Plans to shorten the Academy Awards ceremony by handing out Oscars to certain categories during commercial breaks have been met with anger by some former winners who say the move devalues their cinematic contributions in favor of prioritizing celebrities.
“It meant a great deal to me that our Academy Award for the Best Live-Action Short Film was presented live just like the more popular categories of the night,” said Kristóf Deák, who won in 2017 for his work on Sing. “It was electrifying to feel the anticipation in the room and to deliver a speech in front of millions of viewers.”
“I would be sad to see some colleagues losing that opportunity,” he added. “Those young filmmakers receiving them deserve the spotlight.”
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which puts on the ceremony, announced three new changes on Wednesday, including introducing a new category for Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film and an earlier airdate to shorten the overall awards season.
But the decision to hand out some awards during commercial breaks has upset some past Oscar winners. While the Academy has yet to announce which categories may be kept out of the live televised spotlight, they will likely include the short film categories and the technical and production nominees, who tend to be less famous.
Brandon Oldenburg, who won his Best Animated Short Film Oscar in 2012 for The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, told BuzzFeed News he could easily see his category being pushed to the commercial break.
“[It] would be a shame because this little moment of the evening shows that you can do it! You watching at home, you can do this too,” he said. “Take that phone from your pocket and make a film. Tell your story. Look at these goofy dudes on stage! They did it!”
Oldenburg said he had personally been inspired watching people receive their Oscars over the years.
“For an aspiring filmmaker, it's like seeing Gatorade splashed on your favorite athlete who dream their whole lives to win the Super Bowl,” he said. “This moment plants the seed for the future filmmakers of the world. This moment gives all the future filmmakers a goal.”
The Academy has tried to take shortcuts in the past.
When Chris Rock hosted the Academy Awards in 2005, a handful of categories were presented in the audience, including Best Makeup and the two Best Short Film categories. A microphone was placed in the aisles for winners to make their acceptance speeches, cutting down on the time it would have taken for them to walk up onto the stage.
"Next year, we're going to give out Oscars in the parking lot,” Rock joked during the ceremony. "It'll be a drive-thru: Give me an Oscar and a McFlurry."
The broadcast still clocked in at 3 hours and 15 minutes.
Academy President John Bailey and CEO Dawn Hudson told members in their letter announcing the changes this week that they hadn’t yet determined which categories would be shifted to commercial time.
“I don't know how they would judge which one, or which two or three, four craft awards that they would take out,” said Neil Corbould, a two-time winner for visual effects. "If they want to cut it and be fair to all the craft awards, then you take all the craft awards out and you just make it about the actors and directors and the producers."
Unnamed people who work in the craft industries shared their anger at the change with the Hollywood Reporter. “We are definitely upset,” said one sound branch member.
“I’m afraid this will end up being a little demeaning,” added another film editor. “It's a big thing for those of us ‘below the line’ to get such an award. It makes a big difference in your life and career."
Kim Magnusson, a two-time winner for Best Live-Action Short and the chairm of the Danish Film Academy, told BuzzFeed News that he's primarily concerned with the logistical issues that go with putting some award acceptances during the commercial break, pointing out that it’s the time when “everybody in the audience gets up and goes out and has a drink and go to the restroom and all that.”
He added that he understands the Academy’s long push to make the show shorter and more entertaining, but any change that would affect the live show inside the theater would be in danger of being extremely disrespectful to affected nominees.
"Are you going to then have everyone in an auditorium sit for three straight hours?” he said.
Even if the commercial break awards happen, the Academy has promised that “the winning moments will then be edited and aired later in the broadcast.” Still, some have wondered why producers wouldn’t focus on cutting film montages or song performances in order to trim the show’s runtime, rather than devaluing certain categories.
There are some past winners, however, who don’t mind the changes coming in 2019.
Kevin O'Connell, who won the Oscar for Sound Mixing in 2017 for his work on Hacksaw Ridge, said he understands the Academy's "need to head in this direction."
"The show is just too long. It’s either this or take awards off the broadcast," O'Connell said. "I believe this is a way to compromise and keep all of the awards presented on the show, just in a different way."
O'Connell isn't upset that his own category will likely be presented during a commercial break.
"Sometimes you have to do what’s best for the greater good," he said. "If all of the affected categories rotate equally, it should be fair and equal for everyone."
Ben Grossmann, who won his golden statuette in 2012 for Best Visual Effects for the film Hugo, was also in favor of rotating which categories get handed out during the commercial breaks.
“If shifting my category to the break means that the ratings are higher and all the positive work the nonprofit Academy does for the community — like the museum, the library, film restoration, outreach, and education programs — can continue to be funded by the advertising dollars? I’ll take it,” Grossmann said.
He also had another suggestion for shortening the long-running ceremony: Put the show on a five-minute tape delay so that “anytime someone starts listing names or saying anything that isn’t representative of the power of that moment, it gets cut.”
“You’ve been given a microphone to the world; not a single damn person cares who your agent is but your agent,” he said, adding, “Save the spotlight for powerful insights that will inspire a generation of young filmmakers.”