It’s been all of a week since a major voice in films said anything controversial. Thankfully though, Spielberg’s “hot take” was not a point of horror, but one of cinematic philosophy. Should Netflix Originals, and other streaming movies, be counted as Oscar-worthy material? If they just barely scrape by the cinema showing rules to qualify, should they be counted as much as those films made specifically for a traditional cinema distribution? He said:
“But in fact, once you commit to a television format, you’re a TV movie. You certainly, if it’s a good show, deserve an Emmy, but not an Oscar.”
And he’s not alone; Cannes Festival head Theirry Fremaux has announced that Netflix movies are no longer welcome at Cannes. He said they had previously been allowed to enter because he hoped he:
“could convince Netflix to release them in cinemas. I was presumptuous, they refused.”
There are plenty of thoughts and reactions on this as a whole, but this one stood out:
It’s not a coincidence that the most entrenched members of the filmmaking community are attempting to define “movie” as the thing with the most resource-intensive distribution method.
— Franklin Leonard (@franklinleonard) March 25, 2018
I think there’s a problem of nomenclature here. Do we still call it ‘TV’ if what’s being watched is not on the big shiny black box in living room?
Among Trailing Millennials, 57% of time spent watching TV programs occurs on computers, tablets and smartphones. Other age groups still mostly watch on traditional TVs (57% of time spent viewing for Leading Millennials, 70% of Gen X, 81% of Baby Boomers and 90% of those 68-plus).
And the next problem of nomenclature is one of length of dramatic visual media. Is it still a TV show if it’s 120 minutes long? The Oscar eligibility rules state that the minimum runtime for a feature-length film is 40 minutes, though the shortest movie to ever win the Best Picture Oscar was the 90-minute Marty.
These days pilot episodes and season finales are being shown in cinemas, as well as theatre and music performances, so it can’t just be the venue the thing is seen in. Should we call the Marvel Cinematic Universe a series? They’re all interconnected and follow-on from each other. What about James Bond? The more we chip away at it, the more arbitrary the distinctions start to get. It starts making less and less sense. Semantics and nomenclature are social conventions, bound in nostalgia, that allows people to feel comfortable that they understand the world.
Yes, directing a short film, is different to directing an episode of a recurring series, which is different again to something longer and self-contained. It’s okay to have arbitrary restrictions for awards and prizes. As long as everyone agrees that the rules are pretty much arbitrary, and coming up with a set of guidelines based on length, primary viewing platform and initial distribution method is an exercise mostly in tradition, and not absolute in any way.