Tuesday, October 5, 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. 

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