Failure, as they say, is the key to success. And evidence of such was on display at the Oscars on Sunday. The Academy’s controversial decision to pretape eight technical award categories before the live show was certainly not the biggest takeaway from an eventful evening. But the new format was met with disapproval from audience members, fans watching at home and Oscar winners in the below-the-line fields.
The eight awards presented ahead of the live show were rattled off in little over a half-hour to an auditorium at the Dolby Theatre that was roughly half-full. And instead of hosts Amy Schumer, Regina Hall and Wanda Sykes, the early crowd got “Dune” stars Josh Brolin and Jason Momoa.
For weeks, Hollywood’s crafts and below-the-line professionals have protested the Academy’s decision to present these categories off the live show. Various guilds from across the industry sent the Academy and its producers letters asking them to reconsider, and others have taken dramatic steps to push back on the snub, including resigning from the Academy or staging silent protests.
And during the preshow, passionate audience members, such as “Nightmare Alley” nominee Guillermo del Toro (among the most steadfast critics of the new format), showed their support for below-the-line craftspeople on social media.
But even with the eight categories shortened and edited, which was a deliberate effort to bring the show’s running time under three hours, the broadcast still ran 3 hours and 40 minutes. That means it was longer than the three previous Oscar ceremonies from 2019 (3:21), 2020 (3:36), and 2021 (3:19).
In other words, the format change failed at the one job it had – to make the Oscars shorter.
“I think it would be better if they could find a better way of shortening (the show),” said costume designer Jenny Beavan in the backstage press room, after winning her third career Oscar for Disney’s “Cruella.” Beavan was one of 350 industry names to sign a petition against the decision to pretape categories.
After winning her award, which was televised live, Beavan said the new format was “much better than I’d feared” but still referred to the change as “disrespectful.”
“I think (the Academy) has really got to think about it for next year,” she added. “I think it felt a little bit cheating on the people. … But then the minute the actual (Oscar hosts) came on, it just went into a different world.”
Cinematographer Greig Fraser (“Dune”), whose category was likewise aired live, also spoke out against the changed format.
“Films are made by, you know, the sound recorders, by visual effects supervisors, by the editors, by the productions designers,” he said. “And it seems odd to have some random relegation. I just want my particular collaborator – particularly, production design, editing, makeup and hair – to be equally rewarded for the job they do.”
Among the Oscar winners whose categories were recorded during the preshow, “Dune” film editor Joe Walker was the most upfront in his opinion about the change.
Walker explained that his verbatim speech “went down well” before the Academy’s editors “cut the beginning and the middle and the end of it.”
He continued, “We all stand together in the Academy with equal strength, and I feel strongly that that was a disservice to our eight categories that were not televised live. We understand the pressures on the Academy, financially, but also I think we all stand together. The original statue of the Oscar has five reels. You have five circles that represent the five branches of the academy as they started, and they are of equal size and strength.”
In Walker’s original speech (which can be seen here via mezzanine recording by The New York Times’ Oscars reporter Kyle Buchanan), the editor begins by explaining that his job can sometimes make life difficult for his children, who hurl the name “Oscar nominee” at their father as a sarcastic put-down.
“So you may not know that the words ‘Oscar nominated’ can be used, in the hands of a skilled 17-year-old, as an insult,” he said. “So thank you to the Academy for this upgrade.”
But the “upgrade” part was cut from the Oscar’s live broadcast – thus rendering the “insult” part somewhat strange out of context, without its punchline. The length of Walker’s original speech was 73 seconds. And what was aired on the live broadcast was 45 seconds, the Academy’s golden number for maximum speech lengths.
Walker said to the assembled journalists, “Does anybody want to ask me about what it is like, as an irony, that, as an editor, my speech was edited tonight?”
Reactions to Walker’s speech, as well as those of other Oscar winners, are below: