The Oscars can boast some pretty big mistakes in its time.
Who can forget the excruciating Moonlight vs La La Land best picture mix up of 2017? Or John Travolta forgetting Frozen star Idina Menzel’s name and announcing her to the stage as “Adele Dazeem” in 2014? Or pretty much any bit of Anne Hathaway and James Franco’s attempt to host the awards back in 2011.
But the Academy may be about to make its biggest mistake yet.
Eight craft categories – shorts (live action, animated and documentary), editing, score, hair and make-up, sound and production design – have all been turfed out of the main event in a bid to speed up proceedings.
The four-hour ceremony (which frequently runs long) has been losing viewers year-on-year (last year – in the worst performance to date – just 10.4 million viewers tuned in).
Read more: Is CODA about to pull off a shock best film win over Power Of The Dog at the Oscars?
Ceremony producer Will Packer is under pressure to chase a new – and preferably younger, tech savvy – audience.
So, in a bid to “keep the show vital, kinetic, and relevant” (as Academy president David Rubin wrote in a letter to Academy members) and attract the “casual movie fan” rather than just the hardcore film nerd, he made some changes.
He introduced a “fan favourite category” – voted for, as the name would suggest, “the fans”; three not A-list, but plenty-well-known hosts to steer the night with a few laughs, and a host of starry names to dish out the awards.
But then came Mr Packer’s mistake. The decision to cut eight of the ceremony’s 23 awards, pre-record them, and pop just a shaving of the best bits into the final edit.
All categories are equal – but some categories are more equal than others
The nominees in those categories will have to be seated an hour ahead of the ceremony-proper kicking off and winners will accept their prizes off air.
A similar idea was mooted in 2019 when the Academy suggested awarding some of the technical categories in the ad breaks. That decision was hastily reversed after an industry backlash.
In practical terms, this year’s changes mean a film like The Eyes Of Tammy Fay – up for two awards on the night – will face two very different potential prize-givings on the night.
If leading-lady Jessica Chastain wins best actress (and she is currently favourite to do so) she will accept her prize in the full glare of the TV lights and be able to bask in the resulting worldwide adulation that will result from the exposure.
However, if the hair and make-up team led by Linda Dowds bag their award, they will have to make do with the memories, and a blink-and-you-miss-it appearance in a montage tagged onto the show as an afterthought.
So why the discrepancy? They are, after all, both professionals, practicing their craft to a high level, and hoping for recognition in a tough, and frequently fickle business.
‘It takes a village’
Speaking to Sky News ahead of the awards, Dowds told Sky News that this film, more than any other she’s worked on, was a team effort.
“It does take a village, that’s the truth. But in this case, it was more so. And I also think when you’re working on something where you are wanting to transform somebody into a real-life person and somebody who is quite iconic as Tammy Faye, I think there’s an added responsibility to that.”
The movie used make-up, prosthetics, wigs and costumes to pull off Chastain’s transformation into televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker, which spanned 30 years.
That translates into hour upon hour of hard work for Dowd’s team, and a heavy burden of the film’s success resting on their shoulders.
Indeed, Chastain is so indebted to the hair and make-up team who helped her create the character, she has said she will make sure she is there to see their category announced, even if that means leaving the red carpet early.
And in the movie world, an actor’s press time is worth its weight in gold – TV appearances, social media mentions and column inches translate directly into increased revenue for the film, and money into the producers pockets.
Showbusiness is, after all, business at the end of the day, just with glamourous outfits and more make up.
Dowd says Chastain’s support means a lot.
She’s collaborated with the actress 16 times and is working with her again when we chat. Dowds says of the stars’ backing: “I’m going to be so grateful that she’s just in there with us in the moment.”
And it’s not just Chastain who’s making her disapproval known. The cutting of these so-called “below-the-line” categories from the televised ceremony in a bid to save time has been met with disapproval from some of the industry’s biggest names.
Steven Spielberg – whose movie West Side Story has seven nominations – told Deadline: “I feel that at the Academy Awards there is no above the line, there is no below the line. All of us are on the same line bringing the best of us to tell the best stories we possibly can. And that means, for me, we should all have a seat at the supper table together live at five.”
Canadian director Denis Villeneuve – whose film Dune is up for 10 awards – called the decision to omit the eight categories a “mistake”, accusing the Academy of “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”
Meanwhile, speaking at the Art Directors Guild Awards, Jane Campion – whose film The Power Of The Dog leads the field with 12 nods – said: “It’s hard for any directors to understand that choice”.
Backstage co-host and freelance entertainment journalist Stevie Wong is equally baffled by the decision.
He tells Sky News: “It’s a total disservice to the teams of creative craft people who work so tirelessly to make the films that we are all celebrating on Oscar night.
“To relegate the editors, makeup, hairstyling, sound, production design, shorts and score to a video montage coming back from a commercial break is just disrespectful. I hope that the rumoured forms of protests of holding their awards and lapel pins upside down by the nominees and on-stage winners will send a message to the Academy to bring back these categories next year.”
The potential protest hopes to use these small acts of rebellion to draw attention to what many see as the unfair treatment of some of a selected number of the film world’s most accomplished artisans.
Admitting she’s been working 18-hour days (Dowds is in North Carolina when I chat to her ahead of working a night shift on-set, and then immediately flying to LA for the ceremony the following day) she is surprised at the level of interest the cutting of the awards from the show has garnered, and the rumours of protests gaining ground.
“I didn’t know any of that. I didn’t know that people were doing these sort of silent protest moments… You know, I’m sure I’ll hear and see a little bit more about what’s happening [when I arrive in LA], but for the moment, I’m just going to be present in the positive.”
While she’s remarkably sunny about being biffed from the main event – accepting it with admirable good grace – Dowds admits if there was no nod to editing the winners back into the show, she might be a little more peeved.
“If they were cutting us out altogether and we weren’t a part of it and it was something that they were just going to announce the next day or something, I think I would have felt differently.”
Karol Urban, president of the Cinema Audio Society, has been more vocal in her disapproval. She called the decision to “pre-shoot and edit and insert” the craft categories “hurtful” and “divisive”, so “keeping invisible art invisible”.
Ms Urban said: “The Oscars is a magical night and it’s a night when the public really takes a look and notices different aspects of filmmaking that are incredibly impactful but perhaps invisible to the viewer. It’s heart-breaking.”
She added: “We feel this decision has turned this night on its head and I do think you will see people reflecting that.”
Biting the hand that feeds it
It’s certainly a kick in teeth for the craft categories to be excluded, heaping all the glory on the star playing the part without recognising the craft that has gone into making them look like the character they then embody.
People love seeing their favourite actors and actresses transformed – and Oscar voters are a sucker for a star so transformation too – but it’s a shot in the foot for the very academy that’s supposed to champion filmmakers not to recognise the craft behind it.
When I ask Linda Dowd about recognition for her work – she says while she didn’t go into a job looking for it – it would certainly be an added bonus if there was a little more appreciation going round.
“I’m a crew member, I am a crafts person and there are thousands and thousands of ‘me’s’ out there and we go into work, and we love what we do… I think we all go in to do the best we can… I’m a perfectionist. I want to excel at it. I want to make the person that’s sitting in my chair really happy, and I want to be able to help them bring their character to life in the best possible way.”
She goes on: “There is so much room for recognition, for not only people like myself, but in every category. And we do work long, and we do work hard, and often people don’t get any acknowledgement whatsoever.
“So yes, I think we need to celebrate behind the scenes, the below-the-line people far more than ever we see. I hope looking forward that we will have better representation for that overall, for sure.”
After working in the business for over 30 years, and now up with the chance of winning an Oscar, Dowds admits: “I’m not somebody who ever thought I’d ever get to be in that place… I’m really quite stunned.”
But with her category falling “below-the-line”, the question remains just how much she will “get to be in that place” on the night – as the very people who craft the magic behind the movies find themselves cut from their own blockbuster moment.
Subscribe to the Backstage podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Spreaker
You can watch the 94th Academy Awards on Sunday 27 March exclusively on Sky Cinema from 11pm – and follow our live blog on the Sky News website and app. For those not wanting to stay up late, you can watch again on Monday 28 at 7pm on Sky Cinema or from 10pm on Sky Showcase