A major change should have producers dancing


Producers rejoice. After an explosion of protest following its decision to allow only three producers to pick up a best picture Oscar, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has defanged its most controversial rule change in recent years, stating that, in certain cases, more than three producers can share their most coveted statuette.

Rule 17 now reads: "The nominees will be those three or fewer producers who have performed the major portion of the producing functions. The Producers Branch Executive Committee will designate the qualifying producer nominees for each of the nominated pictures. 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."

Insiders were in widespread agreement last year that the five listed producers of best picture nominee "Little Miss Sunshine" contributed equally to its creation, but only David T. Friendly, Peter Saraf and Marc Turtletaub were nominated. (Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa went overlooked.)

Of course, the "Sunshine" situation followed the widely publicized rift between Bob Yari and the Producers Guild of America and the Academy over his being deemed ineligible to receive a nomination for 2006's best picture winner "Crash." Yari is still in ongoing litigation with the Academy over the matter.

Leslie Unger, the Academy's director of communications, stressed that the organization would only allow more than three producers to receive nominations in truly exceptional circumstances. She added that the Academy would not automatically follow in lockstep with the PGA, even though it has largely stuck to the guild's recommendations to date.

Interestingly, the PGA has no limit on the number of eligible producers for its own annual award, the Golden Laurel.

As for other changes to the rules governing the upcoming 80th edition of the Academy Awards, there has been a rewording of what defines an animated film, largely to eliminate movies using unconventional techniques -- such as Richard Linklater's 2006 feature, "A Scanner Darkly" -- from consideration in the category.

The Academy now defines an animated feature as a movie "in which movement and characters' performances are created using a frame-by-frame technique." Unger declined to discuss what the ruling might mean for upcoming films such as Robert Zemeckis' Paramount release "Beowulf."

Finally, the Academy has changed the number of venues where a feature documentary must be screened in order to qualify for a nomination, upping the number to 14 theaters in 10 different states, compared to eight theaters and four states previously.