In case you missed the news, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will showcase the Oscar-nominated scores and songs in a live concert for the first time next year. The concert will take place February 27, three days before the Oscar ceremony on March 2, at Royce Hall on the campus of UCLA. A 10-minute (max) suite from each score will be performed, with hopefully each nominated composer conducting his/her own work (at least the composers who can conduct and want to, not all can or do). In addition, there are plans to include brief conversations with composers and their directors “about the process of creating music for motion picture.” Hopefully, the nominated songwriters and the artists will also perform their own songs.
It all sounds wonderful, but let’s look a little closer at what all this could possibly mean.
Over the last few years, much ink has been spilled and much on- and offline discussion has raged over how the producers of the telecast have treated the music nominees. Traditionally, nominated scores have always been shafted, usually relegated to a sorry suite of the five nominees that offers the opportunity to showcase a classical artist (e.g., violinist Itzhak Perlman) who will hopefully draw in viewers but probably never does. As for the songs, from Beyoncé sucking her way through the nominees in 2007 to the embarrassing mashup of the Slumdog Millionaire ditties and Peter Gabriel’s song from WALL-E to eliminating any performance of them at all, it’s pretty obvious where music ranks when it comes to the Oscar telecast. Thankfully we get shitty opening numbers, pointless film montages, and plenty of awkward celebs and poorly written banter to fill in the time in between awards to make “entertainment” suitable enough for the TV suits.
There’s no doubt that something had to be done to give film music (and I include songs in that umbrella phrase) its due. But is this concert the answer?
Let’s look at the numbers… Royce Hall has a capacity of 1,836 seats compared to the Dolby Theatre’s 3,401 for the Oscar telecast. That means, assuming the audiences for the telecast and the concert are the same (which they no doubt will not be), half of the film industry who could actually employ these artists will be unable to attend. In addition, there are no plans to televise the concert so any exposure on a global scale that film music might have (like that of the awards telecast) is shot to hell.
How will the concert affect the exposure of the two categories on the telecast? Will there be a concert montage or will it remain a reading of the five nominees and the handing out of the award, like every other category? Will they eventually start handing out the “lesser” technical awards (which film music certainly seems to encompass given its shabby treatment) in a pre-show ceremony, like the Grammys, Emmys and Tonys do? If John Williams wins a sixth Oscar, will he be relegated to nothing more than a 10-second clip or, worse yet, a photo still or multi-category award scroll right before a commercial break?
I’m not privy to the behind-the-scenes, inner workings of the telecast so I’m hoping this is just doomsday prognostication. But look at how the show treats the honorary awards. They now get their own dinner, which I’m sure is a lovely event for all awardees and attendees, and then the awardees who want to appear on the show are trotted out in a line to take a bow, an embarrassing blip on the radar on the show itself. Do we want this to happen to film music as well?
From an Oscar historical standpoint, if this concert idea is a hit and is continued, how will it affect the nominations? By the time of the concert, at least as it stands next year, the voting will have ended and the concert won’t affect the results. Will the Music Branch start giving preference on their ballot to scores that will sound good in concert? Meaning no disrespect to Marco Beltrami, Buck Sanders or James Newton Howard, how many concertgoers want to sit through a 10-minute suite from The Hurt Locker or Michael Clayton?
As much as I’d like to get behind the idea and join in the goodwill from the film music community on Facebook and other social networks, unless the concert has the global reach of the awards telecast, a live event seen by only 1,836 people in Los Angeles seems pointless. Is this bitterness because I live in New York and won’t be attending (much less invited)? I don’t think so. Anyone who reads this blog or knows me at all knows what the Oscars mean to me. From the age of 14, I used the nominee lists each year to educate myself about film music. While not always the barometer of quality they think they are, the Oscars gave me an overview of the history of film music—from the Golden Age to the present—and a great starting place to discover more on my own. I don’t think it’s an understatement to say my love for—much less my career in—film music is due in no small part to my nearly 40-year Oscar obsession.
Even with all the negativity above, I do hope the concert is a success. But the Oscar telecast is, above everything, a marketing tool and I would hate to see film music get shafted even further or, God forbid, eliminated from the live telecast completely. If I have to see any composer or songwriter relegated to second-class citizen because the concert is eventually seen as “enough” exposure, then I say nay. Hell, this year they even shunted the orchestra musicians to the Capitol Records building blocks away from the ceremony and had them perform from afar. So the writing on the wall does not look promising. But perhaps I’m not enough of a visionary to see all the good this concert could potentially mean for film music at the Oscars. I hope the Governors of the Academy have taken all of this into consideration. If so, I’ll be happy to take the bullet on this one.