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Steven Spielberg to propose Oscar rules that could keep streaming films out of contention

Steven Spielberg to propose Oscar rules that could keep streaming films out of contention
Steven Spielberg, at a recent screening, will make his case before the motion picture academy board of governors. (Evan Agostini / Invision/Associated Press)

In the wake of “Roma’s” three Oscar wins on Sunday, director Steven Spielberg is taking aim at streaming films’ chances at future Academy Awards.

Spielberg will present his case to peers at an upcoming annual board of governors meeting at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, where the award-winning auteur will propose rule changes that would prevent streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon and Hulu from competing in the Oscars without their projects getting a full theatrical run first. The news was first reported on Indiewire.

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“Steven feels strongly about the difference between the streaming and theatrical situation,” a representative of Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment told the site. (A spokesperson for the company did not immediately respond to request for comment by The Times.)

This isn’t the first time Spielberg has made his feelings known on the distinction between Hollywood’s big screen and TV’s small one.

“Once you commit to a television format, you’re a TV movie,” Spielberg said last year during a conversation with ITV News about the increasingly blurry line that separates various media. “You certainly — if it’s a good show — deserve an Emmy, but not an Oscar.”

The news of his pending proposal prompted pushback from director Ava DuVernay, whose recent film “13th” was produced and distributed by Netflix. Noting that the upcoming board of governors meeting was closed, DuVernay wrote that she hoped the board would “have filmmakers in the room or read statements from directors like me who feel differently.”

Episodic-TV director Richard Shepard (“Girls”) also weighed in on Spielberg’s anticipated comments.

The issue is in the news following this year’s Oscars, which for the second straight year included nominated Netflix releases, some of which only played in theaters for a few weeks. In addition to “Roma’s” limited theatrical run, the Coen brothers’ “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” also played in theaters for several weeks before being released on the streamer. “Roma” was nominated for 10 Oscars, while “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” was up for three. Among other streaming outlets, Amazon’s “Cold War” was nominated for three awards but went home empty-handed.

“Roma” won three awards, including directing, cinematography and foreign language film.

Last year, Netflix won one Oscar in the documentary feature category for “Icarus.” (DuVernay’s “13th” was also nominated in the same category.)

Spielberg is continuing a conversation that has occupied the festival circuit for the last few years. At the Cannes Film Festival in 2017, The Times described “an existential fight for the future of entertainment” caused by the digital disruption rocking the world of film distribution.

"What Netflix does is great,” FilmNation executive Glen Basner said at the time when discussing Cannes. “But no place celebrates cinema the way this place does. There are places outside competition for other kinds of entertainment."

Netflix pulled out of Cannes last year after the festival mandated that in order to compete films must be released theatrically in France.

Spielberg had the topic on his mind when he accepted the filmmaker award at the Cinema Audio Society Awards last month. “I’m a firm believer that movie theaters need to be around forever,” he said, according to Variety.

Stressing that he very much admired the state of contemporary television, both for its stories and its tech advances, Spielberg conceded that “the sound is better in homes more than it ever has been in history.” But, he added, “there’s nothing like going to a big dark theater with people you’ve never met before and having the experience wash over you.”

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