Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Your most pressing Oscars ceremony questions, answered

Feb 07. 2020
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By  The Washington Post · Sonia Rao · ENTERTAINMENT

Like any good bit of orchestrated fun, the Academy Awards relies on a bunch of rules and safeguards to keep the ceremony from descending into chaos. Rules and safeguards are what will provide comfort to the television producers and vote-tallying accountants who wait with bated breath to make sure the presenters don't accidentally announce that "Joker" has won best picture when, in fact, they were just handed the best actor card with Joaquin Phoenix's name on it. Without rules and safeguards, dea

Perhaps you are interested in reading about some of those rules. Or maybe you have questions of the simpler sort, about, say, the difference between sound editing and mixing. We have the answers to both.

Here's what you might want to know about the Oscars ahead of Sunday's ceremony.

- Who is hosting the show this year?

Nobody. When the Academy Awards went hostless after the Kevin Hart debacle last year, ratings actually improved - not that the bar was high, of course, as 2018's nearly four-hour ceremony turned out to be the least-watched telecast in Oscars history. The boost in viewership could have been due to curiosity piqued by Hart's ousting - the result of widespread criticism over tweets seen as homophobic - or maybe because 2019′s films had a slightly higher profile. Either way, forgoing a host didn't NOT work for ABC and the academy. So they're doing it again.

"We're extremely proud of how the show turned out creatively," ABC chief Karey Burke said in May, per Deadline. "We're not messing with that format, to the best of our abilities."

- How were all these nominees chosen? What about the winners?

While presenting this year's Oscar nominees, actors John Cho and Issa Rae made a point of clarifying that the names were selected by members of each respective academy branch. Cinematographers vote for best cinematography nominees, directors for best director, etc. But everyone can vote for best picture.

When it comes time to select the Oscar winners, those restrictions are lifted. All academy members can vote on all categories, meaning cinematographers can now weigh in on directing, and vice versa. (Voters can abstain from certain categories if they haven't seen the nominated projects, of course.)

- How do you join the academy?

No one can apply to become a part of the academy; they have to be sponsored by at least two existing members of a branch. (Oscar nominees bypass this, according to the academy's website, as they are automatically considered for membership.) Each of the 17 voting branches has its own set of requirements, outlined here. Actors, for instance, must have had at least three speaking roles in a theatrical feature film.

Statistics on the academy's exact makeup are hard to come by. The organization most recently released demographic details for the entire academy in 2018. Including the 928 new members that year, people of color made up 16 percent of the overall academy, and women made up 31 percent. The next year's class of 842 likely improved those stats somewhat, as 29 percent of the new members were people of color, and 50 percent were women.

- What happened to that popular film category?

It's done for, as far as we know. The academy set off quite the brouhaha when it announced in August 2018 that it would be creating a new category to recognize "achievement in popular film" as a way of keeping the Oscars, and the overall academy, "relevant in a changing world."

Accused of being a ratings grab, the proposal prompted questions: What constitutes a "popular" film? Did the academy really believe that box-office numbers reflected the quality of a movie? "We have the MTV Movie Awards for that kind of junk," IndieWire critic Eric Kohn told The Washington Post.

The category, planned for the 2019 ceremony, was officially "put on hold" the preceding September.

- Are there any awards that aren't presented during the live telecast?

Nope. Accompanying the popular film disaster was another uproar regarding the academy's proposed method of limiting the telecast length. Having just come off the four-hour show, leaders realized they needed to shorten it to keep viewers' attention. They announced that certain categories - cinematography, film editing, live-action shorts and makeup and hairstyling - would be presented during commercial breaks and edited into shorter clips that would play later in the telecast.

The academy eventually backpedaled after prominent filmmakers and industry figures signed an open letter calling it an "insult" for the organization to devalue the artists in these categories.

- What's the difference between sound mixing and sound editing?

Editing involves the creation and gathering of individual sounds, while mixing is what happens to those sounds afterward. Craftspeople who worked on a few of last year's nominated films told The Post: "If sound editing is like composing music, designing a set or collecting materials for a house ... then sound mixing would be like conducting that music, filming on that set or actually building the house."

The monsters in John Krasinski's 2018 thriller "A Quiet Place" emit some sort of electrical frequency, for example, so editors Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Ryn created the noise by shooting a grape with a stun gun. That's editing. Incorporating that zing! into the actual film's soundscape is mixing.

- Who actually receives the Oscar for best original song?

The best original song award goes to the songwriters, not the performers. That's why Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez won in 2014 for "Let It Go," instead of Idina Menzel, who voices Elsa and sang at the ceremony. It's also why, despite kicking off the award-winning song "Shallow" with his gravelly tones, "A Star Is Born" director Bradley Cooper remains without an Oscar. His songwriter co-star, Lady Gaga, accepted the award with Mark Ronson, Anthony Rossomando and Andrew Wyatt.

- What about best picture?

Speaking of Cooper, did you notice he landed his eighth Oscar nomination this year? While he didn't act or direct in any of the nominated films - aside from voicing Rocket Raccoon in best visual effects contender "Avengers: Endgame" - he did produce one: "Joker."

Best picture is awarded to a film's producers. The academy caps the number of credited producers at three, though it counts producing partners as a single entity (e.g. Martin Scorsese, Emma Tillinger Koskoff, and partners Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal are all nominated for "The Irishman").

- How have they kept the best picture fiasco from happening again?

Quick recap: After Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway mistakenly presented best picture to "La La Land" at the 2017 ceremony - when "Moonlight" was the actual winner - Beatty told the audience they had received the incorrect envelope. He was handed the card stating that Emma Stone had won best actress, he said, and Dunaway read the "La La Land" portion out loud before he could stop her.

The following year, the Associated Press reported that the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, which works out Oscars numbers on the academy's behalf, had instituted additional safeguards and protocols to prevent the disaster from happening again. In addition to requiring presenters to double-check they have the right envelopes before heading onstage, an accounting partner who has memorized the list of winners sits with Oscar producers to ensure the correct names are read.

 

 

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