Meet Hannah and Mackenzie, two women standing at the intersection of legacy media and new tech, making "Internet odysseys," such as their new Web series Whatever, Linda, alongside television and films. Read more about their journey at tgam.ca/whateverlinda. In their third monthly column, they consider what Hollywood's biggest night professionally means to them.
The Oscars are the most important night in the film industry: Last year, 43 million people tuned in, making it the largest audience the Academy Awards have seen since 2002. And year after year, the winning films increase their box-office earnings by millions, and nominated actors get propelled into stardom; the opportunities for exposure and career advancement are clear.
Yet the numbers don't add up elsewhere. Despite strong Oscar-night viewership, overall film attendance is down – way down. In fact, 2014 saw the lowest number of cinema tickets bought since 1995, according to the Motion Picture Association of America.
It doesn't take a cinephile to see that celebrity voyeurism has become the major draw on Oscar night, between the red carpet, the dresses and the mani-cam. So why are people who tune in to the greatest awards show on Earth giving short shrift to what should be its star attractions?
From the point of view of two young, female filmmakers, if the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences wants to turn the spotlight from celebrity back to cinema, it needs to seriously reconsider what makes an Oscar-worthy film, who makes deserving nominees and who holds the power to bestow these honours.
So, dear Oscar, here are four ways we think you could use a makeover.
Filmmaking has gotten a major facelift by virtue of its new-found affordability. We can all shoot gorgeous, juicy, 1080p HD video on our smartphones, then release it ourselves via that great equalizer, the Internet.
For us, it means we can make what we want, with no need to wait for the green light from a big network or studio; refine the idea, raise several thousand dollars and say yes.
But with so much creative power available to the public, why has so much of the film industry stayed the same?
Instead of celebrating studio films that average a budget of $41-million (U.S.) – Boyhood being this year's extraordinary exception – the academy could open up a new category for best indie feature. It's time to celebrate the scores of brave filmmakers telling incredible stories for under $3- to $5-million.
Out of 127 total nominations, only 25 of them are women (with 40 per cent of those coming from actress-only categories). Outside of two women in the running for best documentary and four nominated producers, there are no female directors, cinematographers or composers with Oscar nods.
It isn't that women aren't making award-worthy films: Ava DuVernay, director of best-picture nominee Selma, and Gillian Flynn, who adapted her bestselling novel Gone Girl into an acclaimed film, were snubbed for best director and best adapted screenplay.
Interestingly, a Los Angeles Times study of academy membership found that only 23 per cent of voters are women. Now, women do not necessarily vote for women, but this percentage is representative of the lack of female presence in the industry, outside of acting. Imagine if the academy took a cue from Bell Media's BravoFact initiative, which mandates that 50 per cent of its membership be women – we wouldn't be surprised if Oscar nominations looked just a bit different in this scenario.
It isn't only women who are unacknowledged or underrepresented by the academy. Missing too are young, celebrated filmmakers such as Quebec's Xavier Dolan. His feature, Mommy, won last year's Cannes Jury Prize, but it is glaringly absent from Oscar's best foreign-language film category. He is a Caucasian male director – fitting most of the academy's ideal nominee profile – but is only 25, less than half the median age of voters.
Could ageism be at work here?
The average age of writers nominated for best original screenplay this year is 52 years old, and best director nominees average 49. It is often true that becoming a director or writer of merit takes persistence, dedication and time, but that doesn't mean younger filmmakers (and their eager audiences) should be ignored.
Perhaps our American counterparts could follow in the footsteps of the Canadian Screen Awards' Under 30 Voting membership, which makes it easier and cheaper for those with proper credits and experience to join – and vote. Otherwise filmmakers such as Dolan may be in for the wait of a lifetime before getting their Oscar due.
Meet the average Oscar voter: a 62-year-old Caucasian man.
The academy does not openly share its membership demographics, but the L.A. Times study found that 94 per cent of its 5,765 voters are Caucasian, 77 per cent are male and a grand total of 14 per cent are under 50 years old.
Not surprisingly, then, the Academy Awards also have an ethnicity problem. Out of 127 nominees, only nine of them are non-Caucasians. Yet by the MPAA's count, more than half of ticket sales last year were purchased by – again, no surprise – non-Caucasians.
You get the picture: If the academy could commit to dramatically diversifying its membership, there's no doubt a more inclusive and invigorated organization would make for more inclusive and invigorating nominees to root for.
Still, you will find us at an Oscar-night party all the same, with all the food, the tweeting and, yes, the celebrity-gawking. The Academy Awards are no less important in their current state. We just wish Oscar would catch up with the times.