Academy Reverses Decision, Will Air All Oscars Categories Live

Oscars Statue - Getty - H 2018
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Facing mounting pressure from its members, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences on Friday announced that it will present all 24 Oscar categories live during the Feb. 24 broadcast on ABC.

The Academy confirmed that all four of the categories that were to be presented during commercial breaks, followed by taped replays later in the show, will instead be presented live during the Oscars telecast. The initial decision was made to address pressure to shorten the show, which last year ran three hours and 53 minutes.

The Academy's brief statement rolling back the earlier decision said that the organization "has heard the feedback from its membership regarding the Oscar presentation of four awards — Cinematography, Film Editing, Live Action Short, and Makeup and Hairstyling." The statement continued: "All Academy Awards will be presented without edits, in our traditional format. We look forward to Oscar Sunday, February 24."

American Society of Cinematographers president Kees van Oostrum on Friday wrote a letter to the Academy, thanking it "with great pride and respect," while saying "it was clear to us from the outset that the original decision was difficult, making your current direction that much more brave." He added that the ASC looks forward to working closely with the Academy. (The full text of the letter is below.)

An open revolt began and grew after Academy president John Bailey, who belongs to the cinematographers branch, on Monday laid out the plan for this year's show, which included the presentation of four Oscar categories — cinematography, film editing, live-action shorts and makeup and hairstyling — during commercial breaks (a break with tradition that was first announced last year but without details and specific categories), followed by video of the presentation later in the broadcast. In that letter to members, Bailey emphasized that the Academy is "still honoring the achievements of all 24 awards on the Oscars."

The Academy had decided to adopt the new format in an effort to shorten the length of the show. According to the organization, the branches representing the four announced categories had volunteered to take part in the new format this year. The plan called for a rotation each year, so that at least four different categories would be presented under the format in 2020.

As the outcry to reverse the decision grew, ASC members including van Oostrum, Emmanuel "Chivo" Lubezki, Hoyte van Hoytema and Rachel Morrison met Thursday night with Bailey (who is himself both a cinematographer and an ASC member) and Academy CEO Dawn Hudson. Van Oostrum described the meeting as "very productive and positive."

Earlier, on Wednesday, an open letter to the Academy and show producers Donna Gigliotti and Glenn Weiss was posted, calling on the Academy to reverse its plans. It has since been signed by more than 200 cinematographers, 75 directors including Martin Scorsese, Alfonso Cuaron and Spike Lee; 80 actors, including Bradley Copper, Glenn Close and Emma Stone; as well as members of other branches such as producers, editors and VFX supervisors.

Meanwhile, additional statements were released by American Cinema Editors, International Cinematographers Guild (Local 600), Motion Picture Editors Guild (Local 700), IATSE and cinematography festival Camerimage.

At press time, ASC and the California IATSE Council released new statements applauding the Academy. Both are below.

The full text of the ASC letter:

February 15, 2019

An Open Letter to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences,

It is with great pride and respect that we write this letter commending the action of the Academy to reverse its decision and to move presentations of the Oscars for Cinematography, Live Action Short, Film Editing, and Makeup and Hairstyling back into the main, live 91st Annual Academy Awards ceremony broadcast.

It was clear to us from the outset that the original decision was difficult, making your current direction that much more brave. We feel the founding mission of the Academy — to honor its members and the film community — is far better served when it continues to promote motion pictures as the collaborative art form that it is.

In exploring this issue we have all been reminded of an important distinction: The Academy Awards cannot become just be another televised celebrity showcase. Our prestigious Academy has a higher purpose and must stand apart from other organizations by equally recognizing the most outstanding artists and craftspeople in all categories. 

We thank you for your show of respect for the hard-working members of the film community, whose dedication and exceptional talents deserve the public recognition this reversal now allows them to enjoy.

When the American Society of Cinematographers was formed 100 years ago — in 1919 by our 15 founding members — a core part of their mission was to elevate cinematographers from being considered as mere “technicians.” They wanted to be recognized for the collaborative artistry they brought to every production. Even today, a century later, this struggle for recognition is shared by everyone working in every department. The honor offered by the Academy Awards is vital to validating the claim that everyone contributing to the making of a motion picture is an artist.

This is evidenced by the initial group of cinematographers who drafted our original letter of response to the Academy’s plans and the hundreds of filmmakers who signed it.

The ASC looks forward to working closely with the Academy in a joint effort to help make the annual Academy Awards the entertaining and prestigious show that we know it can be!


Kees van Oostrum, ASC

The California IATSE Council statement:

We applaud the Academy’s reversal of its decision to edit the presence of four categories in this year’s Oscar broadcast. We believe the continued recognition of the talents and artistic contributions of the cinematographer, editor, and the makeup artists and hairstylists are true to the Academy’s long history of honoring the best in filmmaking — whether that means the faces known to the public or the unknown faces of the men and women who work behind the camera but whose contribution to the film is equally valuable. Everyone who works in our industry knows that the making of a film is a collaboration of many people, all of whom bring their artistic skills, craft, and love of motion pictures to the end result. We are glad that the Oscar audience will see that reality next Sunday.