Oscars During Coronavirus: Academy Rules Streamed Films Eligible, Merges Sound Categories

Oscar statuette backstage Academy Awards - Getty - H 2018
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The 93rd Academy Awards ceremony is still slated to take place Feb. 28, 2021, but the road to it is going to look considerably different than it did for any of the prior 92.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' 54-person board of governors, acting on the recommendation of its awards rules committee, on Tuesday morning voted — during a secure Zoom session that started at 9 a.m. and lasted for more than two hours — to significantly ease Oscar-eligibility requirements in response to the ongoing pandemic that has largely shut down the global film industry, sources tell The Hollywood Reporter.

This season, and until further notice, films can qualify for the competition without screening for at least one week in a Los Angeles-area theater, the long-standing barrier for entry; after all, all movie theaters in L.A. and most of the country remain shuttered indefinitely.

Instead, films that were scheduled for theatrical release, that meet the other eligibility requirements and that are made available for Academy members to view on the organization's members-only streaming service, Academy Screening Room, within 60 days of being made available on a publicly available streamer or VOD service will be in the running. (This covers any and all pics that scrapped their theatrical release due to the coronavirus crisis in favor of another method of reaching consumers, such as Trolls World Tour.)

The awards rules committee, which is currently chaired by the Academy's first vice president Lois Burwell and comprised of roughly a dozen governors (including some boldfaced names like Whoopi Goldberg), emphasized that this should be a one-time adjustment, but that it is not fair to punish companies and filmmakers who felt or feel the need, for reasons financial or otherwise, to get their work out to the world prior to the resumption of traditional moviegoing.

The board, meanwhile, will revert to its prior Oscar-eligibility requirements when it — in consultation with health experts — concludes that theatrical moviegoing is once again safe. (At that time, it will expand the number of cities in which a film can screen for a week to qualify, adding five more on top of L.A.: New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Miami and Atlanta.)

Tuesday's virtual gathering also resulted in a number of other changes for the coming awards season which would have made major news under any other circumstances.

For instance, the two sound Oscars — best sound editing and best sound mixing — have, following a period of study initiated and conducted by the governors of the sound branch, been consolidated into one, best sound (which will recognize both editors and mixers), bringing the number of Oscars that will be presented on the telecast from 24 to 23.

Additionally, to be eligible for the best original score Oscar, at least 60 percent of a film's music must be original, as opposed to "predominantly" original, the prior standard.

And finally, all Academy members — not just those who are able and willing to attend screenings at the organization's headquarters in Beverly Hills — will now be able to vote to help determine the best international feature Oscar shortlist, submissions for which will be made available for streaming via the Academy Screening Room. (However, it remains to be seen if members will be able to exercise this new privilege this season, since many countries have not yet been able to release any films due to the pandemic.)