leo sketch.jpg

A Scientific Analysis of the Oscars' Music Rolling

By Lord Castleton | Think Pieces | March 1, 2016 |


leo sketch.jpg

Yesterday, I flamed the interspace with cornrows of shift-lock indignance.

Today, I come with evidence.

Yesterday’s was much more fun.

My thesis yesterday was that The Academy Awards should stop playing music over their winners. Winners, who, by and large, are experiencing the greatest moment of their vocational lives and should be given a minute to express their thanks. In an effort to shorten speeches, the Oscar producers allowed recipients to submit their list of thank yous early so they wouldn’t have to thank all the people that we, as an audience, don’t know and don’t care about. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but in practice was ineffective and a mild form of sensory torture. Like when you set your Waze navigation voice to “Arnold Schwarzenegger.”

The award recipients ended up thanking their lawyers anyway.

This, of course, doesn’t line up with the ideal goals of your average audience. It is, after all, a show. The Golden Globes understand this better than the Oscars, honestly. Do whatever it takes to make the show a point of conversation. Serve the audience at all costs.

Part of that audience-serving, I’d suggest, is to allow a little more time to each award winner to speak. Obviously, if you don’t have a means of gently ushering people off the stage when they’ve overstayed their time, you’re in trouble from a production standpoint. In that situation, playing music is about as gentle of a nudge as you can give. But give people enough time to have an actual moment in the sun and say something of importance. Something that matters to them. I’d say one minute. That’s my suggestion. One solid minute to fill with whatever they like. Maybe two.

That’s not what happened at the 2016 Academy Awards.

I reacted to a feeling that the music was not being used judiciously, and was arbitrary in its deployment. That it began earlier with some people than with others. Some people took issue with this on Facebook, as they are wont to do, suggesting that I was a creature of the inner buttocksphere and that the music comes on at a certain point for everyone. Maybe I shouldn’t be such a pinko rabble rouser. There’s no hidden agenda. Everyone is the same.

So, rather than lash out at those folks with innuendo and feeling, I did what any good student of the truth would do. I Neil DeGrasse Tyson’d it.

Because, even though people do cherry-pick the facts that support their narrative, at the end of the day, the truth is ultimately the truth. Like it or not.

So, here are the official numbers, as determined by me, with a stopwatch.

Walk Time: The amount of time from the second the winner’s name is read to the second they begin to speak into the microphone to accept.
Number of Talkers: How many winners spoke/attempted to speak
Music Begins: The number of seconds before the music began to roll over the winner’s speech
Total Acceptance Speech: The amount of time from the second all the speakers in a category began to speak to the last word they said.
Total Speech + Walk: The amount of time from when the winner’s name was read to when they finished their speech.
Let’s assume a +/- of 2 seconds, which is honestly an ice age for what we’re talking about, but just to be safe.

The numbers:

Original Screenplay

Walk Time: 33 seconds
Number of Talkers: (2 total) 2nd began at :26
Music Begins: 48 seconds
Total Acceptance Speech: 55 seconds
Total Speech + Walk: 1:28

Adapted Screenplay

Walk Time: 35 seconds
Number of Talkers: (2 total) 2nd began at :40
Music Begins: 48 seconds
Total Acceptance Speech: 52 seconds
Total Speech + Walk: 1:27

Supporting Actress

Walk Time: 22 seconds
Number of Talkers: 1
Music Begins: 52 seconds
Total Acceptance Speech: 56 seconds
Total Speech + Walk: 1:18

Costume Design

Walk Time: 36 seconds
Number of Talkers: 1
Music Begins: 48 seconds
Total Acceptance Speech: 1:00
Total Speech + Walk: 1:36

Production Design

Walk Time: 38 seconds
Number of Talkers: (2 total) 2nd began at :37
Music Begins: None
Total Acceptance Speech: 41 seconds
Total Speech + Walk: 1:19

Makeup & Hairstyling

Walk Time: 53 seconds
Number of Talkers: (3 total) 2nd began at :33, 3rd began at :40
Music Begins: None
Total Acceptance Speech: 45 seconds
Total Speech + Walk: 1:38

Cinematography

Walk Time: 27 seconds
Number of Talkers: 1
Music Begins: None
Total Acceptance Speech: 46 seconds
Total Speech + Walk: 1:13

Film Editing

Walk Time: 27 seconds
Number of Talkers: 1
Music Begins: 44 seconds
Total Acceptance Speech: 51 seconds
Total Speech + Walk: 1:18

Sound Editing

Walk Time: 33 seconds
Number of Talkers: (2 total) 2nd began at :37
Music Begins: 48 seconds
Total Acceptance Speech: 57 seconds
Total Speech + Walk: 1:30

Sound Mixing

Walk Time: 44 seconds
Number of Talkers: (3 total people, 2 talkers) 2nd began at :33
Music Begins: 36 seconds
Total Acceptance Speech: 39 seconds
Total Speech + Walk: 1:23

Visual Effects

Walk Time: 49 seconds
Number of Talkers: (4 total people, 2 talkers) 2nd tried to begin at :40
Music Begins: 40 seconds
Total Acceptance Speech: 41 seconds
Total Speech + Walk: 1:30

Animated Short

Walk Time: 44 seconds
Number of Talkers: (2 total) overlapping; 2nd began again at :38
Music Begins: 45 seconds
Total Acceptance Speech: 48 seconds
Total Speech + Walk: 1:32

Animated Feature

Walk Time: 29 seconds
Number of Talkers: (2 total) overlapping throughout
Music Begins: 50 seconds
Total Acceptance Speech: 52 seconds
Total Speech + Walk: 1:21

Supporting Actor

Walk Time: 30 seconds
Number of Talkers: 1
Music Begins: 1:00
Total Acceptance Speech: 1:04
Total Speech + Walk: 1:34

Documentary Short

Walk Time: 23 seconds
Number of Talkers: 1
Music Begins: 53 seconds
Total Acceptance Speech: 57 seconds
Total Speech + Walk: 1:20

Documentary Feature

Walk Time: 32 seconds
Number of Talkers: (2 total) 2nd began at :23
Music Begins: 40 seconds
Total Acceptance Speech: 42 seconds
Total Speech + Walk: 1:14

Live Action Short

Walk Time: 36 seconds
Number of Talkers: (2 total) 2nd began at :40
Music Begins: None
Total Acceptance Speech: 50 seconds
Total Speech + Walk: 1:26

Foreign Language Film

Walk Time: 34 seconds
Number of Talkers: 1
Music Begins: None
Total Acceptance Speech: 48 seconds
Total Speech + Walk: 1:22

Original Score

Walk Time: 1:28
Number of Talkers: 1
Music Begins: None
Total Acceptance Speech: 1:08
Total Speech + Walk: 2:36

Original Song

Walk Time: 34 seconds
Number of Talkers: (2 people, 1 talker)
Music Begins: None
Total Acceptance Speech: 42 seconds
Total Speech + Walk: 1:16

Directing

Walk Time: 35 seconds
Number of Talkers: 1
Music Begins: 54 (and stops playing at 1:46)
Total Acceptance Speech: 1:48
Total Speech + Walk: 2:23

Best Actress

Walk Time: 26 seconds
Number of Talkers: 1
Music Begins: None
Total Acceptance Speech: 54 seconds
Total Speech + Walk: 1:20

Best Actor

Walk Time: 33 seconds (14 seconds to walk, 17 seconds standing during ovation)
Number of Talkers: 1
Music Begins: None
Total Acceptance Speech: 2:22
Total Speech + Walk: 2:55

Best Picture

Walk Time: 45 seconds
Number of Talkers: (3 total) 2nd began at :38, 3rd began at :50
Music Begins: None
Total Acceptance Speech: 1:18 seconds
Total Speech + Walk: 2:03

So, what did we learn?

The music is not standardized. There is very clearly a human element to it, and someone is timing the same way I did and deciding when to begin the music. It isn’t an automatic thing. It isn’t one size fits all. That said, the music was used fairly uniformly throughout. More often than not, it was an effort to keep each presenter’s total walk + speech time around the range of about a minute and a half.

For the most part, the music was used judiciously. There were times when it was even used in restraint, like when you could tell it was about to begin during Animated Short and then the winner mentioned that it was very important because this was the first Oscar ever for Chile and they held off on the music for a few extra seconds.

The thing I was reacting to was that the music was used to usher winners off roughly 60% of the time. That feels too frequent to me. That seems to suggest that the allotted amount of time is too short.

And in seven of the ten cases where music wasn’t used, it was because the speeches of the presenters were under a fifty second time-frame.

Interestingly, for the winners, if you accept as a team, the first winner to speak gets the bulk of the time. 75% of it, usually. In some cases, like sound mixing, the music was used to prevent a second talker. The best way to avoid that is to have both winners talk at the same time, bang bang style, to confound the person who calls the shots, like the Animated Feature guys did. Also, the walk from your seat appears to count against you, so getting to the mic faster seems to buy you a few precious more seconds on stage.

But my big reaction was to playing music over the best director, Alejandro Inarritu, who is Mexican. That still seems like a glaringly poor choice to me. During an Academy Awards where Chris Rock is doing backflips to appease a rightfully angry audience of people of color and still bring white people into the boat, trying to play Inarritu off with music felt like more of the same old nonsense. The entire show was a huge mea culpa about the lack of diversity, but it’s one thing to say it and quite another to do it.

Was it racist? No, I don’t think so at all. What it was, though, was a glaring mistake, one that the producers admitted right after the show. It was just an error in judgement or a lack of cultural sensitivity by the person calling the shots. The people calling the shots, by the way, were Reginald Hudlin and David Hill, so it’s not like there’s some kind of white conspiracy at the top.

awards-oscars hudlin hill.jpg

This entire show was about getting Leonardo DiCaprio his Oscar. America loves her movie stars and there are precious few of them left. There was never, not for a single second, any sense that music would kick on during DiCaprio’s speech - and that’s a good thing because I loved every word of it. I would advocate for that to happen with everyone. Let them all talk. I know I’m in the minority and people want to know the winners and get on with their lives. I’m more interested in what they have to say.

Here’s Leo’s speech. Listen to it and tell me if you ever have even the slightest sense that any music is going to play him off, at any point.


Of course not. His speech is the show.

But if you’re going to extend that sort of courtesy to one person, you have to extend it to everyone. That’s what actual equality is all about. It’s not about favoring one group over another. It’s not about an Oscar ‘make-good’ next year for Latinos. It’s not about any of that. It’s that the rules apply to everyone, no matter what their race, gender, sexual preference, nationality or spiritual affiliation is. Everyone plays on the same field.

At the core of every -ism is when people have their voice taken away. Certainly, inside the lofty creative community of the Academy Awards we can strive for a balance where the power of voice is distributed evenly. Yes, we naturally have more interest in what the movie star has to say than what the costume designer has to say. That’s our Achilles’ heel. But everyone has a story and everyone has a voice and by letting them complete those thoughts we give ourselves the option to understand a different viewpoint and to grow as a people and as a world.

Really. It’ll only take a minute or two.



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