The Pandemic Has Resulted in a Big Oscars Rule Change

As movie theater closures continue, the Academy is giving streamers a break—at least for now

As the coronavirus causes major shifts in the way the movie industry does business, the Motion Picture Academy is capitulating to streamers after years of being tolerant at best.

The Academy’s 54-person Board of Governors (including some VIPs, like Whoopi Goldberg) met safely via Zoom on Tuesday morning (Tuesday April 28) to discuss the 2020 Academy Awards, which will still take place on February 28, 2021, barring a catastrophe.

The board established a few new rules that benefit streamers, caveat being that the rules are only temporary. For now, until the Academy decides otherwise, movies can qualify for Oscar categories without screening in an L.A.-area theater for at least a week, which was previously the rule. That restriction had kept Netflix opening its prestige pictures, like last year’s Oscar bait The Irishman and Marriage Story, in movie theaters before the films hit the streaming waves. Qualifying films still have to meet the other Oscar eligibility requirements and be made available for members to watch in the Academy Screening Room streaming site within 60days of streaming or being placed on Video On Demand services.

The Academy is also expanding its exhibition requirements to reach far outside the L.A. area. “For films to more easily meet theatrical exhibition requirements when theaters reopen,” the announcement says, “the Academy also will expand the number of qualifying theaters beyond Los Angeles County to include venues in additional U.S. metropolitan areas: the City of New York; the Bay Area; Chicago, Illinois; Miami, Florida; and Atlanta, Georgia.”

There were some other new rules that don’t relate to the pandemic. Two of the Oscars for sound—sound editing and sound mixing—will now fall under the category “best sound,” applying to both mixers and editors, bringing the official number of Oscars handed out from 24 to 23. And now the Best Original Score Oscar will mean a film’s music has to be 60 percent original, where before the wording said the music had to be “predominantly” original, which was always a bit vague. And in the Best International Film category (formerly “Best Foreign Film”), all Academy members will be invited to vote in the preliminary round, which means number of films will be more easily whittled down. Of course, the number of submissions won’t be as sizable this year because many countries have had absolutely no releases in the last six weeks to two months.

This will also be the very last year that DVD screeners will be sent out to Oscars voters. Screeners were not only costly for studios, but has been under scrutiny for years, since Academy members were known to loan copies to friends, some of whom uploaded films illegally, leading to all kinds of issues.

On the Golden Globes front, the Hollywood Foreign Press has also updated its rules, allowing “alternate screening procedures” to stay in place from their original date of March 15 to whenever cinemas in the L.A. area open. However, film distributors must contact the HFPA to arrange private screening dates for the group.

Meanwhile, Governor Newsom gave a speech relating to movie theater openings in California on Tuesday. According to Newsom, movie theaters will be part of the third stage in the state’s six-point plan of easing COVID-19 restrictions. Theaters will open, according to him, in “months, not weeks,” as they’re part of the higher-risk workplaces, which includes hair salons, nail salons, gym, and sports events. Meanwhile, two major studio films are supposed to be released in mid July: Christopher Nolan’s Tenet and Disney’s live action Mulan.