High Brass Talk about Variety Tweaks & Pandemic Impression – Thebritishjournal

The wheels are now in full motion on an awards season set to be like no other. Campaigning has begun in earnest (check out Deadline’s Contenders events which are jam-packed with buzzy titles and talent) and the Gothams are already in the rear-view mirror. Over at BAFTA HQ, voting begins today, with initial longlists for each category published February 4.

Alongside pandemic disruption, the 2021 BAFTAs will be held after a year of introspection at the awards body, which took flak in 2020 for disappointing diversity numbers from its nominations. The org, which has 10,000 members worldwide including 7,000 who vote for Film, could hardly be accused of inaction under new chairman Krishnendu Majumdar, who took the reins in June. Significant changes were implemented to its voting procedures – including longlists for all categories with gender parity ensured for Best Director and ‘conscious voting’ videos for members – all of which are designed to boost diversity without interfering in the process in an inorganic manner. The actual impact of those tweaks will only be known after the nominations are unveiled on March 9. “We’re not guaranteeing anything,” Majumdar tells us.

Deadline caught up with Majumdar as well as film committee chair Marc Samuelson to discuss how those changes have gone down among BAFTA membership, and their plans for holding the ceremony, scheduled for April 11, during a pandemic.

Deadline: Firstly, how’s 2021 shaping up so far?

Marc Samuelson: This year there have actually been a lot of good films. We’ve had 258 entries which is almost parity with last year’s 269. We want to find that moment to celebrate and highlight those films and the people who made them, we’re just not sure what it’s going to look like yet. When you break it right down, it’s about celebrating good work.

Krishnendu Majumdar: When I heard that entries figure I was really pleased. Obviously some of those films have not yet been released to the public, but they will during the eligibility period, which ends on April 9, and April 30 for Film Not In The English Language and Documentaries [BAFTA has also announced that the Film Committee will accept appeals to allow for a delayed release of a confirmed entered title in the calendar year of 2021].

Our streaming portal opened in September and we’ve already had 80,000 streams, that is a huge increase and we only opened voting today. It’s already close to four times the amount of streams in the entirety of last year’s season. We also still did DVDs this year, for the last time.

Deadline: One change you made this year is to randomly allocate 15 films that each voting member must watch in round one, in a bid to democratize the process, how has that gone down?

Samuelson: We didn’t know what people would make it of it but it seems to have gone down very well. We’ve both had a lot of emails.

Majumdar: People do think it’s really good, because there’s so much to watch. If you work it out, with the number of people voting it’s between 350-400 times each entry will be seen, that’s a real difference. We are trying to level the playing field, there’s not one single issue, there’s lots of interlocking issues that have meant certain films are pushed harder – that can be to do with marketing, press, big stars.

Samuelson: There are 258 films entered, no one is watching that many films. For round one, the intervention is to get people not to just watch all the famous films.

Deadline: So how do you track that?

Majumdar: On BAFTA View [the streaming platform] we can see. Obviously, if you watch them on a DVD we can’t tell if you have or not, but we trust members if they say they have.

Samuelson: Voters will have to say they’ve seen their 15 films. If somebody wants to lie there’s not a lot we can do but we don’t think people will lie. We can already see the huge uplift in what people are watching, people are taking it seriously.

Deadline: How did you settle on the eligibility tweaks this year?

Samuelson: First of all there’s the date issue. You can’t be in two different ceremonies. If people prefer to go into next year’s, that’s fine. Every eligible film must be on the BAFTA steaming portal by this weekend, but you don’t want members to see them if they’re not available to the public, so that’s the April date.

Release-wise, we just want the films to be exposed and have their shot. It has been a moving target because we’ve had cinemas re-open and lockdown twice, so pinning it to theatrical is problematic. Essentially, everything that’s had a legit, proper streaming type of release which was intended for theatrical, and is clearly not a single made-for-TV film, will be included this year. And we’ll review that next year.

Deadline: Let’s talk diversity. You’ve created a series of ‘conscious voter videos’ to inform members about unconscious biases prior to voting, featuring people such as Duncan Kenworthy, Lennie James and Gemma Arterton.

Samuelson: In our review, a lot of people said they wanted to be really well briefed in unconscious bias and to understand it, other organizations have also done unconscious bias work with their members. There’s this amazing woman Huma Qazi who is a diversity and inclusion expert and has worked on them with us.

Majumdar: We also got some actors and people from BAFTA Elevate to enact some of these scenarios to illustrate the point about bias. They will be launched tomorrow alongside the voting. It’s not a silver bullet, they’re more tools. BAFTA has always just got on and voted every year. We really respect our members and voters and we are not telling them how to vote, we’re just saying ‘be a bit more conscious’. It’s your vote – think about it.

Samuelson: The videos are amusing and they give you pause for thought, that’s what it’s about.

Deadline: You made some significant changes to the voting processes too.

Samuelson: The most important thing are the new longlists. This is across all categories. Round one closes on January 26 and we’ll announce longlists of 15 titles per category on February 4. In your chapter, you’ll then have to watch all 15 of those longlisted films if you want to vote on them. In a way, that means the marketing and the scale of the film shouldn’t matter anymore, it levels the playing field if you’ve seen them all.

Majumdar: It also means a huge number of films and performances will have a bit of BAFTA stardust on them, recognized as being in the running, which is a good thing.

Samuelson: If the purpose of the awards if to promote films and talent, this broadens things because a lot of people will now be able to say ‘I was longlisted for a BAFTA’.

Deadline: The Directing and Acting categories are also different this year.

Samuelson: They both have juries now. Directing will actually have a 20-strong longlist which will be gender balanced. The jury will look at that and there will be six nominations, which the whole membership will vote on.

Most of those jurors come from the board or the film committee, and they are worked up by the chair and the BAFTA team. We have to avoid conflicts and we want to balance them so they are diverse.

Majumdar: You have to have a diversity of voice, not just ethnicity and gender. They will also be on Zoom this year because of Covid, which makes it easier for say, someone from Scotland to do it.

Samuelson: Nobody wants a nomination just because they are diverse. For acting, there are so many elements to how you might describe ‘diversity’ so there’s nothing specific there.

Majumdar: We debated for hundreds of hours and met over 400 people. The message was very strong – people don’t want to be there because of the colour of their skin or their gender, they want their work to be seen and judged on a more level playing field. All the interventions we’ve made are to try and get more people to see a wider variety of work, and we’ll see the quality get through to the nominations.

We’re not guaranteeing anything, we’re not guaranteeing any diversity in the nominations. But we’re making a level playing field. I’m hopeful that we will have a diverse bunch of nominations.

Deadline: You’ve also been conducting a survey to better understand the make-up of your membership, and you’ve been on a diversity recruiting drive…

Samuelson: The aim is to add 1,000 members from underrepresented groups over the next two years. We’ve invited about 300 so far, it’s still a very careful process of assessment, you have to be eligible. So far 168 have joined from underrepresented groups.

Majumdar: The diversity survey hasn’t closed yet. In the past, when we’ve done it, we’ve had 33% of the membership respond because it wasn’t compulsory. This time we’re saying, ‘if you’re gonna vote, you have to engage with the survey’. At the moment, 86% of film voters have already submitted their surveys, and I’ve got a feeling we’ll go over 90%. For the first time ever we will have the best snapshot of who our voters are, 73% of all global members have responded. We’ll slice and dice that data and look at where we’re underrepresented as an Academy.

Deadline: When will we see the results?

Majumdar: We’re going to publish it publicly after February, before the awards. At that point, we’ll also set out the timetable for our new diversity targets. It will be ‘50/50 gender by this date’ for example. We’ve never published targets before and this is really good, it will really stretch us.

Deadline: Everything remains a moveable feast right now. How confident are you about the ceremony date on April 11?

Samuelson & Majumdar: That’s not moving.

Majumdar: What we’re looking at are options of how many people can attend. Government advice changes week to week. We might have 1,000, 2,000, 250 or no one. We are planning for multiple scenarios.

Deadline: What if the Oscars move?

Majumdar: Not necessarily. We want to be relevant and the further you go back the further you get away from some of the films.

BAFTA Voting Opens: Top Brass Discuss Diversity Tweaks & Pandemic Impact The British Journal Editors and Wire Services/ Deadline.

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