Cinematographer Group Rips Oscars Treatment: "We Cannot Quietly Condone This Decision"

Responding to the Film Academy's decision to present four Oscar categories — cinematography, film editing, live-action shorts and makeup and hairstyling — during commercial breaks at the 91st Oscars broadcast, the American Society of Cinematographers president Kees van Oostrum sent a letter to his 380 members in which he called the move "most unfortunate," adding, "We cannot quietly condone this decision without protest."

In his letter, van Oostrum argued, "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."

In an email to the Academy membership on Monday, Academy president John Bailey, who belongs to the cinematographers branch and is an ASC member, laid out the plan for this year's show, which was initially announced last year but without details. He emphasized that the Academy is "still honoring the achievements of all 24 awards on the Oscars." In the case of the four categories that will be announced during commercial breaks, the winners' speeches will air later in the broadcast, he said. The plans call for there to be a rotation each year, meaning that at least four different categories would use this format in 2020.

The Academy did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Multiple sources told The Hollywood Reporter that the cinematographers branch volunteered to be among the categories that will be presented this year during the commercial breaks.

Speaking with THR on Monday, van Oostrum, who is also an Academy member, called it "unfortunate that the Academy was forced to do this," but added that "I don't think [Bailey] had a choice" due to pressure to shorten the Oscars broadcast.

Also on Monday, Roma's Alfonso Cuaron, who is nominated this year in the cinematography category, added his voice, tweeting, "In the history of CINEMA, masterpieces have existed without sound, without color, without a story, without actors and without music. No one single film has ever existed without CINEMAtography and without editing."

Guillermo del Toro, director of last year’s best picture Oscar winner, The Shape of Water, tweeted, “If I may: I would not presume to suggest what categories to cut during the Oscars show but — Cinematography and Editing are at the very heart of our craft. They are not inherited from a theatrical tradition or a literary tradition: they are cinema itself.”

Cuaron's collaborator Emmanuel "Chivo" Lubezki, the Oscar-winning cinematographer of GravityBirdman and The Revenant, posted on his Instagram account: "Cinematography and editing are probably the 'elementary particles,' the primordial components of cinema. It's an unfortunate decision."

The full text of van Oostrum's letter follows.

Dear members of the ASC,

Yesterday afternoon the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences announced that the Best Cinematography presentation — as well as the awards for Film Editing, Live-Action Short and Make-up and Hair Styling — would not be broadcast live but presented in a delayed and edited version during the televised Oscar ceremony. This decision was apparently made in order to shorten the length of the Academy Awards broadcast.

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. 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 an important institution that represents our artistry in the eyes of the world. Since the organization’s inception 91 years ago, the Academy Awards have honored cinematographers’ talent, craft and contributions to the filmmaking process, but we cannot quietly condone this decision without protest.

Kees van Oostrum
ASC President