Over the last few months, Steven Spielberg has been outspoken about streaming services. The acclaimed director had been campaigning for a new rule that would require films to be played in theaters for at least four weeks to be considered for Academy Awards nominations, as opposed to the current one-week stipulation. In theory, the move that would curtail the opportunities for companies like Netflix, whose films often get short wide releases to coincide with streaming, to take home Oscar gold.
Spoiler alert: The Academy didn’t bite.
Last night, the board voted to maintain its current screening regulations (via The Hollywood Reporter), leaving Spielberg out in the dust. However, prior to the decision, the Oscar-winning filmmaker had already taken a more conciliatory tone with the New York Times.
“I want the theatrical experience to remain relevant in our culture,” he clarified. He continued, “I want people to find their entertainment in any form or fashion that suits them… Big screen, small screen — what really matters to me is a great story and everyone should have access to great stories…”
He digressed, “However, I feel people need to have the opportunity to leave the safe and familiar of their lives and go to a place where they can sit in the company of others and have a shared experience — cry together, laugh together, be afraid together — so that when it’s over they might feel a little less like strangers.”
The article also argued that Spielberg’s drama with Netflix has been “overstated.” If anything, he’s taken more issue with multiplex theaters who remain hesitant to screen movies already on streaming service service. The Times went on to note that he went so far as to call AMC and Regal back in January, imploring them to play Netflix’s Roma following its Best Picture nomination.
What Spielberg truly wants is a broader collaboration between theater owners, streaming services, and traditional studios, as he argued that they need to come together and figure out a way to protect what he calls “motion picture theatrical art form.” Of course, that’s all without acknowledging that the streaming services do serve as a boon to diverse indie filmmakers and less commercially viable titles.
What’s more, these new comments from Spielberg also deviate from his recent statement during the Cinema Audio Society’s CAS Awards while he was accepting an award for last year’s Ready Player One:
“I don’t believe that films that are just given token qualifications, in a couple of theaters for less than a week, should qualify for the Academy Award nominations. Fewer and fewer filmmakers are going to struggle to raise money, or to compete at Sundance and possibly get one of the specialty labels to release their films theatrically. And more of them are going to let the SVOD [Streaming Video On-Demand] businesses finance their films, maybe with the promise of a slight, one-week theatrical window to qualify for awards But, in fact, once you commit to a television format, you’re a TV movie.”
In addition to affirming their screening rules, the Academy Board did vote in a few new rules. One of the simplest changes that signals a big adjustment of perspective was renaming the “foreign language film” category to “international feature film”. “We have noted that the reference to ‘foreign’ is outdated within the global filmmaking community,” said Larry Karaszewski and Diane Weyermann, co-chairs of the International Feature Film Committee, in a press release. “We believe that international feature film better represents this category, and promotes a positive and inclusive view of filmmaking, and the art of film as a universal experience.”
The name change comes with an expansion, as well, with the shortlist for international features upped from nine to 10. The makeup and hairstyling categories have also expanded, up to five from the previous three. Finally, animated and live-actions shorts can now qualify with a theatrical screening in the City of New York instead of just LA County.
In related news, Netflix is currently in talks to purchase Sid Grauman’s iconic Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. If the deal goes through, it would guarantee the streaming giant a Los Angeles theater to screen its titles and ensure eligibility for Oscar awards.
So, perhaps Spielberg can head there?