Oscar's Ever-Changing Rules Liane Hansen speaks with Oscar analyst Pete Hammond about the ever-changing rules and regulations the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences places on its nominees.

Oscar's Ever-Changing Rules

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Liane Hansen.

This past week the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the nominees for the 78th Annual Academy Awards. Smaller studio-owned production companies dominated the nominations, with films like Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain, Bennett Miller's Capote and George Clooney's Good Night and Good Luck.

The Academy has long followed one basic guideline for Oscar consideration: a film has to run for paid admission in a commercial motion picture theater in Los Angeles County for at least seven consecutive days during the previous calendar year. Each of the separate 25 categories has its own set of specific rules and regulations.

Pete Hammond is an Oscar analyst and film critic for Maxim magazine, and he joins us from Santa Barbara, California, where he's attending the Santa Barbara Film Festival.

Welcome to the show.

Mr. PETE HAMMOND (film critic, Maxim Magazine): Thanks a lot.

HANSEN: So first of all, briefly, who makes the rules?

Mr. HAMMOND: Well, the Academy and the Academy's Board of Governors, which is a sort of uber group of Academy members that are elected and they have two governors, generally, for each category. So there's two governors representing the art directors, two governors representing the actors, the writers, directors, cinematographers. It's all split into these different branches that represent the motion picture industry. And the rules generally are passed by that board.

HANSEN: Now, are they cast in gold, or are they bendable at all?

Mr. HAMMOND: Oh, they're completely bendable. It's something I think the Academy looks at every single year, in terms of what's working and what's not working. And they take recommendations from the various peer groups in the Academy as to how they should change those categories and what they're doing year to year. So yeah, they are bendable. But the Academy is one of the hardest places to change, because they don't want to mess with a system that's worked so well for them over the years. Even to get a new category, I mean it took the animated feature group years and years, decades really, to get that past the board and create an animated feature category just a few years ago.

HANSEN: Now, who would vote for these nominations? Is every voter eligible?

Mr. HAMMOND: Well, every voter is eligible for best picture. So if you're an actor you get to vote for the four acting nominees, the four acting category nominees, and the Best Picture. If you're a writer, you get to vote for the writing nominees and Best Picture. In the case of categories like the foreign language, you have to sign up to be on that committee, any Academy member can do that, and then you have to go see and prove you've seen, and sign affidavits proving you've seen a certain number of movies, and then you can see as many more as you want, but you have to see a minimum number of movies to be eligible to vote in the foreign language.

HANSEN: Now, Crash has been nominated for Best Picture. But not all of the movie's producers were named in the nomination. What's up with that?

Mr. HAMMOND: That's right. Well, that's another recent thing, and that's a big controversy in Hollywood. This happened in 1999, with Shakespeare in Love. When that picture won Best Picture, five people went onstage to accept the Academy Award as producers. And actually, they weren't all the producers of the movie. One, Ed Zwick, had actually developed the film for himself as the director, but it didn't work out.

Yet he retained a producer credit. Another was the film's writer, Mark Norman, yet he wasn't really a producer, but his agent got him a producer credit on it. Another was Harvey Weinstein, who owned Miramax and could do whatever he wanted. And then there were two other people that actually produced the movie.

So you had five people and the Academy said, Wait, that's a big crowd onstage. This is cheapening the award, that anybody can go up there. And then the Producers Guild of America got involved and created guidelines for what is a producer, because from their point of view, the producer credit was being taken advantage of severely in this town.

And you can see, if you look at credits for movies that you go to in your multiplex or something, look at how many producer credits are on there: executive producer, associate producer, co-producer, this producer. I mean, there's some movies with twenty producer credits. And so the Academy said no more. So they're following the Producers Guild guidelines, and the Producer's Guild deemed that of the six credited producers on Crash, only two actually did what they determined is the work of a producer on the film. And so that's what happened.

The Academy now allows a maximum of three nominees for producing in those categories. But they didn't even go up to three here. The Producer's Guild looked at the credits and said, You know, there's really only two.

HANSEN: Why are there only three songs nominated in the Best Original Song category? Usually there's five.

Mr. HAMMOND: Yes, yes. This year they have completely redone the song category. And they had what they called the bake-off. They listed the 42 eligible songs that got through the rules committee of the music branch and everything, they listed those, and then they invited members of the music branch only to come to the Academy and listen to all 42 songs as they appear in the films. So you would see the film clip and hear the song. So the only people that actually got to vote in the category this year were people that showed up at the Academy.

And they did two separate screenings so that they had two chances to do this. And then they have a new point system. And if you don't get 8.5 points, I think it is, score that overall then that song is not eligible. And not enough songs got this point level, so it automatically triggered their new rule of only three nominees.

HANSEN: Pete Hammond is a film critic for Maxim magazine and he joined us from Santa Barbara, California. Pete, thanks a lot.

Mr. HAMMOND: Absolutely.

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