When it was first announced that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences would seek to trim this year’s Oscars broadcast to a manageable three hours by presenting certain awards during commercial breaks, there were already plenty of dissatisfied industry professionals on the technical side of the filmmaking process. No matter what got cut, the spotlight on some aspect of filmmaking was going to be reduced. But it was assumed by just about anyone with a lick of sense that the categories cut would legitimately be the ones of least interest to the mass audience—let’s say, “Best Sound Mixing.” Or “Best Documentary Short Subject.”
And then the Academy decided to cut “Best Cinematography” and “Best Editing” instead (along with “Best Live Action Short” and “Best Makeup and Hairstyling”), and the entire internet seemed to rise up in arms. Instead of appearing live on the broadcast, these awards will happen during commercials, with edited versions of the acceptance speeches airing later during the program, perhaps in montage form. Which would be ironic, because that would involve deft film editing, but we digress.
Suffice to say, this decision doesn’t sit well with just about anyone in the film industry. Two of the first to speak up were last year’s Best Director winner Guillermo del Toro, and one of this year’s nominees for the same award, Alfonso Cuaron. Both make essentially the same argument: That there’s no categories more essential to the idea of motion pictures than either cinematography or editing.
The American Cinematographer’s Society, meanwhile, decided to lash out at the Academy more directly with a strongly worded letter sent directly to that body, but also shared online. They note that they “cannot quietly condone this decision without protest.”
“After receiving many comments on this matter from ASC members, I think I speak for many of them in declaring this a most unfortunate decision,” wrote ASC President Kees van Oostrum. “We consider filmmaking to be a collaborative effort where the responsibilities of the director, cinematographer, editor and other crafts often intersect. This decision could be perceived as a separation and division of this creative process, thus minimizing our fundamental creative contributions.”
The Academy is currently in “walk it back” mode, sending out clarifications that apparently these same categories will not be presented during commercial breaks in all the years to come. Rather—at least according to del Toro on Twitter—there will be some kind of rotating system, wherein each year different categories won’t be presented live. Although presumably, this will still only affect technical categories, rather than the more prestigious acting categories.
Regardless, in terms of industry annoyance with the Academy, the damage is likely already done. After last year’s ceremony hit an all-time ratings low, how will the audience react to this year’s “no-host,” shortened Oscars broadcast, especially after this latest drama? We’ll find our Sunday, Feb. 24.