The Oscars are changing the rules for best picture. Here’s what it could mean

The Oscar statuettes backstage at the 86th Annual Academy Awards on Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Oscar statuettes behind the scenes at the Oscars. (Al Seib/Los Angeles Times)

In its latest effort to deal with a changing exhibition landscape, the film academy announced new rules on Wednesday that will expand the theatrical requirement for films to qualify for best picture at the 97th Academy Awards.

Under the new rules, which have been approved by the group’s 54-member board, a film will have to continue running beyond the current requirement – a week-long theatrical release in one of the six eligible US cities – to be eligible to compete. for the best picture. Films will now be required to add an additional seven-day theatrical run, consecutive or non-consecutive, in 10 of the top 50 US markets, no later than 45 days after the initial release in 2024. (Releases in non-US territories may count towards two of the 10 markets.)

This expanded theatrical race for the best image candidates must be completed by January 24 at the latest. Eligibility for other categories will not be affected by this requirement. The move follows the academy’s earlier adoption of new inclusion standards for top image contestants which are also expected to come into effect next year.

“As we do every year, we have reviewed and assessed our eligibility criteria for the Oscars,” academy chief executive Bill Kramer and academy president Janet Yang said in a joint statement. “In support of our mission to celebrate and honor the arts and sciences of filmmaking, we hope this expanded theatrical footprint will increase the films’ visibility worldwide and encourage audiences to experience our art form in a theatrical setting. Based on numerous conversations with industry partners, we believe this development benefits artists and moviegoers alike.

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The move marks the academy’s latest attempt to respond to audiences’ shift to streaming as companies like Netflix, Amazon and Apple continue to show strength in awards campaigns. But while the expanded theatrical requirement should be a relatively easy lift for deep-pocketed streamers, it could end up being more onerous for smaller independent and international films that will now have to fight for extra space in an art landscape. and dwindling test.

Indie filmmakers will suddenly find themselves in the broader theatrical industry (in January, no less), and while big streamers can afford to buy tracks in the required number of additional markets, traditional indie distributors might be the ones who would suffer.

“My heart goes out to young filmmakers who might struggle to access 10 markets,” said seasoned publicity manager Melody Korenbrot. “They’re going to need someone to help them navigate these new rules, otherwise they’re going to need a lot of credit cards.”

Korenbrot, whose company manages launch and rewards campaigns for a number of independent distributors, including Sony Pictures Classics, also sees a potential problem in being able to book a theater in one of the top 50 markets at a time. of the year when so many high-profile studio titles arrive.

“This fight for space is going to be difficult,” she said.

A publicist, briefed on the new rules, asked: ‘Is this another answer to the whole Andrea Riseborough thing?’ referring to the lead actress’ surprise Oscar nomination for Riseborough this year for “To Leslie,” a low-budget independent film that wouldn’t have qualified for Best Picture consideration under revised guidelines. Riseborough, however, would still have been eligible, as the standards only apply to the best category of images.

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Others hailed the rule changes as a signal of the academy’s seriousness about the centrality of theatrical exposure to the art form.

“It’s a gesture, but it’s an important gesture,” says an executive at a specialty distributor, noting that streaming services like Netflix and Amazon would have no problem funding a theatrical release in 10 cities. “It seals the validity and value of the theatrical race.”

The executive added that he believed the new rules were “flexible enough to be adhered to by independent distributors”.

“We’ve had these conversations with the academy for years, asking, ‘How do we get around people doing the absolute minimum just to qualify and not really being a theatrical release? “, Said the independent executive. “It goes to some extent to solve this problem.

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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