What the New Oscar Campaign Rules Mean for Awards Season (Analysis)

Insiders explain how the restrictions on events will likely make the pre-nominations months more frenetic and the restricted weeks afterward a social minefield.
Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences wants to stamp out some of the most overt politicking and partying that surrounds the run-up to the Oscars. It would like to see all those awards grabs -- the meet-and-greet lunches and cocktail receptions, the post-screening Q&As, the DVD launches and “holiday parties” -- just go away.

That’s not going to happen. That's because the new rules, which the Academy announced Wednesday, are largely focused on the period between when nominations are announced Jan. 24 and final ballots are due Feb. 21. They are likely to have two effects. According to a quick survey of publicists and awards consultants already busy planning the upcoming season, the months leading up to nominations could become more frenetic than ever. And the restricted weeks after Jan. 24 could become a social minefield.

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"It seems to allow more events duing the nomination process, but less during the actual voting time,” says one events publicist.

But worries another about the restricted post-noms period, “You’re basically telling people they can’t have a party in their house. How do you say to someone whose best friend is nominated that they can’t have a dinner for them? Like, Warren Beatty can’t have a dinner with Jack Nicholson if Annette [Bening] is nominated? If I send out invitations before the nominations are announced but the party is after the nominations come out, does that mean the party has to be cancelled?”

So why is the Academy trying to put a damper on all the fun anyway?

"It's really a perception problem for us,” says Academy COO Ric Robertson. “The Oscars are about what our members see on screen and think is quality work. To the extent that the public dialogue about the Oscars is who threw a good party or ran a successful campaign versus the quality of the work, that's off-point for us. We want people to be talking about the work."

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To that end, when the Academy, which reviews its campaign regulations annually, issued its new edicts, it was the most comprehensive set of changes in years.

Up until Jan. 24, there will be no restrictions on screening events, Q&As, panels and receptions to which Academy members are invited. In fact, the Academy is relaxing an existing rule that prohibited members from attending any screening or reception in which filmmakers participated. Of course, no one really realized that rule even existed since the Academy knew it was unenforceable: In December and January, there are just too many events, often with overlapping constituencies like SAG members who are also Academy members, for the Academy to police the scene. 

So for the bulk of the upcoming awards season nothing really changes. If anything, it could be more laissez-faire than ever.

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But after Jan. 24, the Academy intends to lay down the law. Receptions, following screenings, aren’t allowed. Talent and filmmakers can only participate in two panels to which Academy members are invited -- although they are still free to tell their making-of-the-movie stories at events aimed at other audiences like the DGA or WGA. And during that blackout period, neither Academy members nor nominees are allowed to attend a non-screening event that’s simply designed to promote or honor an individual nominee or film. No more toasting The King's Speech at Arianna Huffington's -- at least not in February.

Complains one veteran awards campaigner, “If you’re a nominee, it’s a poison gift. You’re basically under house arrest for a month. You can’t go anywhere or do anything. Read Rule 15 – non-screening events. A nominee cannot attend a breakfast, lunch, dinner or reception that promotes or honors a nominee. What will happen is all of that business will just move up on the calendar. It sure makes it a lot less fun.”

But, don't worry, there are exceptions: The Academy's own events, like its annual Nominees Luncheon. The various guild awards dinners. Critics' awards ceremonies. And what the Academy describes as awards ceremonies presented by "other organizations."

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So party on, awards hopefuls. The bulk of the hoopla takes place in the weeks leading up to the announcement of nominations anyway. Yes, the Academy would like you to keep it down, but though its new rules sound tough, there are still enough loopholes to keep everybody happy.

Tim Appelo and William Higgins contributed to this report.


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