After reporting on all the problems regarding the registration process for the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ initial foray into the perilous world of online voting for Oscars this year, and then breaking the story about paper ballots being sent automatically to any voter who didn’t register or didn’t want to attempt voting online, there still seems to be frustration on the part of a number of voters.
Since the voting period opened for nominations on December 17th (it runs thorugh January 3rd) , some disgruntled members have told me it just isn’t working very well. As my colleague Mike Fleming reported the site was even completely down early in the process. The system, which requires members to have a special password (this in addition to their regular password that gains them entrance into the Academy’s website) and a code supplied by a phone call to an appointed phone number only when they actually set out to vote, is designed specifically for the Academy by a company, Everyone Counts (the result of an 18-month search), that does the same thing for the U.S. government with clients including the Department of Defense. It’s so loaded with specific safeguards and military-level encryption methods to keep hackers and imposters out that it is causing extreme frustration for some who have tried to vote. As a result some fear it could supress voter turnout although we won’t know since the Academy has never released figures of how many actually vote.
“It’s so poorly conceived. When you think about it I probably won’t vote this round as it’s too much trouble. They had to reset my password as it wasn’t taking it. This requires me to write everything down and know where I put it,” said one voter who has a vested interest in the race as they represent a couple of contenders. “Next year I am signing up for a paper ballot.” This person did email me earlier today to say they finally voted but only after getting TWO security codes via text message. The first was incorrect but the second finally worked and enabled them to vote, “but I’m pissed off about it”.
The code that voters get only comes up AFTER you get your VIN and then password correct. A warning then comes up and says , “A one-time security code has been generated for you. You should receive this code via phone call or text message depending on the preference you selected during the Electronic Voting Registration process. If you do not receive this code within 15 minutes, please click the ‘Send New Code’ link and a new code will be generated and sent to you”. Problem is the voter must be by the phone number provided for a call verification before getting the code. The bottom line is many members just don’t realize the process they signed up for can be more complicated than writing down a few names and pressing ‘send’, which is the way it works for other voting organizations that don’t provide the kind of hacker temptations of the Oscars.
One voter told me he accidentally put in the wrong password (his regular Academy password instead of the special one provided for the balloting) and was locked out and had to start over although he said the Academy’s support line was very helpful. At least it is not staffed in India. Yet.
One studio campaign consultant and longtime Academy member told me they were locked out three times before giving up to start trying again tomorrow. For an organization like the Academy coming into the electronic age is not easy and there will always be strong resistance. But unlike every other awards organization the Oscars would really be in danger of getting hacked if some enterprising individual could find a way in. It would be big news. The secrecy and integrity of the Academy’s voting process has never been breached in 84 years. It is a dream target. That is why the Academy has meticulously designed a system that is highly secured against hacking. Unfortunately that’s precisely how some of its frustrated, less techy members must be feeling when they try to simply cast a ballot.
For at least one member just getting on that ballot has been frustrating this year. Six-time Oscar nominated songwriter Diane Warren had her title song for Silver Linings Playbook ruled ineligible. The song, Silver Linings plays under one scene for about 40 seconds in the film but the Academy’s Music peer group committee that decides these things (Warren herself is a member) held a vote recently and decided it wasn’t enough to make it eligible. They also ruled another song in the film ineligible for similar reasons and even deep-sixed Danny Elfman’s score which comprised about 15 minutes of straight underscore. Apparently the committee felt it was overwhelmed by other elements of the soundtrack, meaning a large number of songs, and wasn’t “substantial” enough. Producers of the film and The Weinstein Company were understandably miffed and Warren says Harvey Weinstein and director David O. Russell even wrote impassioned pleas on her behalf which she read to the music board, but to no avail. “Their reason is my song wasn’t substantial enough in the film, but they don’t define what that is. It is a key scene in the film where Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence’s characters are rehearsing their big dance. There are 75 songs eligible this year and I can’t be one of them?,” asks Warren. “If a song says something important, and even if it is only 10 seconds, then it should be eligible. I’m not saying that I should be nominated, I just wanted to be eligible. The music is like a character in the film.”
Warren said she was the one who spoke up a couple of years ago about how ridiculous the music branch’s complicated point system of voting was and that changed. She spoke up last year about returning to the ideal of having five songs nominated instead of two or three in recent years and that was changed too, but she doesn’t believe her song’s exclusion from eligibility was any kind of retribution for being a squeaky wheel on the committee. She just believes in the tune and its significance for the film. “I worked harder on this song than any other song in my career. It’s the first time I’ve had a title song in a movie,” she said.
Warren wasn’t alone. Among other songs scrapped for various reasons was superstar Taylor Swift’s Golden Globe-nominated “Safe And Sound” from The Hunger Games.
Rules are rules.
Awards Columnist Pete Hammond - tip him here.