Changes in Oscar’s music rules, as announced today, will make a lot of film composers happy.
The major change is that an original score no longer needs to consist of at least 60% of the total music in the film. That number has been substantially lowered, to 35%, potentially increasing the number of eligible scores each year.
This has been an issue in recent years, as filmmakers have increasingly relied on pre-existing, licensed music as well as music specifically composed for their movies.
Last year, for example, Thomas Newman’s “Let Them All Talk” and Howard Shore’s “Pieces of a Woman” were among the high-profile film scores disqualified as failing to meet the 60% threshold. Terence Blanchard’s music for “One Night in Miami” and the Mark Isham-Craig Harris “Judas and the Black Messiah” score were not even entered, probably because both were deemed likely to be disqualified due to brevity.
In recent years, Kris Bowers’ music for “Green Book,” Jonny Greenwood’s for “There Will Be Blood” and Michel Legrand’s for “The Other Side of the Wind” were also disqualified because of the high numerical bar. Cutting that nearly in half will allow more scores to qualify.
“Soul” – the eventual winner of this year’s best original score Oscar – was the subject of much debate because the Trent Reznor-Atticus Ross dramatic underscore constituted just 52 percent of the total, while Jon Batiste’s original jazz (which many observers considered source music, not score) made up the rest. Only when the composers demonstrated a true collaboration between the three composers, particularly near the end of the Disney-Pixar animated film, did the music branch rule the score eligible. It’s no secret that, had the popular “Soul” been disqualified on the basis of the numbers, there would have been a significant outcry.
The other rule change deals with the submission of original songs. The new rule allows no more than five songs to be submitted from any one film. That’s of less consequence because most movies don’t feature that many original songs, and even the musicals (which do typically have five or more original songs) tend to submit just one or two that are likely to make the 15-song Oscar shortlist.
The Academy music branch declared 136 scores and 105 songs eligible for consideration for the 2020 Oscars. The process of whittling those numbers down to shortlists of 15 scores and 15 songs, from which the eventual winners are chosen, will remain intact.