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Oscars rules change to allow lockdown streaming releases

Staff Writer

Reading time: 3 mins

For one year only, the Academy is changing its rules to allow streaming releases to be eligible for Oscars.

Current Academy Awards rules require that a film be shown in a commercial motion picture theatre in Los Angeles County for a theatrical qualifying run of at least seven consecutive days, during which period screenings must occur at least three times daily – a restriction that’s been maintained in the face of Netflix and other streamers’ disruption of the movie landscape.

Indeed, Netflix had a record 24 nods at the Oscars earlier this year, thanks to The Irishman, The Two Popes and Marriage Story. The streaming giant has even purchased Paris Theater in New York as a single-screen venue that it can use to give its films a theatrical run, as major exhibitors continue to resist showing movies that will break the theatrical window. (Previously, the Academy has resisted calls from exhibitors to change its rules to disallow any film breaking the theatrical window.)

Everything has changed, though, since the coronavirus outbreak, with cinemas closed due to the lockdown and distributors increasingly breaking that theatrical window to opt for streaming premieres instead. The Lovebirds was sold by Paramount to Netflix ready for release in May in the UK, while Birds of Prey, The Invisible Man, Trolls World Tour and others have been given early digital releases.

Now, the Academy has confirmed that the rules will be changed for just this year to make sure that moves released during these strange times can still compete for recognition. For the moment, films that had a previously planned theatrical release but are initially made available on a commercial streaming or VOD service may qualify in the Best Picture, general entry and specialty categories for the 93rd Academy Awards under these provisions: the film must be made available on the secure Academy Screening Room member-only streaming site within 60 days of the film’s streaming or VOD release; the film must meet all other eligibility requirements.

Once cinemas eventually reopen, the rules will revert to the normal eligibility criteria.

“The Academy firmly believes there is no greater way to experience the magic of movies than to see them in a theater. Our commitment to that is unchanged and unwavering. Nonetheless, the historically tragic COVID-19 pandemic necessitates this temporary exception to our awards eligibility rules. The Academy supports our members and colleagues during this time of uncertainty. We recognize the importance of their work being seen and also celebrated, especially now, when audiences appreciate movies more than ever,” said Academy President David Rubin and CEO Dawn Hudson in a statement.

The rules have also been changed for sound, music and International Feature Film categories. All Academy members will now be invited to participate in the preliminary round of voting for the international feature film, while for a film score to be eligible in the original score category, it must contain a minimum of 60 per cent original music. For sequels and franchise films, there must be a minimum of 80 per cent new music. The sound mixing and sound editing categories, meanwhile, have been combined into one Best Achievement in Sound award – a move that will conflate two areas that are distinct from each other, but aims to emphasise the teamwork involved, with recipients allowed to include one sound mixer, two sound editors and three re-recording mixers.

The 93rd Academy Awards are scheduled to be held in Los Angeles on 28th February 2021.

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