Oscars Keep Streaming Releases Eligible for One More Year

Because of the continuing impact of the pandemic, films will still be able to qualify even if they never get theatrical releases

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Films can continue to qualify for the Oscars even if they don’t receive a theatrical release in 2021, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced Wednesday.

The move runs counter to a decision announced on Tuesday by the Directors Guild of America, which has gone back to its pre-pandemic requirement that films be released theatrically to qualify for DGA Awards.

In its announcement, the Academy noted that for the 95th Academy Awards, which will be handed out in 2023 and will cover the films of 2022, it intends to revert to stricter qualifying requirements.  

The Academy’s decision to retain relaxed eligibility requirements for this year’s films was made because “theatrical exhibition (is) still impacted by the pandemic this year.” Under those rules, films can qualify for the Oscars even if they are released straight to streaming or VOD, as long as they had a theatrical release planned. Films can also qualify if they pay to be showcased in the Academy Screening Room, a secure viewing portal available to Oscar voters.

Films that qualify via theatrical release can still do so in any one of six metropolitan areas: Los Angeles County, New York City, the San Francisco Bay Area, Chicago, Miami and Atlanta.

The rule changes for the 94th Academy Awards also include three significant changes that had previously been announced:

  • The deadline for eligibility will revert to the standard Dec. 31 date, meaning films will be eligible if they were released during the 10-month period from March 1, 2021 to Dec. 31, 2021. The shortened year comes because last year’s eligibility period was extended to 14 months, ending Feb. 28, in order to give films more time to open during the pandemic. For the 95th Oscars, the eligibility period will fully revert to the usual calendar year.
  • The number of Best Picture nominees will be expanded to a flat 10 nominees rather than the fluctuating number of nominees that has been in place since 2011 (and has always resulted in eight or nine nominees).
  • In a long-in-the-works change to Oscar campaign rules, the mailing of DVDs, CDs and physical screenplays is now prohibited. Links to digital materials are permitted.

In other changes, the Best International Feature Film category will retain the new rules it passed in January, with an expanded shortlist of 15 films and the elimination of the executive committee that in the past had chosen three films to go on the shortlist. In keeping with the process used in this past Oscars, all members will be able to vote in the preliminary and nomination round of voting, provided they see enough of the eligible films.     

Shortlists in the three short-film categories will also be expanded from 10 to 15 films. And Best Sound will be added to the list of categories that will go to a shortlist before the final nomination vote, with a preliminary round of voting determining 10 films that will advance. Those 10 films will then participate in a presentation similar to the “bakeoffs” used in the visual effects and makeup and hairstyling categories.

Both of the music categories were also changed: Music will be eligible in the Best Original Score category as long as it comprises at least 35% of the total music in a film, a significant reduction from the 60% requirement formerly in place. And in the Best Original Song category, no more than five songs from any one film can be submitted. (More than five submissions from one film  is a rare occurrence, though some Bollywood films have been known to do it.)

Here are the submission deadlines for the 94th Oscars:

Documentary Short Subject – Friday, October 15, 2021
Animated Short Film – Friday, October 15, 2021
Live Action Short Film – Friday, October 15, 2021
Animated Feature Film – Monday, November 1, 2021
Documentary Feature – Monday, November 1, 2021
International Feature Film – Monday, November 1, 2021
Original Score – Monday, November 1, 2021
Original Song – Monday, November 1, 2021
General Entry categories – Monday, November 15, 2021

Complete rules are available at oscars.org/rules.


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