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How the Academy decided to double the number of best picture nominees

June 24, 2009 |  7:27 pm

CondonMarkYou can thank "Dreamgirls" director Bill Condon and producer Laurence Mark for this morning's announcement by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science that the best picture category will feature 10 nominees as opposed to the traditional five.

The rule change took Hollywood by surprise, leaving more than a few studio honchos sputtering about rising marketing costs and the thought of having to say no to even more high-powered directors and producers whining for bigger and splashier Oscar campaigns.

According to Academy President Sid Ganis, the idea was first broached during a post-mortem between Condon and Mark, the executive producer and producer, respectively, of this year’s Oscar telecast, and the Academy Awards review committee, which oversees the ceremony.

By several accounts, review Committee Chairman Tom Sherak, the former president of Fox, picked up the ball and ran with it. “He was a major advocate” Ganis said.

Sherak’s small committee also included former New Line marketing guru Cheryl Boone-Isaacs, Steven Spielberg’s personal spokesman, Marvin Levy, director Phil Alden Robinson and cinematographer Owen Roizman. The idea was proposed to the entire Academy board at a meeting in April. Much kibitzing and more committee meetings followed until the proposal was finally voted on last night, where it won approval.

The final vote wasn’t unanimous, but Ganis wouldn't name the holdout. "This is a board of film artists. It’s often a polite but heated, intense discussion. Managing that group gets a little tough," he said, laughing. “The group gets a little rowdy.”

-- Rachel Abramowitz

In Wednesday's Times, find out more about the decision, its impact on the film business and the reaction of stars like Samuel L. Jackson and Jon Favreau; the financial reasons behind the move; the new calculus for potential best picture nominees; and read commentary from film critic Kenneth Turan and columnist Patrick Goldstein.

Photo: Oscar telecast producers Bill Condon (left) and Laurence Mark. Credit: Al Seib, Los Angeles Times.