Articles: Oscar: New Date Has Industry-wide Impact




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Jim Stevens

Studios, publicists and awards organizers are scrambling even though it’s only early fall. They’re all trying to deal with the new Academy Awards date: Feb. 29, 2004 -- a month earlier than past Oscar ceremonies (the 2003 presentation took place March 23). The shift is having a domino effect throughout the industry and not everyone is happy about it.

"Everybody is having to work harder and sooner and faster," WGA West president Victoria Riskin says. "We have already started the process: We have hired a producer, and we are mapping out what will be in our (awards) program."

The Academy's decision to move the Oscars forward a month is having its most intended effect: It is compressing the entire awards season by a month, squeezing other awards shows one atop the other as they try to compete with the Oscars.

"The public might have difficulty telling one (awards show) from the other," AMPAS executive director Bruce Davis says. "If that turns out to be a byproduct, then nobody here is going to shed any tears."

Nearly every other major awards show has changed its date to fit Oscar: The WGA Awards are set for Feb. 21, 2004 (compared with March 8, 2003), the Screen Actors Guild Awards for Feb. 22 (vs. March 9), the Directors Guild of America Awards for Feb. 7 (vs. March 1), the PGAwards for Jan. 17 (vs. March 1) and the Independent Spirit Awards for Feb. 28 (vs. March 22).

Only the Golden Globe Awards -- believed by many observers to be AMPAS' real squeeze target -- have not moved forward: The 2004 ceremony is scheduled for Jan. 25, (vs. Jan. 19 in 2003). Observers have said for years that the Globe awards too heavily influenced Oscar voting, and by moving Oscar up a month, AMPAS was looking to lessen the Globe’s impact on Oscar’s big night. With the Globe’s staying put, it appears AMPAS is succeeding in getting what it wanted.

According to the Academy's compressed schedule, nomination ballots will be mailed Jan. 2 and due Jan. 17 (compared with Jan. 10 and Jan. 29, in 2003). Nominees will be announced Jan. 27 (vs. Feb. 11), with final ballots due Feb. 24 (vs. March 18), and the show itself on Feb. 29, (vs. Mar. 23).

But Oscar’s move has not been without it’s critics.

"Members won't have time to see the movies," says veteran publicist Tony Angellotti, an AMPAS member. "They don't have time as it is: You receive something like 60 tapes, and if you are attempting to see even half of them, that's already 30 films. The year-end films will suffer because the members won't be able to see them all."

"The little films that open -- films like (2001's) 'Monster's Ball' -- will have the most to lose because they aren't accompanied by the huge blitz of publicity and advertising that 'The Lord of the Rings' or those types of films have," Angellotti adds. "In the weeks between the nominations and the awards show, (nominated films) make way more than after the awards. They'll lose money -- that's the bottom line."

Worse still could be the effect on documentary and foreign-language entries. To vote on those films, members must sign in at AMPAS screenings and watch a majority of the contenders. The Academy's 5,800 voting members might be less willing to physically show up at screenings when they already have so many other nominated films to see over the shortened time frame.

Another impact of the new Oscar night has been on movie release dates. Paramount Classics co-president David Dinerstein says the September-October release schedule makes that clear. Dinerstein points to many early-fall titles that might have opened later if not for the February Oscars, including Warner Bros. Pictures' "Mystic River"; Miramax's "The Station Agent," "The Human Stain" and "Kill Bill Vol. 1"; Buena Vista's "Veronica Guerin"; Paramount's "Beyond Borders"; Focus Features' "Sylvia"; United Artists' "Pieces of April"; Screen Gems' "In the Cut"; Fine Line's "Elephant"; and Lions Gate's "Wonderland" and "Shattered Glass."

Dinerstein's own decision to open "The Singing Detective" on Oct. 17 was a direct result of the awards squeeze. Without the Oscar ceremony shift, he says, "We would probably have opened (the film) at the beginning of November, or possibly even at the end of the year."

Dinerstein says all the early release dates are based on two factors: First, the earlier Oscar date necessitates an equally early release to allow time for a film to be seen. "Like politics, it is about building heat, about building momentum with your campaign," he says.

Second, with the compression of the entire awards season, late-year releases that would have benefited most from the lucrative boxoffice window between the Oscar nominations and the night of the ceremony have seen that big money making time virtually evaporate.

The Academy has left the door open to revisit its Oscar scheduling decision after two years -- if it feels the need. But so far, Davis says, "We have had no complaints, and -- other than the fact that we are doing everything earlier and a little neurotically -- I think things have been fine."

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