Under new rules announced Friday by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, multipart documentaries like the most recent best documentary Oscar winner, O.J.: Made in America, will not be eligible for an award at future Oscars. The new rule says that "multipart or limited series are not eligible for awards consideration."
The Academy also announced rule changes that could end up favoring bigger studio films in the animated feature contest and a further campaign regulation designed to curtail excessive wining and dining of Academy members.
Produced by ESPN, which aired the 467-minute documentary in five parts, O.J. also played in a number of theaters, which made it eligible for last season's awards under the existing rules. But while the film received numerous awards from other critics groups and various guilds - and its director, Ezra Edelman, maintained that he had always envisioned the project as one long film - there were those in the doc community who questioned whether it should have been treated as a film, rather than a TV series, for awards purposes.
Moving forward, the new rule would preclude other producers of multipart documentaries from qualifying them for Oscar consideration by booking them into theaters. In announcing the rule change, the Academy said that "the Documentary Branch Executive Committee will resolve all questions of eligibility and rules" about specific films.
There does, however, appear to be one way a doc like O.J. could make the cut. O.J. played numerous festivals where it was regarded as a film in the run-up to its Academy-qualifying run, and if producers of future multipart projects follow that route, they could still argue to the branch's exec committee that their film deserves consideration.
In the category of feature animation, the Academy announced another rule that could affect what films get nominated. Under existing procedures, a nominating committee composed of members of the Short Films and Feature Animation Branch and members from other branches with a connection to animation review submissions and vote for the nominees. Once nominees are announced, the Academy's full membership then votes for the final winner.
Under the new rule, any Academy member who is interested is invited to join the nominating committee. As the rule explains, "Invitations to join the nominating committee will be sent to all active Academy members, rather than a select craft-based group." The Academy is also making it as convenient as possible for members of the committee to view the films. If they don't watch them in theaters, they can watch them on the Academy's streaming site or on DVD screeners.
As feature animation has become a big business, more Academy members in other branches - from cinematographers and directors to writers and actors - are now involved in animation. The new rule would give these members a say in what films get nominated - but it could also affect the type of films that get nominated.
The committee drawn from the shorts/animated branch hasn't ignored studio movies, like Disney's Zootopia, the most recent winner, but it has also favored smaller, often hand-drawn or stop-motion animated films, like recent nominees My Life as a Zucchini and The Red Turtle, and efforts from smaller indie distributors like GKids Films. By bringing a wider array of voices into the nominating process, the new rule could end up favoring more popular wide releases from the mainstream studios.
Also, the nomination voting in the animated feature category, which previously employed a numerical scoring system, will now use the preferential voting method, which is in use in other categories.
Turning to the best picture category, the Academy issued a clarification about how it counts the number of producers eligible for a nomination. While the Academy rules say up to three producers can be nominated for a given film, it allows an established producing partnership of two individuals to count as one producer. While that has been the existing policy, the new rules spell it out and acknowledge the Producers Guild of America's role in determining producing credits for awards purposes by saying "a bona fide team of not more than two people shall be considered to be a single 'producer' if the two individuals have had an established producing partnership as determined by the PGA's Producing Partnership Panel."
The Academy also introduced a new rule in the original music score category, saying, "in the case of a score that has three or more equally contributing composers, the composers may be considered as a group. If the score wins the Original Score award, the group would receive a single statuette."
Finally, in its ongoing effort to curtail excessive campaigning, the Academy restated its rules regarding lunches, dinners or other events that are held to promote a movie. As the rule now states, "Prior to nominations, Academy members may not be invited to attend any lunch, dinner or other catered affair that promotes an eligible film for awards consideration that is not associated with a screening. This does not prohibit reasonable food and beverage from being provided at screening venues or at an adjacent location immediately before or after the screening,"
In effect, the rule is designed to prevent work-arounds like, say, a 10 a.m. screening that is followed by a dinner hours later in the evening. It's also designed to discourage fancy events at exclusive restaurants by suggesting the screening and any associated wining and dining should all take place in close proximity to each other.