Oscars to Invite More Voters for Foreign Language Nominees, Allow International Streaming (Exclusive)

Second phase of voting will now be open to hundreds more members, with international members getting a special break

A few weeks after announcing changes designed to increase the number of members who can vote in the Best Foreign Language Film category at the Oscars, the Academy has made even bigger changes to the way nominees are chosen.

The Phase 2 committees that narrow the nine-film shortlist to five nominees will be opened up to far more members than ever before, with a particular emphasis on allowing international members to participate. In addition, for the first time ever some voters will be allowed to stream competing films on the Academy’s members’ website.

Academy President John Bailey and Foreign Language Film Award Executive Committee chair Mark Johnson told members about the changes this week, the first week of Los Angeles screenings for the voters who make up the general committee that will pick six of the nine films for the shortlist.

The Academy has not publicly announced the changes, but Bailey shared details with TheWrap on Wednesday.

“It has the potential to not only engage hundreds more Academy members to weigh in in the second phase of voting, but it also support their desire to be more involved with this award, especially internationally,” Bailey told TheWrap. “Because international members rightfully consider this to be their Oscar.”

The changes do not affect the first round of Oscars foreign-language voting, in which L.A.-based volunteers from all branches of the Academy watch and give a number score to the record 92 eligible films at screenings in the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn and Linwood Dunn theaters in Beverly Hills and Hollywood, respectively.

Their scores determine the top six films that will go on a shortlist. Then the executive committee members will meet and choose three more films to fill out that list, which will be announced in mid-December.

In the past, the nine shortlisted films were then screened over three days in January for Phase 2 committees in Los Angeles, New York and London.

Those committee members — 10 randomly chosen from the general committee and 30 recruited by Johnson in consultation with the executive committee and the Academy — would watch three films on Friday, three on Saturday and three on Sunday before casting ballots that would determine the five nominees.

The Los Angeles Phase 2 committee will continue to work in the same way, but the other committees have been drastically overhauled. In San Francisco, New York and London, all Academy members are now invited to participate in the Phase 2 voting, so long as they commit to seeing all nine shortlisted films. (If they’ve already seen a film theatrically at a screening or film festival, they do not need to see it again at the Academy shortlist screening.)

And members who do not live in the U.S. or the United Kingdom can participate in the Phase 2 voting by streaming the nine shortlisted films on the secure members’ website. This is the first time streaming has been allowed in the foreign-language category, although the format will only be available to international members.

Those members make up an increasingly large percentage of the Academy after two consecutive years that included hundreds of new-member invitations to international filmmakers.

Bailey said the Academy now contains “almost 1,200 international members,” all of whom will eligible to view the films at any time during the Oscars’ nominations voting period, which begins on January 5 and ends on January 12.

The Academy, added Bailey, will be able to “completely monitor” that the international members have seen all the shortlisted films in their entirety before voting, which must be completed by 5 p.m. on January 12.

The changes have the potential to fundamentally change Phase 2 voting, which in the past has been the province of only 40 voters, three-fourths of them hand-picked by Academy leadership.

In previous years, the Phase 2 committee was clearly closer in sensibility to the executive committee, which was thought to be responsible for the most adventurous choices, than it was to the general committee, which is usually assumed to support more mainstream films.

(The Academy never reveals which shortlisted films are chosen by the general committee and which are executive committee “saves,” but that doesn’t stop the guessing games every year.)

With the Phase 2 committees now open to every New York, San Francisco and London-based member who wants to participate, the number of voters could increase dramatically, potentially helping the crowd-pleasing films that were chosen by the general committee.

But the new rules also have the potential to add an even bigger body of international voters, who could skew the results in an entirely different direction.

“We’re going to be aided this year by the fact that we’re going to have so many more people looking at the shortlist and weighing in on the five nominees,” Bailey said. “The idea is to be as inclusive as we can.”