The new regulations address what has become an escalating arms race at Oscar time, as producers and studios have become increasingly aggressive and profligate in promoting actors and films for awards.
Oscar-specific marketing campaigns can run the gamut from a few million to tens of millions of dollars, with the promotional budget often outstripping the amount of money it took to make the film (and whittling away whatever earnings it might accrue from an Oscar win), exchanging profit for prestige.
The new strictures may remind Washingtonians of rules that specify what kinds of foods, and under what social circumstances, federal employees could enjoy the last holiday season without running afoul of ethics guidelines. For example, until Tuesday actors and filmmakers related to eligible films could attend an unlimited number of parties and screenings, and for the first time they could specifically include Academy members. (In the past, filmmakers were forbidden to invite Academy members to those events.)
After Tuesday, artists associated with nominated films can only appear at an Academy screening twice up until Feb. 26, when the awards are conferred. They may appear on a panel or in a question-and-answer session before or after the screenings, but those events may not include a reception where food and drinks are served. And until the polls close on Feb. 21, no Academy member “may be invited to or attend any event, including breakfasts, lunches, dinners, parties and receptions, that in any way promotes or honors a nominated film, a nominee, or is attended by a nominee or anyone with a direct association with a nominated film” (other than one of those two sanctioned screenings), and nominees themselves are expressly prohibited from attending such events.
In a preamble to the promotional regulations, which were announced in September, the Academy explained that they reflect the organization’s effort “to maintain a high degree of fairness and dignity in the process” of promoting, nominating and voting for films, and to ensure that “the voting members of the Academy make their choices based solely on the artistic and technical merits of the eligible films and achievements.” (Efforts to reach an Academy spokesman were unsuccessful at press time.)
When the rule change was announced, some observers predicted that the awards season — which begins at the end of the summer with the Telluride and Toronto film festivals, gains momentum when critics and guilds announce their awards at the end of the year, and acquires warp-speed velocity with the Golden Globes in January — would become even more frantic now that filmmakers and marketers could lobby Academy members directly.