The Academy Stands Firm on Off-Air Oscars Plan – Here’s How It Will Work

Four awards will be handed out during commercial breaks instead of live

Last Updated: February 14, 2019 @ 7:01 PM

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is not backing down from its decision to move four Oscars categories into the commercial breaks and then edit them back into the telecast. While UTA on Thursday afternoon became the latest group to encourage the Academy to reconsider, the organization is committed to a plan it says has been misrepresented in the press and on social media.

In a Wednesday night email to its members, Academy officials decried “inaccurate reporting” and suggested that if people knew what the edited presentations of Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Makeup and Hairstyling and Best Live Action Short were going to look like, they wouldn’t be so upset.

Of course, no one outside the Academy has seen what it will look like, and neither have most Academy members.

TheWrap has spoken to members and to others familiar with the plans so far, and here’s what we’ve ascertained about the genesis and implementation of a plan the Academy and ABC are determined to see through, despite the widespread criticism:

At the urging of ABC, which has long been anxious for a three-hour Oscars telecast, the Academy made a test in 2018. It edited down a winner’s speech from last year’s show to demonstrate what an off-the-air Oscar presentation could look like once it is trimmed and placed back into the broadcast. That video was shown to the AMPAS Board of Governors in August, when its 54 members voted to move an undisclosed number of categories into commercial breaks.

In the aftermath of the board’s decision, the video was also shown to the executive committees of a number of branches, in an attempt to get branches to volunteer to have their awards presented during breaks.

The video that was shown, the first of many that have since been prepared, did not just cut the winner’s walk to the stage; it also edited the speech itself. One executive committee member who saw it remembered the original speech and worried that the edited version did not capture the full flavor of that speech.

The committee member was also dismayed that the committee was not able to show the video to members of the branch who did not sit on the panel.

The edited presentation did, however, help persuade six executive committees to volunteer their branches for this year’s experiment. On the surface, six amenable branches out of 17 doesn’t exactly seem to be a resounding vote of confidence. Still, there was no reason to run it by the actors, directors, writers or producers branches, whose awards were safe, or to run it by the several branches who do not have branch-specific awards: associates, casting directors, executives and public relations.

The committee member who saw it said that the move was presented as a fait accompli: “They said it was going to happen, that cinematography and production design had already approved it and if we didn’t volunteer this year we’d be in the rotation [to be moved to the commercials] next year.”

Under pressure, the member’s branch approved the move to become one of the six branches that did so.

Those six branches, according to people aware of the votes, are the Cinematographers Branch, Film Editors Branch, Makeup Artists and Hairstylists Branch and Short Films, whose awards are being moved this year; and the Feature Animation Branch, Production Design Branch and Costume Designers Branch, who were spared as the experiment was capped at four categories.

That means that the branches who opted not to volunteer were the Sound Branch and Visual Effects Branch, both of which seem likely to have been approached, and possibly the Documentary Branch (which has a short-doc category that would presumably be a target) and Music Branch.

Since the votes took place, a team of editors has continued to take awards presentations from last year’s show and prepare additional edits for Academy officials and Oscar show producers Donna Gigliotti and Glenn Weiss. A number of different variations have been tried – some simply trimming the walks, some making slight cuts to speeches as well.

The Academy and the production team are said to be very happy with recent versions, although they have no plans to show them publicly. (Before the show, though, some nominees may get a chance to see them.)

On Oscar night, a dedicated team of editors will be handling the four categories that’ll be presented during commercial breaks. Gigliotti and Weiss will be busy on other aspects of the show (which Weiss is directing), and will not directly oversee the editors. Neither will the Academy.

The expectation at this point is that if a winner in one of the off-the-air categories sticks to the time limit and does not pull out a list of names, the entire speech will be shown later in the telecast and only the walk to the stage and off the stage will be eliminated.

And then everyone will reconvene after this year’s Oscars and decide if the idea is worth keeping.