In an open letter to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, 95 filmmakers, including industry heavyweights Spike Lee, Quentin Tarantino, and Martin Scorsese, blasted the decision to present some of this year’s Oscars during commercial breaks instead of on live television. In an effort to keep the show under three hours, acceptance speeches from the Oscar winners for cinematography, film editing, live-action short, and makeup and hairstyling will be edited down this year to remove the time spent walking to the stage, then aired later in the program, a change the letter’s signers call “nothing less than an insult.” Urging the Academy to reverse the decision, they write that the institution has “drifted from [its] mission in our pursuit of presenting entertainment rather than in presenting a celebration of our art form and the people behind it.” It’s sort of a fox and henhouse situation, in their telling:
When the recognition of those responsible for the creation of outstanding cinema is being diminished by the very institution whose purpose it is to protect it, then we are no longer upholding the spirit of the Academy’s promise to celebrate film as a collaborative art form.
The signers include two people who would be directly affected by the policy change: Caleb Deschanel, who is up for a cinematography Oscar for Never Look Away; and Hank Corwin, who has been nominated for film editing for Vice. As Variety reports, the letter was also signed by three three-time Oscar winners (Robert Richardson, Vittorio Storaro, and Emmanuel Lubezki), two two-time Oscar winners (Janusz Kaminski and John Toll) and several one-time Oscar winners, including Roger Deakins, who has been nominated and lost so many times (13!) he’s practically part of the ceremony. Other big names on the list include Damien Chazelle, Dee Rees, Spike Jonze, Ang Lee, Cary Joji Fukunaga, and Seth Rogen. Weirdly, this letter protesting an arbitrary hierarchy in filmmaking jobs, also promotes one: cinematographers and directors’ signatures are listed in their own categories, while everyone else gets filed under filmmakers.
This is just the latest controversy to hit the beleaguered ceremony this year, after Best Popular Film’s brief, disastrous time as a new Oscar category, Kevin Hart’s brief, disastrous time as a new Oscar host, and the ongoing, disastrous popularity of Green Book, which isn’t new at all. What kind of a live-variety-show-meets-celebration-of-cinema can a development process this chaotic possibly yield? We’ll find out on Feb. 24.
Here’s the complete text of the open letter:
An Open Letter to The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and The Producers of the 91st Annual Academy Awards Broadcast:
On Monday, February 11, 2019, John Bailey, President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, announced that this year’s Oscar presentations for Best Cinematography—along with Film Editing, Live Action Short and Makeup and Hairstyling—will not be broadcast live, but rather presented during a commercial break. This decision was made to reduce the length of the show from four hours to three. The vocal response from our peers and the immediate backlash from industry leaders over the Academy’s decision makes it clear that it’s not too late to have this decision reversed.
The Academy was founded in 1927 to recognize and uphold excellence in the cinematic arts, inspire imagination and help connect the world through the universal medium of motion pictures. Unfortunately, we have drifted from this mission in our pursuit of presenting entertainment rather than in presenting a celebration of our art form and the people behind it.
Relegating these essential cinematic crafts to lesser status in this 91st Academy Awards ceremony is nothing less than an insult to those of us who have devoted our lives and passions to our chosen profession.
The show’s director, Glenn Weiss, has stated that he will determine what “emotionally resonant” moments from the four winners’ speeches will be selected to air later in the broadcast. The show will cut any additional comment from presenters, as well as any recitation of the nominees as they see fit.
Since its inception, the Academy Awards telecast has been altered over time to keep the format fresh, but never by sacrificing the integrity of the Academy’s original mission. When the recognition of those responsible for the creation of outstanding cinema is being diminished by the very institution whose purpose it is to protect it, then we are no longer upholding the spirit of the Academy’s promise to celebrate film as a collaborative art form. To quote our colleague Seth Rogen, “What better way to celebrate achievements in film than to NOT publicly honor the people whose job it is to literally film things.”
Anthony Dod Mantle
Newton Thomas Sigel
Hoyte van Hoytema
Kees van Oostrum
Cary Joji Fukunaga
Alan Edward Bell
Sophie De Rakoff
Mary Jo Markey
Tatiana S. Riegel
Anna B. Sheppard
Terilyn A. Shropshire