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Is it cinema or is it television? Content creators who until now have been happy to qualify their work for both the Oscars and the Emmys may soon have to pick a side.
Under a new rule being considered at the highest tiers of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences, awards submitters would be forced to “pick their pathway” between the Oscars and the Emmys. A nomination at one would rule out submitting to the other.
The restriction, which if approved could take effect as early as next Oscar season, would see Oscar submitters required to accept that being shortlisted or nominated for an Academy Award would disqualify them from subsequently entering their production into any Emmy category, according to multiple sources associated with the film Academy.
Should a producer or company ignore that demand, the Film Academy could reserve the right to take the unprecedented step of stripping a film of its Oscar nomination or win. Likewise, any production that has been nominated for or won an Emmy in an earlier awards cycle would become immediately ineligible for Oscar consideration, drawing a line in the sand between the two awards organizations.
One potential roadblock so far: Film Academy governors are unsure of how best to raise the issue with their counterparts at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, and indeed whether the Television Academy cares at all about the current redundancies.
While such a ruling may seem common sense on the surface, there are few existing examples of awards shows forbidding their winners from applying for other subsequent awards shows.
A Film Academy spokesperson said that the organization would not be able to comment on the matter “until rule changes for the 91st Academy Awards are formally discussed, approved and announced at the end of March.”
A Television Academy spokesperson, meanwhile, told The Hollywood Reporter: “It would be premature of the Television Academy to address this topic in the media until such time as we’ve had a conversation with AMPAS.”
Until now, the issue of “double-dipping” has been one that has mostly affected documentaries. Owing to Emmy rules that allow docs to have limited theatrical runs before airing on television, a number of non-fiction works have been able to double-dip, in some cases winning both Oscars and Emmys.
In the past two years, Netflix has twice had success with this strategy: Ava DuVernay’s documentary 13th (2016) and Liz Garbus‘ music biopic What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015) both earned best documentary feature Oscar nominations before going on to win the Primetime Emmy for outstanding documentary or nonfiction special.
The Film Academy has thus far tolerated this cross-pollination, in part because of an understanding that documentaries — even theatrical documentaries — have historically been financed by television companies, such as HBO, PBS, the BBC and Discovery Communications.
But the idea that such tactics may now spread to narrative dramas is a worry for Oscar’s guardians.
Two recent productions have pushed the Film Academy to a tipping point: First, the success of Netflix’s Mudbound, which earned four Oscar nominations last month (best supporting actress, cinematography, film editing and original song). It is understood that members of the Film Academy’s board of governors were concerned the movie could earn a best picture nomination and then go on to Emmy nominations, which risked diluting the Oscar brand.
While Mudbound didn’t end up earning one of the nine best picture slots this year, its potential to do so caused significant internal discussion, with Film Academy governors wondering how long it will be before a streamer such as Amazon, Netflix or Hulu four-walls a surprise best picture contender, giving it the theatrical release that qualifies a film for Oscars under the current rules.
The second case study putting pressure on the Academy: last year’s best documentary feature winner, Ezra Edelman’s nearly eight-hour-long documentary O.J.: Made In America.
Viewed by many as a TV series (it aired on ESPN in five parts), Edelman nevertheless spent a year on the campaign trail telling peers that it was actually a long film and always had been envisioned as such. After winning the Oscar, O.J.: Made in America was submitted to the Emmys as a TV series, resulting in Edelman winning a Primetime Emmy for directing episode three of the series.
“It would be one thing if he had gone on and won the Emmy in the best single doc or non-fiction special category, but to win an Emmy for directing a segment of a series was a bit of a slap in the face,” said one member of the Film Academy’s documentary branch who declined to be named.
The Film Academy has already reacted to the O.J. situation by changing its rules last year to ban “multi-part” documentaries, and may yet go further.
Despite being potential beneficiaries of the current double-dipping loophole, many in the Film Academy’s documentary branch tell THR they would welcome a change that would almost certainly thin the overwhelming number of submissions they have to wade through each year.
In 2017, 171 feature documentaries qualified for Oscar consideration, many by four-walling in remote theaters for the minimum amount of time required. After failing to reach the Oscar shortlist of 15, many subsequently play on television and go on to submit for Emmy consideration.
Branch members posit that the threat of Emmy disqualification may discourage all but the most serious of non-fiction contenders from submitting for Oscar consideration, reducing the number of vanity submissions cluttering up their mailboxes each year.
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