Tuesday, October 05, 2010

One Easy Way To "Fix" The Oscars. Strangely, They Never Consider It.

Have you read this possible Academy date change article? Basically they want to move the Oscars up to January or early February in 2012. Every year we hear this discussion about how to shorten the season and compete with audience exhaustion involving all those months of precursor awards. These articles and this discussion always cracks me up because the media covering it and the Academy board of directors discussing it never have much imagination, and only reveal hair-pulling angst. "BUT HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE TIME WISE? WE'LL HAVE TO STREAM THE MOVIES ON COMPUTERS! OH MY GOD".

I'll tell you free of charge how this is possible. It's not even difficult. Merely change one of your major rules and you solve this dilemma. Instead of "You have to open between January 1st and December 31st for a one week theatrical engagement in the city of Los Angeles" try the following rule
Eligible films must open between January 1st and December 25th in the top eight markets in the US for a regular theatrical engagement.*
Easy-Peasy. Right there you've fixed a lot of the "time" problems in awards season. If distributors still want to do their totally old fashioned slow burn builds (never mind that most other forms of entertainment are working towards the "NOW NOW NOW" model) they can still do that. They just have to start earlier and be ready for Christmas. Because they have to be open by Christmas in the top markets, not just at one theater in Los Angeles by New Years Eve.  Immediately, you've prevented the glut because some films WILL start earlier in this instance. And they'll be better off for it anyway. Why not try to make your money in a season when people actually DO go to the movies. Why not use all those "best of the year" articles as free advertising. Right now they don't help -- do you think anyone other than movie-obsessives remembers these articles months later when these films make their way into small towns? You've lost your free advertising.

Newsflash! An audience that cares is more likely to watch. In order for an audience to care, they have to have access. The current system punishes audiences, punishes filmmakers who have to leave several months open for campaigning and publicity,  and rewards sneaky confusing releasing patterns from sly campaign-adept distributors that don't serve the movies or the audience or the critical discussion, only the campaign.

And come to think of it this change also helps stave off the argument that criticism is irrelevant. Think of how much more engaged informed audiences are. Why should people care about what film critics have to say about movies that they themselves will have to wait months to see. Should they be flagging all reviews to return to them in three to nine months when they've finally found access to the picture? People like to be part of the conversation. This is not rocket science. It's Psychology 101. Why should people care about something that has nothing to do with them?

If you want to "fix" the Oscars, you have to stop being so isolationist and catering your rules and eligibility requirements to suit 6,000 people in one city (who are going to be catered to no matter what the rules are anyway). Start thinking about the fact that audiences only care about films that they are able to see. You don't have to nominate actual blockbusters to be relevant... but you do have to have a process that somehow includes the audience and allows them to see films that you're talking about.

*I've heard the argument that this punishes the small films before. I don't believe so. I just believe it changes the field to allow them to reach more people if they can... and to do so in a more timely fashion when they can maximizes on the "talk" if they can muster it. In the end it's survival of the fittest, true, but it is anyway even if you don't change any rules. 
 *

28 comments:

Movies with Abe said...

A very sensible suggestion, and I would certainly support it considering that we in New York do tend to miss a few films that only premiere in L.A. for a week.

Julian Stark said...

Agree with this/support it wholeheartedly. It means that wide/wider releases are more likely to happen before the actual nominations/ceremony, which concerns me greatly because I unfortunately don't live in NYC or LA.

NATHANIEL R said...

Neither does the bulk of their viewing audience that they're so perpetually concerned with losing so why not really work on strategies that think about how all of this affects those people instead of just hand-wringing and worried about HOW the voters will see all the movies in time.

there will always be a time crunch for voters. there are ways to work on that. but stop thinking ONLY of the voters.

Alison Flynn said...

I love this post. All really well said.

They should seriously hire you.

okinawaassault said...

This reminds me of Meryl's Golden Globe acceptance speech in 2006.

Here in Canada, the AMERICAN art house films are only shown in one movie theatre or we get them a week late. Funny thing is that with the way things are now, the only way that someone in Palookaville will be 'a part of the conversation' is if they illegally download the movies. Oops.

Amir said...

Movies with Abe,
it's not just NY. obviously, if they change the rules to what nat is suggesting (and i think they should, it's a fantastic suggestion), NY is the first city that's affected. you get lucky that way.
i live in toronto which is North America's third biggest film market after LA and NY and some stuff really gets released wayy after the other two cities.
(Leigh's Another Year for instance, major player in the race, doesn't even have a release date here yet.)
i can't imagine how it is to live in small cities.

Robert said...

Very well put Nathaniel. You make this point better than anyone else. Keep screaming it from the rooftops. Someone has to hear it right?

NATHANIEL R said...

okinawa -- exactly. the system as is encourages people to not pay for films or to pay people illegally obtaining them for them.

I don't personally nab films illegally -- I'm too much of a 'quality of the image' freak and instant watch is fuzzy enough. any worse and I cannot deal. But it's also ethically wrong.

but you'd think the movie industry would learn from the music industry. Pirating takes off when you DON'T deliver your product to the people who want it when they want it. Deliver your product for a reasonable price at a reasonable time and most people would never think of obtaining it illegally. Don't, and more and more people get into the habit of doing it illegally and then all is lost (see the crumbling of the music business for a prime example)

Michael B. said...

Not just that but how many Academy voters actually GO to the movies theatre to watch a film?

I'm not talking about special screenings with Q&A's, AMPAS screenings or even Guild screenings. I'm talking about walking into an AMC and showing your AMPAS card. I'm thinking that it's a very, very small minority.

Especially now that studios are sending DVDs of almost every film that becomes nominated for an Oscar while it's in theaters this is sort of ridiculous. The Academy needs to have a committee to think of new guidelines, not just its Board of Directors.

Franco Marciano said...

Consider sending this article to AMPAS with the title "Humor Me"? Or perhaps more appropriately "For Your Consideration. No REALLY."

Movies with Abe said...

Amir - Of course you're correct, and since I'm from outside Boston, I know that outside of cities it's almost impossible to see some films like Another Year (which is terrific, by the way). It would be really nice if film fans everywhere could actually see all the nominated films in the year that they're actually nominated.

Arkaan said...

Eh, I've stopped caring. The biggest fallacy here, I think, is that the theatrical run is still the most important part of a film's existence.

NATHANIEL R said...

arkaan -- stopped caring? About which part? seeing movies in a theater? the oscars?

Derek said...

Best post ever.

Volvagia said...

And another change that I've been thinking about for a while to entice more people to see different movies:

Different prices for different kinds of movies. Let's take 4 movies released this summer: Inception, The Kids Are All Right, Scott Pilgrim and Uncle Boonmee as examples.

Inception: We hear it's definitely a weird movie, but it's from the director of The Dark Knight, who we implicitly trust: Max Ticket Cost.

The Kids Are All Right: We hear that it has famous great actors and mostly sympathises with the characters, but will we get much bang for our buck?: 40% of Max Ticket Cost.

Scott Pilgrim: Looks like a very weird movie, and I don't know the director, but the internet's buzzing around, saying I could be getting at least an exciting day at the movies: 60% of Max Ticket Cost.

Uncle Boonmee: A very, very, very weird sounding movie with no stars, not much of an identified plot and an obscure "arty" director: 25% of Max Ticket Cost.

Volvagia said...

I was trying to speak from the perspective of a more casual movie fan there. I mean: You don't pay $400 for a Primus ticket for a reason, right?

NATHANIEL R said...

people pay $400 for tickets. They're in higher income brackets than i can ever imagine being in.

people have floated the differing ticket prices many times over the years (I remember James Cameron was big into that plan back in the day... his idea being that big budget behemoths should be more expensive to see than indies made on a shoestring.)

but i think people are used to paying one price for the same TYPE of thing. All CDs roughly costing the same, etcetera, even though the music is different.

but in the end what would help the oscars more than anything is for fimls to be available to see.

Volvagia said...

For PRIMUS in specific was my question. I could understand top tier tickets for Madonna, Lady Gaga or Bon Jovi costing over four hundred dollars. But Primus?? I'd guess maybe $250 at their peak fifteen years ago, and I even think that's questionable. A movie theatre visit is more comparable to a live music show. When you think of it like that, you realise that staggered cost makes sense, especially when you consider: Price of popcorn and other concessions, price of gas/bus ticket and the relative lower cost of waiting for DVD purchase/Video Store Rental/Library Rental, particularly when you take into account that each viewing lessens the per viewing cost of the movie.

Evan said...

I'm surprised that nobody has mentioned The Social Network. Here, you have a classic drama, what might usually be an overlooked film in middle America, that is at the top of the box office because they released it everywhere at the same time. It's the only Oscar-worthy show in town right now, it's everywhere in the news, and consequently, people can see it and enjoy.

Yes, yes, it's about one of the biggest institutions in our country right now, but imagine if something like the Kids are All Right opened in all large cities across the country at the same time. It could have picked up steam much more quickly.

Janice said...

Your best post ever, Nat? Arguably. Inarguably, your most right-on post ever.

Regarding the arguement about "hurting small movies" - the distributors of Sideways opened here in Connecticut mid-year, at the local indie arthouse, and it had the longest run of any movie in that theater's history. Eventually it wound up at the multiplexes, after word of mouth had spread. It can happen - if people get a chance to see it in the first place.

BUt your point about the audiences, about caring, is so true. Why does AMPAS bother with a televised ceremony? Why not just have a private industry supper and hand out the doorstops, if they have no interest in audiences seeing the films.

sophomorecritic said...

i don't think that you can rule out a film that releases in a major market by december 31st, that's the definition of end of year.

that being said, it's a brilliant idea. i have a minor semantics issue with it, but it's worth it

Arkaan said...

Seeing movies in the theatres in time for Oscar celebrations.

The last (and only) time I saw all the best picture nominees before the big show was 2001. I haven't seen a number of best picture nominees from the past decade (Seabiscuit, Seabiscuit with Sandra Bullock, etc). I can't imagine why anyone would at this point. Is there anyone who comments at Nathaniel's website who would say that the Oscars are a reasonable barometer of what YOU like?

More than that, we're seeing more and more films shrink the window between theatrical run and DVD release. So the idea of the "slow build" is virtually impossible. Slumdog Millionaire could be considered a slow build in terms of box office gross, but given that we sustained SIX MONTHS of buzz surrounding it (Telluride to Oscars), it sure as hell didn't feel like it.

Additionally, how many people have you heard COMPLAINING about the theatre experience. The ticket prices, the movies, the concessions, the audiences, the commericals, the long stupid trailers (not to be confused with the good ones. But the ones that seemingly have no connection to the film you're watching).

But here's the kicker. I'm not sure Nathaniel's suggestion WOULD help. The New York Times already posted an article saying that The Social Network's opening was too soft and now it's no longer the best picture frontrunner. The Kid Stays in the Picture expanded rather quickly for a film of it's type and hit a wall very quickly. Never Let Me Go despite being based on an acclaimed book isn't doing so well either. I'm not convinced that a November release would've hurt them any more (And I don't think The Social Network is hurt at this point).

We're at the point where film is becoming like the theatre/Broadway. You go to see a SPECIFIC type of show (the big budget extravaganza, musical whatever). To wit, 3D ticket prices

The end result is that while there's a certain type of film-goer who WOULD benefit from Nathaniel's strategy (aka, adults, not kidults) are the ones who look at the theatrical experience, look at Netflix, and say "Why bother?"

I see Evan using the TSN to disprove my point. Heh. Suffice to say, I disagree.

NATHANIEL R said...

wow you're cynical Arkaan. And I can't believe ANYONE is taking the New York Times seriously. That article is beyond dumb about box office. I mean I'm no box office expert but i know that $22 million for a drama in October without bankable stars is a big opening. What's more the second week drop will be minimal (just watch). It's like when people complained about Titanic's opening or Avatar's openings. Opening weekend is not everything for wide release films. It's just everything with films that peopel aren't going to go ape shit over.

I just seriously think there's something wrong with reporting if people are now trying to claim that $22 million is a bad number. Zodiac from the same director with bigger stars and a more marketable subject (serial killers) opened to half that number.

NATHANIEL R said...

another thing ARKAAN -- "I can't imagine why anyone would at this point."

errr... i'm so perplexed. You read this site and have been reading it regularly for years and you DON'T understand why people want to watch the movies?

CONFUSED I AM!

Arkaan said...

Nathaniel, I can imagine why anyone would try to watch all the Best Picture nominees at this point. I've been reading this site for years, true, but my imagination fails me in that regard. I can't image you deriving any pleasure from HEREAFTER, for instance, but I know if it gets a best picture nomination, you're gonna feel obligated to see it.

As for cynicism.... well, I'm willing to be wrong.

22 million isn't a bad number, true, and the NY Times spinning that as bad is silly. But the perception that people have of it as bad is something could be a factor (the same way Warner Bros said that due to soft openings for female led dramas in 2007 they wouldn't have female led dramas any more. Bullshit, of course, but did it have a legitimate effect). Case and point - despite being the go-to studio for Clint Eastwood, Changeling, despite having a bankable star and intriguing subject matter didn't go to Warner Bros (who I reiterate, have distributed everything of Eastwood from the Aughts) but to Universal.

Arkaan said...

“can’t imagine why, not can”

Volvagia said...

What's worse is: A non-animated drama hasn't been among the ten highest grossing films of the year in six years. Six years! And prior to 2000, you could usually expect one such item in the top 10. If this is how it really is: Abandon that THE FIRST RELEASE MUST BE IN THEATRES rule. (Everyone knows that the people in the Academy aren't even following the rule's intent, so why have it?) And also: The media should be telling people how many people are getting the movies nominated for Oscars or in Oscar contention from libraries. (Sales and video store reports alone would be very misleading in regards to a movie's actual popularity. Divide the average $ per person for renting, purchasing and movie theatre visits to get each number, add them together, add up the amount of library holds and then times by 2.5, and you'll get the approximate amount of people who have seen the movie.)

vg21 said...

It sounds very reasonable, and not difficult at all. I never understood the idea behind delayed releases, especially not since everything can be downloaded almost instantly (though I wouldn't do that since I need the "cinema-experience" otherwise much magic is gone). They really should reconsider the rules. I hope your voice gets heard, Nathaniel :).