Oscars Open Up Voting in Foreign Language and Doc Shorts Categories

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Academy members give high marks to the first-ever general membership meeting, calling it "very valuable" and "terrific," at which the rule changes were announced today.

The Academy is instituting new voting rules in two Oscar categories and will allow all of its members to vote in the documentary shorts and foreign language film categories.

The announcement was made at an unusual, first-ever general meeting of the Academy that was held today at simultaneous gatherings in Beverly Hills, New York and Emeryville, Calif. that drew enthusiastic praise from those who attended.

In previous years, members had to see the foreign-language films and documentary shorts in a theatrical setting to be eligible to vote in the final round of balloting. Under new procedures, the Academy will provide members with DVDs of the nominated films as it now also does in the documentary feature, animated short film and live action short film categories. As a result, the full membership of the Academy will be able to vote in all 24 Oscar categories in the final balloting for the first time.

"This change continues our efforts to expand our members' participation in all aspects of the Academy's activities including, of course, voting for the Oscars," Academy president Hawk Koch explained in a release that accompanied the announcement. "Building on this past season's 90 percent record voter turnout, we want to give our members as many opportunities as possible to see these great films an vote in these categories next year."

The Academy has not previously revealed a figure for voter turnout, but said that 90 percent turnout means that electronic voting, which was inaugurated during the past awards season, has been a success. According to Koch, 96 percent of those who opted for electronic voting ultimately voted, while 87 percent of those who chose to continue with paper ballots participated in the final voting. The Academy did not have figures for the final breakdown of electronic vs. paper voters or for voter turnout in previous years.

At the general membership meeting, the Academy officials said electronic voting has been a success, but they also said they also will continue to offer paper ballots during the next awards season.

They also underscored that the current rules for best picture voting that can result in five to ten nominees in the top category will remain in place during the next awards season.

While the Academy has asked producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron back to produce next year's Academy Awards, no hints were offered of who might host the show. Asked if there have been any discussions with Seth MacFarlane about repeating hosting duties," Koch said, "It's too early to speculate on that. You can do it, but we're not going to."

Koch opened the event by quoting Fay Kanin, the former Academy president who died in March, who had said, "We're part of a medium that allows us to be creative, daring ... and once in a while extraordinary." CEO Dawn Hudson greeting the audience by saying, "This meeting is about you, our members. You're the backbone of the Academy."

Hudson outlined such Academy activities as its recent Wayne's World reunion screening, its VFX series and its Charlie Chaplin collection restoration project. Actress Shohreh Aghdashloo spoke about the Academy's international outreach efforts that have seen Academy delegations travel to Iran, East Africa and Vietnam. Mark Johnson spoke about the foreign-language film committee, while Ed Begley Jr. outlined the Academy's environmental initiatives.

Kathleen Kennedy, who chairs the Academy's museum planning committee, outlined the developing plan for the new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures that is scheduled to open on the side of the old May Co. building on Wilshire Boulevard in 2017.

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The members-only event, which took place at the Academy’s Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills and Pixar Studios in Emeryville and at the Lighthouse International theater in New Work, began with an hour-long brunch/lunch followed by a 90-minute presentation by Academy officials. More than 1,000 members participated among the three locations.

Speaking with THR after the event, Koch said of the meeting, "On a scale of 1-10, I give it a 12." Commented Hudson, "We accomplished our continuing goal to get our members together, to hear what they had to say, and we met that goal."

Continued Koch, "We had a lot of people speak about a lot of the different programs, a lot of the things the Academy does 365 days a year. The reason for this was membership engagement. What we did in a relaxed and casual way was make sure our members know what we're doing. It felt like there was a real connection between governors, staff and members."  

The reaction among members interviewed as they left the Goldwyn Theater was overwhelmingly positive about the event. "It was very valuable," said Don Murphy, a member of the producers branch. "I thought it was great," said producer Kevin McCormick. "I think Hawk is doing a great job," added Paula Silver, a member of the public relations branch.

"I'm in the writers branch, so I never see anybody," said Ernest Thompson. "It's nice to just have a reminder that we're all part of the same organization It's nice to have a chance for everybody to get together."

"The big news is that the foreign films will be sent to us in screeners," said Murray Weissman of the public relations branch. "It's wonderful. Everybody can vote on it. The members loved it."

Others were equally enthusiastic about the event.

Said Kris Evans of the makeup/hairstyling branch, "It was not talking about the past; much more about what's going on in the future."

Observed Ziggy Koslowski of the public relations branch, "The cynical side of me just thought they were gonna hit us up for donations for the museum, but I thought it was surprisingly interesting and useful."

"I love it. I thought it was historical, really," said actress Candy Clark. "It was so worthwhile," added former Academy president Arthur Hiller.

Academy officials also answered questions that had been submitted in advance of the meeting. Said Jerry Katzman, a member of the executives branch, "There was a question about diversity in the Academy, and Hawk explained it beautifully. He said basically we need to change the industry. The Academy is only a reflection of the industry."

Disney/Pixar hosted the Emeryville meet-up, where former Academy president Sid Ganis, directors Brad Bird and Pete Docter and visual effects supervisor Craig Barron were present. In New York, Michael Moore, Melissa Leo and Robert Wuhl were all on hand.

Hudson said that the Academy will solicit members' reactions before deciding whether or not to make the meeting an annual event, but actor Hector Elias was ready to sign up for next year, saying, "I thought it was every informative. We talked about everything. I hope they do this every year."