Oscars: Cinematographers "Hopeful" Academy May Reverse Course Following In-Person Meeting

Kees van Oostrum, Emmanuel "Chivo" Lubezki, Hoyte Van Hoytema and Rachel Morrison were among those who met with the leaders of the film organization on Thursday night.
Michael Tran/FilmMagic
ASC president Kees van Oostrum

Several cinematographers, who are also Academy members, say a meeting they had Thursday night with Academy leadership was "very productive and positive" and "today they will let us know if the Academy will (hopefully) reverse its decision in regards to its awards program."

The word came in a letter sent Friday to members of the American Society of Cinematographers by ASC president and Academy member Kees van Oostrum, who, with three-time Oscar-winning lenser Emmanuel "Chivo" Lubezki and 2018 Oscar-nominated cinematographers Hoyte Van Hoytema (Dunkirk) and Rachel Morrison (Mudbound), met with Academy CEO Dawn Hudson and Academy president John Bailey (who is himself both a cinematographer and an ASC member).

Added van Oostrum in the letter, "We feel that would not only be great for the upcoming event but also a major step in the direction of the ASC working closely with the Academy to deal with the larger issues ahead of us."

On Monday, Bailey announced to Academy members that four categories — cinematography, film editing, live-action short and makeup and hairstyling — will be presented during commercial breaks with video of the presentations airing later in the broadcast. It's part of an overall effort to shorten the Oscar broadcast, which will air Sunday, Feb. 24, on ABC. Per the plan, the affected categories will rotate each year, meaning that at least four different categories would have this treatment in 2020.

In his current letter, van Oostrum emphasized that "everyone involved with this movement has nothing but the greatest respect for John Bailey. Not only is he one of us, but he also has an impeccable reputation of being an ethical and conscientious leader. Our 'open letter' effort is directed at the Academy executives and is rooted in a concern that they are contemplating shortsighted changes and risking a potential PR fallout that could endanger the future of the entire organization."

Since the ASC issued its first open letter about the situation on Tuesday, more and more complaints have been appearing on social media. Hundreds of Academy members, including directors, producers, actors, cinematographers and editors, have signed the open letter — posted on the ASC website — asking the Academy and the show producers to reverse its decision.

The revolt grew with similar statements from the leaders of the American Cinema Editors, International Cinematographers Guild (Local 600), Motion Picture Editors Guild (Local 700), IATSE and cinematography festival Camerimage.

The full text of van Oostrum's letter follows:

February 15, 2019
 
Dear members,

At this point in time, I want to address the developments in regard to the Academy Awards directly with you.

On Monday, the Academy released the notice that the Oscar presentations to four branches — Cinematography, Editing, Makeup and Hair Styling and Live Action Short Film — would be shorter. Representing our members of the ASC, I went public with a statement that called the decision “unfortunate” and one that we could not stay “silent” on.

Immediately, a group of our members developed an initiative to write an open letter to the Academy that could be signed by all of our supporters, which as you know went far beyond our membership and extended to now not only nearly 200 cinematographers but 75 directors, 80 actors, 30 editors and numerous other motion picture professionals. As we speak the list is still growing and this morning also Meryl Streep signed. Most of them are Academy members and many are previous Oscar winners and nominees.

The ASC found itself in the middle of this “grassroots” movement and some of you have voiced concern regarding our member John Bailey, ASC, president of the Academy, and the threat that this movement could potentially pose to the Academy as an institution.

Let me first state that everyone involved with this movement has nothing but the greatest respect for John Bailey. Not only is he one of us, but he also has an impeccable reputation of being an ethical and conscientious leader. Our “open letter” effort is directed at the Academy executives and is rooted in a concern that they are contemplating shortsighted changes and risking a potential PR fallout that could endanger the future of the entire organization. Many of us are Academy members and all are indirect benefactors from many of the great programs in education, preservation and diversity that the Academy supports.

In this fashion, this movement has moved beyond just protecting our position as cinematographers during the Awards.

Last night, a group of our concerned members — myself, Hoyte van Hoytema, Rachael Morrison and Emmanuel Lubezki — had a very productive and positive meeting with Dawn Hudson, CEO of the Academy, with John Bailey present. Today they will let us know if the Academy will (hopefully) reverse its decision in regards to the Awards program. We feel that that would not only be great for the upcoming event but also a major step in the direction of the ASC working closely with the Academy to deal with the larger issues ahead of us.

The Academy’s board of governors has done a fantastic job over the years. We owe a debt of gratitude to our representatives — John Bailey, Daryn Okada, and Mandy Walker — as they have handled many other issues and made important progress. Mandy has performed especially brilliantly during this Awards conflict and has been very sincere in representing our point of view.

I hope this letter helps inform you of the full situation and the progress that has been made and please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any further questions.

Sincerely,

Kees van Oostrum, ASC