In February, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences (AMPAS), the group behind the Oscars ceremony, decided to forego the live presentation of eight of the categories.
Citing the need for audience engagement, awards for these categories will be handed out an hour before the live show and then edited into the broadcast on Sunday night.
The segments of the film industry affected have been, to say the least, displeased. The flap has even resulted in sound mixer Peter Kurland, a member of the Cinema Audio Society’s board, resigning his AMPAS membership.
My first reaction was to chuckle at the alteration, knowing now the biggest show in the movie business begins to look more like your parish livestream, combining both live and pre-recorded footage.
Three of the excised categories from the live program form the subset of short films in animation, documentary and live-action. I don’t mind their exclusion from the main event, seeing they never overlap with other feature categories.
I suppose this limits the exposure for an up-and-coming filmmaker, but Hollywood doesn’t always know what to do with short content, particularly when thinking of distribution. Is it a proof-of-concept for long format? Standalone? Or something else?
The other five consist of below-the-line technical categories. These contrast with the above-the-line categories of writing, producing, directing and acting, which have the most creative say in a production.
Anyone who works in film production could tell you how important every creative and technical discipline is to the collaborative art of film. Nevertheless, it’s still Hollywood. And there’s a hierarchy in Hollywood.
Here’s my best educated guess as to why some technical awards will be presented live and others pre-recorded. It has something to do with ranking how essential each technical discipline is to the medium.
Top of the technical awards -- presented live
Cinematography: In Europe, the photography discipline is considered above the line in some countries. And regardless of country, film obviously requires the visual image, otherwise the story would be a radio drama or some derivative.
Costume Design: Actors wear the clothes of their character and wouldn’t act in the clothes they showed up to set in. Can you imagine Adam Sandler wearing basketball shorts for every single role? Neither can I.
Visual Effects: Even the lowest budget, independent films contain some element of post-production effects. You don’t notice most of them, if done well. Visual effects’ ubiquity, then, will be honored with a live presentation.
The rest of the technical awards -- pre-recorded
Editing: The great director, Stanley Kubrick stated editing was the one discipline unique to film, reminding film buffs that other disciplines already existed in some medium or another. So, editing is important, unless it isn’t. The recent WWI Oscar-winning 1917 was filmed to look like a “oner,” with nary a visible edit.
Production Design: This category honors the design, construction of and dressing up of sets integral to telling a visual story. However, a few films utilize on location sites with little to no set dressing.
Sound: The Academy conflated sound editing and sound mixing into one category last year, so its exclusion from the live program doesn’t surprise me. As crucial as sound is, silent films initiated the art form. Even in the era of “talkies” a silent film, The Artist won Oscar gold only a decade ago.
Score: Within my lifetime, original scores went from operatic and overwhelming (Star Wars) to minimalistic and understated (The Social Network). Nowadays, unless attending a musical, rarely does one leave the theater humming the film’s tune, and I can’t remember the last time I purchased a standalone soundtrack. Most European films eschew film scores altogether, claiming it manufactures emotions.
Makeup & Hairstyling: This category could have gone either way, in my opinion. Like costume design, the discipline remains the most internally transforming for an actor. But sometimes, stories go well without makeup—the most recent example being Bhutan’s Oscar nominated Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom.
Arriving at the end of this hierarchy, I can’t help but think of the Dogma 95 movement. In the 1990s, European filmmakers attempted to strip cinema of any artificiality.
No visual effects. On location filming. Only music the characters would be listening to in the story. No makeup. Natural lighting only.
In an attempt to stay relevant to audiences, it seems Oscar is simplifying things, too.
The 94th Annual Academy Awards air Sunday, March 27, and can be seen on ABC (8 p.m. EDT/5 p.m. PDT) and at abc.com.
Click here to visit USC film school graduate Father Vince Kuna’s IMDB page.