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Oscars rule change: good for theatrical films, bad for true independents, international films

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Source: Blaine Ohigashi/Ampas

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Members of the US independent and specialty distribution community have welcomed the Academy’s rule change mandating theatrical expansions for best picture contenders next season – but have also signalled concerns over the potential impact on the smallest companies and international films.

The Academy said this week that starting with the 97th Academy Awards films must expand their theatrical footprint after the one-week qualifying run in 2024 with a theatrical run of seven days, consecutive or non-consecutive, in 10 of the top 50 US markets no later than 45 days after the initial release.

Kyle Greenberg, Utopia head of marketing and distribution, said: “We commend the Academy for reasserting the importance of theatrical at such a critical time and as a theatrical-first distributor, it’s truly exciting to see this sort of reinvigoration.

“That said, it’s difficult not to wonder how the rule changes will impact truly independent distributors, along with non-English language films. These distributors and films rarely have the financial resources to campaign for extended periods of time and have benefited in recent years from qualifying late in the winter in order to expand to more markets at a less competitive time commercially in the new year.”

Greenberg concluded: “Ultimately, this rule change may further crowd the already crowded Q4 awards market, though the January 24th deadline to open top 10 markets may help provide some necessary wiggle room that these independent and international titles may require.”

The costs involved in orchestrating a qualifying release, let alone expanding the theatrical footprint, can become prohibitive to smaller distributors and filmmakers. Booking venues, paying for eblasts to entice voters, and paying talent costs and moderator honouraria can add up. Most campaigns will include Guilds and other voting bodies, which increase the financial burden.

Kino Lorber president and CEO Richard Lorber acknowledged that the Academy rule change should have little impact on his business since Kino Lorber regularly reaches the market minimums outlined within the new requirements.

“Theatrical remains core to our model,” said Lorber. “We are not pushing our festival darlings to stream with token releases.” The list included titles that few people had heard of, but which had little chance to advance in the category. A veteran distribution source speculated that the Academy was sorting the wheat from chaff. The source who requested anonymity said that the Academy was reducing paperwork. The Academy is trying to reduce the number of submissions for best picture that are not appropriate. No impediment for streamers.

Some industry insiders speculate that the rule change was the Academy’s attempt to encourage streamers to get more involved in theatrical. The prevailing opinion seems to be that the rule change, in its current form, will have little impact for platforms with deep pockets. The source said that the rule change will not be an obstacle for a streaming platform. They noted that a platform could meet the new criteria without spending any money on advertising by four-walling the best picture nominee in a secondary market with less visibility. “It is a small step towards what needs to be changed drastically in the qualification procedure,” he said. “It is not a movie without a theatre. I think streamers should not be able stream their nominees until they are nominated. Bernard noted that the rule change could create a challenge for smaller distributors. “None of them can compete with the money of the streamers.” It’s even put some of the studios in an uncomfortable position with how much they’re now required to spend in order to compete.”

The impact on international films

International filmmakers may bear the biggest brunt of the Academy’s new requirements. They may choose to focus their consultants and distribution teams on the international feature films category or other categories to avoid the additional costs that the Academy will require of best picture contenders. It will narrow down the awards. The films that qualify for the Oscars will need a strong distribution behind them.”

In 10 years, only four out of 88 films nominated for the best picture award were not in English. Only one has ever won the best picture Oscar and that famously was Bong Joon Ho’s


at the 92nd Academy Awards in 2020. The film was distributed in the US and backed by CJ, a South Korean company. Janus and Sideshow Films distribute. Ruben Ostlund’s

Triangle Of Sadness

received a nomination for best picture last season, despite being a European coproduction. Neon is distributed in the US.

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