Academy President and CEO on Oscars Changes: We're "Making Every Effort to Contend With a Very Difficult Global Crisis" (Q&A)

David Rubin and Dawn Hudson discuss Tuesday's announcement, the prospect of an audience-free Oscars and the eligibility — or lack thereof — of ESPN's 'The Last Dance.'
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Academy president David Rubin and CEO Dawn Hudson

Moments after news broke on Tuesday that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' board of governors had approved major rule changes ahead of the 93rd Oscars, some of them in response to the ongoing pandemic, The Hollywood Reporter spoke with the organization's president David Rubin and CEO Dawn Hudson about the developments and the road ahead. That conversation is reprinted below with light edits made to questions and answers for the sake of clarity.

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What do you hope the biggest takeaway is from Tuesday's announcement?

Rubin: We are making every effort to contend with a very difficult global crisis, and at the same time serve our members well and honor the great work of wonderful filmmakers. We've worked hard to thread that needle and stay true to our core value of honoring theatrical exhibition.

What prevents you from getting 5,000 submissions this year? Given that there will probably be fewer distinguished films in the running, why wouldn't every Lifetime or Netflix movie that was originally intended for TV now enter the Oscar competition?

Hudson: The Oscars require films that were meant for theatrical exhibition — that is the core heartbeat of the Academy, that your intention was to make a theatrically released film. This year we will look at the schedules that we already had for theatrical releases, and also at contracts — when you make a film, you make it under the theatrical rules of the DGA, and if you're non-union your intention can also be made clear. So that's not a difficult determination.

Right now people are watching a lot of content on TV, and one of the breakout ratings hits has been ESPN's 10-part Michael Jordan docuseries The Last Dance. If its filmmakers or ESPN were to argue that they regard it as a 10-part film, as was the case with O.J.: Made in America four years ago, is there anything that would preclude it from being eligible for best documentary feature or even best picture?

Hudson: If you meet our requirements for being a movie — you have been scheduled for a theatrical release, which the ESPN series was not, and you are presented in one sitting, which the ESPN series is not — then you are eligible for the Oscars. But that doesn't apply to this series, even though it's terrific content.

What is most important to know about the consolidation of the sound editing and sound mixing Oscars into one best sound Oscar? It has been suggested that the idea originated in the Academy's sound branch...

Rubin: This 100 percent came out of a request from the sound branch, which worked very hard to bring this to the forefront after reviewing a long history of overlap in the recipients and the films that they worked on across the two awards categories.

Hudson: It reflects the current creative partnership between the mixers and the editors. One production sound mixer, two supervising sound editors and three rerecording mixers are considered "the team," so it's inclusive of those two awards, but reflects the partnership that those two teams have already on every film.

Has there been consideration given to doing something that there is a precedent for, which is extending the Oscar eligibility window beyond 12 months? There was no Oscars ceremony in 1933; there were 16 months between the 1932 and 1934 ceremonies...

Hudson: We are in week seven of this stay-at-home order, so we have been considering everything for an awards ceremony scheduled for 10 months from now, which seems like four lifetimes from now, since each week feels like a year during this pandemic. So we'll continue to assess that.

How will you proceed with the international feature film Oscar this year? You have just enabled all members to serve on the preliminary voting committee that helps to determine the Oscar shortlist for that category — but many countries may not have even released a film yet, and if the pandemic goes into the fall, as experts are predicting, they may not get to before the clock runs out...

Rubin: It's difficult to predict what the incoming films will be from around the world. We don't know the status of movies wrapped or yet unfilmed — it's all to be determined once we get a sense of what's available.

Hudson: If they have scheduled a release in their country and they can't release a film in their country, the committee will take that into consideration for those films.

Looking down the road, is there any scenario in which you can imagine holding the Oscars ceremony as scheduled on Feb. 28, 2021, but without an audience — as the Golden Globes ceremony was conducted in 2008 due to the writers strike — or is an audience so integral to the Oscars that you would postpone the ceremony until one can be there?

Rubin: I think it's impossible at this early date to predict what form the Oscars will take, other than the fact that we look forward to celebrating movies in the most appropriate way given the way this all unfolds.

Hudson: I mean, David and I can't even sit in a room together right now, so we can't contemplate 10 months from now.