The current novel coronavirus pandemic has been the cause for many sweeping changes across the globe. In the film world, theaters have been shuttered for weeks now as have active films sets, while post-production work has slowed down somewhat, only moving forward for those able to do their work from home. With the end of sheltering-at-home still being debated, One of the big questions that has been discussed among entertainment pundits is how all of this would impact the awards season and specifically the Academy Awards. The answer to that came today in the form of a massive rules change for this year’s Oscars race.
This morning, acting on the recommendation of its awards rules committee, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ board of governors, voted to suspend their most basic eligibility requirement that a film must screen in Los Angeles for one week on at least one screen in order to be eligible for Academy Award consideration.
Instead, any film that was intending to have a theatrical release but was shifted to a video on demand one would be eligible for Oscar voting so long as a copy of the film is made available to the Academy’s secure online members-only screening service.
The Hollywood Reporter, who broke the story, stresses that this rule change is only temporary and is designed not punish filmmakers or studios who “felt or feel the need, for reasons financial or otherwise, to get their work out to the world prior to the resumption of traditional moviegoing.”
While most major releases have already shifted their scheduled release dates down the calendar towards the end of the year, a small number of films have already elected to go straight to video with their release. The most notable of those films is the animated feature Trolls: World Tour which had been slated to bow just a few weeks before theaters across the country closed their doors. Originally, the move by its studio Universal would have disqualified it for consideration at Academy Awards time, but bow it is back to be an eligible contender in the Best Animated Feature category.
The Academy’s Board of Governors will revert the rules change when traditional moviegoing is deemed safe to resume. The Board will work with health experts to make that determination. Once the rule change reverts, the Academy will expand the number of cities outside of Los Angeles that an Oscar hopeful film can do its one week qualifying run to include New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Miami and Atlanta.
It does seem somewhat startling that the Academy would consider movies that premier via the various online channels as they have been resistant in recent years to films that had short theatrical runs before premiering on a service like Netflix. But in this case, there was really nothing more that they could do unless they wanted to see an Oscars race between such films as Fantasy Island and Doolittle. And no one wants that.