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Academy Issues New Rules Restricting Oscar Campaigning at Panels and Receptions

UPDATED: The restrictions will kick in after nominations are announced Jan. 24. A ban on negative campaigning on social media also is new.

Social Network DVD Party Spago - H 2011
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

With campaigning just beginning to heat up for the 84th Academy Awards, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has issued tough new campaign regulations that restrict what events filmmakers may participate in.

The Academy also issued a stern warning that it is extending its existing ban on negative campaigning to cover social media platforms. That means don't knock a competitor's films on Twitter, because the penalties are severe: Academy members will be suspended for one year for a first-time violation and expelled for any subsequent violation. 

Explaining the reason for the new regulations, Academy COO Ric Robertson said, "It's really a perception problem for us.The Oscars are about what our members see on screen and think is quality work. To the extent that the public dialog about the Oscars is who threw a good party or ran a successful campaign versus the quality of the work, that's off-point for us. We want people to be taking about the work."

There are no restrictions on screening events -- Q&As and receptions -- before nominations are announced Jan. 24. So presumably many of the promotional events that studios have held in December under the guise of "holiday parties" will not be affected.

In fact, the Academy is actually relaxing a previously existing rule that forbid inviting Academy members to a screening accompanied by a reception. Robertson admitted that that rule had been so broad, "it was largely unenforceable. By focusing on the post-nomination period, it will be much clearer."

So after the nominations are revealed and until final ballots are due on Feb. 21, the restrictions kick in. Receptions will not be permitted after screenings, although there are no restrictions on the total number of screenings per film. Individual filmmakers may take part in no more than two panel discussions on behalf of a given film to which Academy members are invited. (That filmmaker, though, still would be free to participate in a WGA or DGA event.) 

Additionally, between the nomination announcements and the final vote, Academy members may not be invited to or attend any non-screening event that promotes or honors a nominated movie or individual. Nominees themselves are also prohibited from attending such events. However, the Academy's own events as well as awards ceremonies held by the guilds, critics' groups and other organizations are exempted.

As for extending its existing ban on negative campaigning to social media, Robertson explained that the rule isn't aimed at members at large. Instead, it's directed at members who have a film in contention, warning them not to knock a competitor. "What we're really hoping to address here is organized campaign activity, as opposed to a spur-of-the-moment tweet," he said.

The Academy also once again emphasized that viewing movies is a theater is the preferred way to catch up with the awards hopefuls. But it will continue to allow the distribution of physical screeners, although there are restrictions on their packaging material, and for the first time it is allowing the digital distribution of films.

PHOTOS: Swifty's Oscar Parties

The new regulations come in response to a significant uptick in campaign parties and schmooze-fests during the past awards season.

STORY: Academy Revises Best Picture Rules; Can Be 5 to 10 Nominees

The annual film awards season ritual has long included a gravy train of campaign parties, receptions and "celebrations" designed to court awards voters. But as THR has reported, many industry observers raised eyebrows this past season over the increasingly blatant Oscar campaigning that masqueraded as great parties. "Out of control" is how one awards consultant puts it.

STORY: Academy Poised to Enact New Rules Limiting Oscar Parties

In January, Sony Pictures threw a spare-no-expenses bash at Spago, ostensibly to celebrate the DVD and Blu-ray release of The Social Network but also to court voters during a neck-and-neck race for best picture with The Weinstein Company’s The King’s Speech. Most DVD launch parties don't feature guests like Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Scott Rudin, Michael DeLuca, David Fincher, and Aaron Sorkin.

There were plenty of King's Speech parties, too, like the one Arianna Huffington threw in February with Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter, Tom Hooper, Oliver Stone, Maria Bello and Jane Lynch. "If you're an Oscar voter, you can pretty much go to a party or reception or some kind of event every night from December until the voting ends," one insider says.

Photos: Oscar Party Pics

 

A popular trend this past season was the "third party endorser" party, where a well-liked Hollywood figure would host a reception honoring a close friend whose movie just happened to be in contention for awards. Julia Roberts, for example, hosted a well-timed screening and reception for Biutiful on behalf of her buddy Javier Bardem -- who later landed an Oscar nomination for best actor. 

The new rules are the most significant change to the Academy's campaigning rules since 2003, when the rules were altered from "guidelines" to the gruffer "regulations," with the threat of actually expelling offenders from the organization. Back in 1996, direct-mail advertising to members was banned as a result of over-the-top materials clogging the mailboxes of voters during the 1995-96 campaign.