflated its best picture category to 10 nominees, then to anywhere between five and 10, still a controversial status quo to some.
But while there has been much spirited debate on both sides of the line regarding those initiatives, Wednesday’s news was met with a resounding chorus of near-unanimous negativity.
“The film business passed away today with the announcement of the ‘popular’ film Oscar,” actor Rob Lowe tweeted. “It had been in poor health for a number of years. It is survived by sequels, tentpoles, and vertical integration.”
Former Focus Features CEO James Schamus was equally vocal. “So excited that the Academy is going to hand out the new Popular Movie Oscars award during its own TV spot in the middle of a Super Bowl ad break, thus assuring the biggest possible audience for it,” he cheekily tweeted.
The most dominant complaint in Variety‘s conversations with voters was that the Academy did not properly consult the full membership for input on such a consequential decision. It instead relegated the process to committee discussions (spurred by network pressure), and, ultimately, the board of governors’ approval. “They should have opened this up to everyone,” one voter said. “They haven’t heard from members. They heard from people who run the show.”
Added another: “If I were running things, I would be sitting down on a one-on-one basis with a handful of people [outside the organization] and saying, ‘We might do this. What is your take?’ This is PR 101.”
Adam McKay, Oscar-winning director of a currently untitled Annapurna Dick Cheney biopic starring Christian Bale that is expected to be an Oscar player, joined the dogpile as well:
A lot of the frustration comes from outright confusion. The Academy had to issue a clarification to its initial announcement later in the day, noting, for instance, that films would be eligible for both best picture and the new popular film category, not just one or the other. But the criteria have still not been decided upon, leaving many in the dark as to how they should react.
“I feel like I don’t have any information yet, so I don’t even know how to have a conversation about it,” one consultant said when trying to determine how the news will impact campaign efforts.
Network insiders seemed to indicate their intention to weather whatever storm might be brewing over these changes, but it will be interesting to see how loud the pushback gets, and if it becomes loud enough to force a walk-back. Come what may, chalk another news cycle up to the Academy’s controversial efforts to stay relevant in today’s movie landscape.
“Whether you think the new best popular film Oscar category is a good idea or not, it’s clear that the Academy does one thing well consistently: getting the media to revile it 24/7,” public relations branch member Bruce Feldman tweeted.
Harsh, but fair.