3 not necessarily a crowd

New rule: More producers could get best pic Oscar

Oscar wants to show a little more flexibility.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on Wednesday announced a few tweaks in its Oscar rules, including a change to allow more than three producers to pick up statuettes for a best picture win in a "rare and extraordinary circumstance."

The Academy didn't specify what might be considered such a circumstance but stipulated that an executive committee would review relevant cases if and when necessary. The change follows a situation in which five producers of Oscar best picture nominee "Little Miss Sunshine" were narrowed to just three during the most recent Academy Awards even though all five received Producers Guild Awards for their work on the indie comedy.

Although not bound by PGA rulings, the Academy does review how the guild decides producer-credit disputes. Yet its three-producer maximum would have prohibited the Academy from awarding all the "Sunshine" producers statuettes.

As things turned out, Martin Scorsese's "The Departed" copped the best picture Oscar.

"This is an ever-changing world we have these days," Academy president Sid Ganis said. "We want to be firm on the one hand, (and) on the other hand we want to just allow for the possibility that something might come up that we might want to look at very carefully."

Ganis acknowledged the potential "Sunshine" quandary, but only one Oscar winner — "Million Dollar Baby" at the 77th Academy Awards — has been affected by the three-producer cap, which the Academy instituted in 1999 for the 72nd Academy Awards. The Academy narrowed a one-time group of four "Baby" producers to three in awarding best picture statuettes in 2004.

Two Oscar seasons ago, the Academy tightened guidelines governing what sort of producers will be eligible for best picture consideration. That change was blamed for producer Bob Yari being excluded from the Oscar spotlight in 2005, when "Crash" won best picture and only Cathy Schulman and Paul Haggis were deemed eligible to receive a statuette.

A lawsuit filed in the aftermath of that dispute was dismissed by California Superior Court, but Yari continues to navigate an appeals process. On Wednesday, the producer said he views Academy procedures as a "rubber stamp" of PGA review, which he said should be more transparent.

"The Academy has given the determination of who is a producer practically wholesale to the PGA, and when they make a determination, they make it in secret," Yari said. "They don't allow you to go and speak in front of them."

PGA officials declined comment.

Meanwhile, Ganis suggested that the Academy's latest change represents more a refinement of rules rather than a major policy shift.

"The (Producers Branch executive) committee and the governors believe strongly that it's very important to have a limit on the number of producers who can be nominated and potentially receive an Oscar statuette," the Academy president said. "But we also recognize that a truly unique situation could arise, and we want to have just enough flexibility to allow for that rare occurrence."

The change amounts to a single-sentence addition stating the committee "has the right, in what it determines to be a rare and extraordinary circumstance, to name any additional qualified producer as a nominee."

Among other changes announced for the 80th Academy Awards were rules governing the art direction category, which were adjusted to allow for either two production designers or two set designers to be nominated for an individual film. Previously, the rule allowed for only one production designer, though two set designers could be nominated in exceptional situations.

The Academy also formulated more precise language governing animated feature nominees. An animated feature now is defined as being at least 70 minutes in length, with production of characters and their movements done by "frame by frame technique." Most characters in the film must be animated, and animation must figure in at least 75% of the picture's running time.

The 80th Annual Academy Awards are set for Feb. 24 at the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood & Highland. ABC will broadcast the show.