AMPAS, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, has long wanted to shorten their night-long telecast of self-flattery, the Oscars.
Years back, when Oscar expert Steve Pond had a book coming out, we discussed this and he said “As long as they’re handing out 24 awards (plus whatever honorary prizes they add in a given year), the show’s going to be long.” Very long. Some years longer than others.
There’s the nub. You can nibble around the edges of the telecast, but can you shorten it without thinning the actual “awards?”
This year, they took a serious stab at fixing that. They talked about not performing all the nominated songs. And caved.
They long ago ruined the promise of emotional, moving and memorable acceptance speeches by setting time limits and “playing people off” who got carried away.
That cut into the laundry lists of “I’d love to thank my agent, her assistant, the assistant’s driver…” a bit, but not enough. And it ruined acceptance speeches by Hollywood legends like Martin Landau and others.
Their latest idea, create a rotating quartet of awards handed out during commercial breaks, was bound to get REALLY important crafts guilds like the cinematographers, sound mixers, editors and costumers upset when it was their turn to not get their “I’d like to thank” moments.
I’m not using “REALLY important” ironically or sarcastically. These are the people who MAKE the movies we all see and adore.
So it was no surprise when that “be fair to everybody” attempt folded up under a tornado of criticism from both those impacted and those who recognize who MAKES the movies.
No matter who you choose to honor online instead of on ABC TV, they’re going to be irked.
And actors, producers, directors, composers, editors, costumers — all of them have clout via their guilds.
The answer then, is to move the LEAST interesting categories with the LEAST amount of clout — filmmakers who are LUCKY to be included in the Oscars on TV at all — permanently into those TV commercial breaks.
I’m referring to the three Short Film Categories — Live Action Short, Documentary Short and Animated Short.
Move them to the breaks, and do it permanently and from here on out. The telecast feels like its not long for this Earth, as relevance fades and audience interest in the medium and a show celebrating it wanes. Running time will be irrelevant when it’s just a streaming program we watch on Hulu.
But for now, move these three and be done with it. Let the entrants in these categories howl. It needs to be done.
Aside from animation, the winners and nominees in these categories rarely become feature length success stories. It’s a blip on the cinema’s radar when this live action short filmmaker wins. Rare is the “short” winner who gets to turn his or her short into a feature, or finds real success making full length movies.
“Sling Blade” started life as a short. “Some Folks Call it a Sling Blade” co-starred Molly Ringwald.
“Before I Disappear,” the Shawn Christensen dark comedy about a suicidal young man who has to postpone death because his sister needs him to babysit, was another.
There are other examples of that, but not that many.
Animation is different, but the animated nominees are increasingly dominated by the Big Animation Houses, so while winning an Oscar with a short gives you bragging rights and glosses up an animation director’s resume and can lead to feature success, truthfully, those filmmakers have already won the “Pixar/Dreamworks/Warners/Sony” is MAKING MY (short) MOVIE” prize.
Even in animation, an Oscar for a short is not a career-making moment.
I enjoy programs of shorts, and consider them worthy of Oscar consideration. But we don’t need to see these hard-working unknowns on TV, even when Steve Martin and Steven Wright and other famous folks over the years have made a top drawer short.
Shortening the show requires streamlining the awards presented. You can’t do that without pain. Forget “fair,” cut the stuff viewers are least invested in.
Move the shorts off the telecast and see how long the show runs without them.
This year’s Oscars will be handed out Feb. 24, without a host and without the cuts to running time that producers have been dying to make for years.