Oscar Crafts & Shorts Pre-Show Controversy: What Was Said Backstage

As if the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences didn’t have enough embarrassment tonight over Will Smith’s clobbering of Chris Rock, backstage craftsman and filmmakers provided a postmortem on that pre-show which saw eight categories relegated to a taping outside the live telecast.

Some took the high road, not wanting to distract from the evening’s win for their or their master filmmaker’s work, while others promptly assessed: AMPAS needs to fix this problem and not shortchange categories again. Those slots which were recorded during the 4-5PM hour, and then peppered into the live show, included Film Editing, Documentary Short Subject, Makeup and Hairstyling, Original Score, Production Design, Animated Short Film, Live Action Short Film and Sound.

“Does anybody want to ask me about what it’s like as an irony, that as an editor, my speech was edited tonight?” exclaimed Oscar winning Dune film editor Joe Walker to the press room.

He went straight into an answer.

“It went down well, I thought the speech. And yet I saw it go out, and they cut the beginning, the middle and the end of it,” complained Walker.

“And that’s an irony. We all stand together in the Academy with equal strength and I feel strongly that was a disservice to our eight categories that were not televised live,” emphasized the editor.

Walker’s win was one of six for Warner Bros./Legendary’s Dune which took home trophies for Production Design, Original Score, VFX, Sound and Cinematography. Four of Dune’s wins were given out during the pre-recorded 4pm hour before the live telecast. Overall, Dune had a great streak, all below-the-line, winning six of its ten nominations.

“We understand the pressures on the Academy financially, but also I think we all stand together,” said Walker, “The statue of the Oscars has five reels which represent the five branches of the Academy as it started, and they are equal size and strength.”

Walker’s comments came much later in the evening. Some of the early winners who stepped backstage didn’t want to court controversy, even though it was the elephant in the room.

Doug Hemphill, one of Dune‘s Oscar winning five sound winners, answered when asked the question about the eight-shunned categories: “We’re here to honor the film and honor Denis (Villeneuve); that’s something for later.”

Ben Proudfoot, who won the Oscar for Best Short Doc for The Queen of Basketball about Lucy Harris, the first woman ever officially drafted by an NBA team, was one of the early outspoken nominees when news was made about the eight categories being diminished. His acceptance remarks were edited and inserted into the live telecast.

However, backstage, he didn’t want that black cloud hanging over his Oscar glory. Asked if he’d consider making a speech on the topic, he told press, that the night was “about priorities. This is Lucy Harris’ Academy Award. I helped her. I gave her an assist. It’s her story. Details of how a TV awards show is produced can create a lot of grumpy people. We didn’t do the film for that, we made it for Lucy Harris.”

“I will continue to voice my concerns,” said Proudfoot, “There’s nothing less or small just because it’s short and I think Lucy Harris’ family will agree.”

“Look, obviously, ideally all the categories should get equal number of air time, and there’s no hierarchy of awards,” said Riz Ahmed, who shared an Oscar win for Best Live Short for The Long Goodbye with Aneil Karia.

“What’s important is that it doesn’t become the story, and we’re here to celebrate filmmakers like Aneil.”

“It would be weird if the story became ‘Oh, how come we didn’t get to celebrate these filmmakers enough?’ By making it a story, we’re adding to the problem. I think the focus here is the amazing film that Aneil’s made, the amazing craft that’s gone into all these categories,” added the actor.

Still, there were those below-the-line winners, whose categories were in the live telecast, who wanted many to remember the ills of the night. If their peers were going to stay quiet, then they would be loud.

Oscar winning Dune DP Greig Fraser, who category was part of the show, made it clear, “I want my particular collaborators in production design, editing, make-up and hair to be equally rewarded for the job they do.”

“I know we balance economics with awards shows, but films are made by sound recorders, editors, production designers; that’s how films are made. It seems odd to have some random relegation. Everyone in this crowd realizes and understands why this happens. We understand the economics. It’s up to us to change the economics. We want to encourage people watching these awards: I’m not an actor, director, but I want to be a make-up artist. I want that celebrity to apply for me in a job I want to go for.”

“They really need to think about it for next year; it’s cheating on people,” said Oscar winning Cruella costume designer Jenny Beavan, whose category was part of the show.

While many nominated crafts people on the red carpet aired their grievances about the eight categories being jettisoned to a pre-show, Netflix co-CEO and Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos told Deadline that he though the idea was “a step toward making it a better broadcast.”

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