Don’t say that. Don’t write that. Don’t wear that. No, really: Don’t wear that.
Everybody in Hollywood wants an Oscar. Oscars beget perks. Actors field better scripts and get to charge more money. Writers get to watch A-list directors butcher their work instead of watching C-list directors butcher their work.
But with every Oscar season comes the Oscar rules. And there are rules for everyone Oscar touches. Before an Oscar hopeful can become an Oscar winner, before a journalist covering the Oscars can call it a night, before a voting Academy member can put that final check mark on that ever-important ballot, there are rules that must be followed. Like, a lot of rules.
The Bronx won’t cut it
Let’s start with the producers hoping to nab a Best Picture trophy, or maybe Best Documentary Feature. Before a film is even nominated, a Best Picture contender has to have a commercial run of a week or more in a movie theater in Los Angeles County. (Precisely 323 films met that criteria this season.)
That’s pretty reasonable compared with the rules for Best Documentary Feature. Among their requirements for consideration: Commercial runs in both Los Angeles and the Borough of Manhattan. Not Queens. Not the Bronx.
“A theatrical release in only one of the qualifying cities disqualifies a picture from Academy Awards contention in the Documentary Feature category in any year,” so sayeth the official Academy guidelines.
The film also must be in specific audio and video formats; must screen at least four times a day during its theatrical runs and during specific hours; must charge for admission; must be reviewed by a major film critic; and must be advertised in one of five specific newspapers. And oh: No dinky ads. They must be at least one inch by two inches and have particular information in them.
Congrats, now shut up
Once a film or an actor is nominated, a fresh wave of rules cascades across Beverly Hills and beyond. Most of the regulations are aimed at keeping the voting as fair as possible. The Academy’s way of doing that: controlling not only what voters get (no fancy gifts) but also what they see. And hear.
For example: A distributor can host free screenings of a nominated film for Academy members. But not, you know, excessively.
“Academy members may be invited to a maximum of four screenings of a nominated film that are preceded or followed by filmmaker Q&As,” the rules say.
Also: No free food or even free drinks may be served.
Even the design for screening passes or screener DVDs is strictly regulated: No photos on the passes. No eye-catching artwork on the DVDs.
“The cover art is like the plainest thing you’ll ever see,” voting member Stu Zakim says of the screeners he receives during Oscar season. “Sometimes you’ll see the logo from the movie, but that’s about it.”
Even Oscar-related conversation has strict guidelines. Phone calls from hopefuls to Academy members can confirm an address, but not discuss a film. No emails to Academy members can extoll the virtues of a film, either.
No shoes, no tie, big problem
Finally it’s time for the big night. And with it comes a big dress code, and not for the people you may think.
“The invitation says black tie,” says Zakim, who has attended the event. “But there’s always going to be some clown who shows up in jeans.”
If that clown is a nominee, no biggie; when writer Larry McMurtry won an Oscar for his work on the screen adaptation of Brokeback Mountain, he wore a dinner jacket, tie, jeans and boots.
But if said clown is a journalist, beware: The Academy can, and does, kick out journalists who do not abide by the Oscar-night black tie rule.
Even Oscar screenings have been known to enforce dress codes.
“This season I went to two voter screenings at the Metropolitan Club in New York,” Zakim recalls. “And the invitation said ‘jacket and tie required’.
“But it’s the Oscars. What are you going to do? You swallow your pride and put on a suit, you know?”