Academy Temporarily Waives Theatrical Requirement for Oscars Eligibility of 2020 Films

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences April 28 announced that, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, it is waiving the requirement that films screen in theaters to be eligible for Oscars consideration at the 93rd Academy Awards.

Typically, films are required to be shown in a commercial motion picture theater in Los Angeles County for at least seven consecutive days, with at least three screenings per day, to qualify for Oscars consideration. However, due to the coronavirus all L.A. theaters have been shut down since March. As a result, the Academy declared that films intended for a theatrical run that instead debuted on a streaming platform or VOD service would still be considered for nomination in the Best Picture, general entry and specialty categories for the 93rd Academy Awards to be held Feb. 28, 2021.

The special dispensation will apply to this awards year only, according to the rules approved by the Academy’s Board of Governors, and only while theaters remain closed.

The film must still be made available on the secure Academy Screening Room member-only streaming site within 60 days of the film’s streaming or VOD release, and the film must meet all other eligibility requirements.

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This is good news for films such as Universal’s Trolls World Tour and Warner’s Scoob!, which skipped theatrical runs in favor of a direct-to-VOD premiere, but can now still be considered for awards such as Best Animated Feature.

The Academy further specified that the exemption would be removed once theaters reopen in accordance with government-approved guidelines, at which point standard theatrical qualifications would again apply.

As such, with theaters looking to re-open by the end of summer, Netflix would still need to stage a token theatrical run for its year-end original movies to qualify them for the awards.

“The Academy firmly believes there is no greater way to experience the magic of movies than to see them in a theater. Our commitment to that is unchanged and unwavering,” Academy president David Rubin and CEO Dawn Hudson said in a statement. “Nonetheless, the historically tragic COVID-19 pandemic necessitates this temporary exception to our awards eligibility rules. The Academy supports our members and colleagues during this time of uncertainty.  We recognize the importance of their work being seen and also celebrated, especially now, when audiences appreciate movies more than ever.”

For films to more easily meet theatrical exhibition requirements when theaters reopen, the Academy will expand the number of qualifying theaters beyond Los Angeles County to include venues in additional U.S. metropolitan areas, including New York City, Chicago, Miami, Atlanta and the San Francisco Bay Area.

Film festivals that have been impacted by the pandemic may provide films online through either a transactional pay wall or password-protected entry, which will not affect the films’ eligibility for future Academy Awards qualification. The Academy will allow an exemption for those films that are released online through an impacted festival’s online platform, provided that proof of inclusion in the festival is submitted.  With these provisions, films will be expected to comply with all other eligibility requirements for the 93rd Academy Awards.

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The Board of Governors also announced rules changes in the Sound, Music and International Feature Film categories. The separate Sound Mixing and Sound Editing will be combined into a single Achievement in Sound award going forward; music scores must comprise a minimum of 60% original music, with sequels and franchise films requiring 80% originality; and all eligible Academy members will now be invited to participate in the preliminary round of voting for Best International Feature Film.

In addition, the Academy announced that the 93rd Awards season will be the final year DVD screeners will be distributed. Citing environmental concerns, the Academy will mandate digital screeners for 2021 films and beyond, covering the 94th Academy Awards and after. The distribution of physical music CDs, screenplays and hardcopy mailings, including but not limited to paper invites and screening schedules, also will be discontinued.

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