​Bafta confirms review of film voting procedures

Andrew Chowns urges greater use of juries; Bafta says it will consider everything.

By Louise Tutt 9 Jan 2020

​Bafta confirms review of film voting procedures
Marc Samuelson. Credit: Bafta

Bafta has promised a thorough review of the voting procedures for its film awards, following criticism over the lack of gender and ethnic diversity in the 2020 nominations announced yesterday (January 7).

Bafta will review the voting procedures across the board to see whether there is room for improvement and if there is room for improvement, things will be improved,” Marc Samuelson, chair of Bafta’s Film Committee, told Screen. “Bafta has been pretty clear that like everyone else it was not happy with the results of the vote.

“Bafta exists for the industry and is of the industry and needs to listen to the industry and be open about whether things could be improved.”

”Frankly every organisation in the industry, but I would like to think with Bafta in the lead, has spent an enormous amount of time and cares very deeply about [creating a more equitable and representative film industry] and has made some progress,” Samuelson added. “But clearly not enough and this is clearly a setback which is very bad news for everybody concerned and not least Bafta who cares very passionately about this.”

Voting reforms

The news comes as Andrew Chowns, the outgoing chief executive of Directors UK, called on Bafta to reform its voting system for the nominations. 

Chowns challenged Bafta’s assertion yesterday that the nominations reflected a wider problem in the UK industry and instead urged Bafta to urgently introduce independent juries to select all of the nominees.

“We are in danger, I think, of coming to a conclusion, wrongly, that the work that Bafta does, that Directors UK does, that other unions and guilds and everybody does in trying to increase opportunities for diverse talent is somehow not working, because it is working. We are all trying our best,” Chowns told Screen.

“In this year, do we think some great films directed by women and BAME people have happened?” Chowns continued. “The answer to that is, ‘Yes, we do’. The question is then, ‘Why haven’t they translated themselves into appearing on Bafta’s nomination lists?’, and the reason for that has to do with Bafta’s voting system and the way it works.”

Chowns criticised the way in which Bafta voters are sent some 80 DVDs - or pointed to around 140 online links - of eligible films to watch in December, “at the busiest part of the year for most people”.

“Time is short,” he said. “People are having to make choices about which of these DVDs they actually watch. It wouldn’t be surprising to conclude they tend to watch the things that are the most well-known to them, by the most famous people. So [they watch] Quentin Tarantino’s movie and Martin Scorsese’s, but they might take a while to get around to Greta Gerwig’s, let alone some of the indie British films.

“Then there’s the problem that Bafta’s membership itself is probably unrepresentative of the population as a whole. It is likely to be white male-dominated and therefore the voting choices of Bafta’s membership are going to reflect the preferences of that skewed segment of the population.”

Chowns pointed out the four Bafta categories that use a jury system - outstanding British debut by a British writer, director or producer, outstanding British film, best British short and best British animation - produced relatively more representative nominations lists this year. “Those ones do have women in them and they do have BAME directors,” he said.

“The jury does, I think, tend to approach it more from, ‘I’m representing my industry here, so I need to come up with a list that I would be proud to see published in Screen, and not all over Twitter with people saying that it’s not right,” Chowns suggested. “Whereas individuals are voting for the movies they like. A jury system evidently does generate a list of nominations that’s more representative than Bafta’s [mass vote].

“For me, what this is highlighting is that Bafta has got to look at the system it uses for producing these nomination lists. I think they should use juries for all of the award categories.”

If the nominations are decided by independent juries, added Chowns, the entire membership could then vote for the winner.

“Once the first-round list is published, then you can say, ‘There are probably now 15 films that are genuinely in contention for most of the awards. We’re definitely going to watch those [DVDs]… and the mass voting is much more effective. They’ve got more time to do it, it’s not Christmas anymore, you’re not under pressure and you can take a more orderly view of it.”

“If you haven’t had time to watch a reasonable enough number of the first list, a lot of people abstain,” said Chowns, who is not a Bafta member but cites many friends and colleagues who are. “They make the ethical decision that, ‘if I haven’t had time to watch a very significant number of these films, I’m not really qualified to vote’. I think a lot of people abstain on that one. Once it’s got to round two, you pretty much have got to pull your socks up and watch 15 films, and I think people do.”

Bafta’s Samuelson said the review would look at all the different voting methods, chapter votes, jury votes and all-member votes. “There are advantages and disadvantages to all three,” he said. ”I am not for one second suggesting the idea of a jury creating a shortlist is inherently wrong as it has been thought about a lot. But you then do have 15 people deciding which are the films of the year. If you take the directors for example, the director chapter of Bafta is 750 people who managed to come up with a set of nominations not including a woman.”  

Bafta members 

While acknowledging Bafta has been working to diversify its membership base in recent years, Directors UK’s Chowns said he suspected the organisation was finding it hard to increase the total number of members too much.

“[Bafta has] traditionally had to limit the total size of their membership because they simply can’t provide a service to more than a certain maximum number of people,” he said. “If they’re not careful the bar [at Bafta headquarters] will be impossible to get into.”

Bafta’s Samuelson responded by saying: ”Massive efforts have been made to change the membership and the membership is changing fast. It’s a bit simplistic to say ’oh it’s a bunch of old white men’. But there is still room for improvement and that improvement will be made.”

Chowns said there was an urgent need for Bafta to address the problem quicker than a long-term transformation of the membership would allow.

“Bafta has got to solve this short- term problem, otherwise every January it will be deluged by bad press and that won’t be healthy for the industry as a whole. The remedy is entirely in Bafta’s hands. If tomorrow they decide to do jury voting next year, I’d be first in the queue to say, ‘That’s a very good decision. Well done’.” 

How Bafta voting works

Bafta’s voting procedures differ from category to category. The entire membership votes at both first-round nominations stage and second-round winner stage for best film, actress, actor, supporting actress and supporting actor.

Individual “relevant specialist chapters” vote in the first round for best director, original music, cinematography, production design, editor, sound, special visual effects and, for the first time this year, casting director. The whole voting membership then chooses the winner.

The costume design and make up and hair chapters are combined and vote in the first-round in both categories. All voters choose the winner. Similarly, the screenplay chapter votes in the first round for the nominees for both adapted screenplay and original screenplay. All voters choose the winners of the screenplay categories.

Four categories use an ‘opt-in’ chapter of members who (morally) commit to watching a certain number of films in order to vote in a fully-informed way for the first-round of voting. These categories are best animated film, documentary, film not in the English language and outstanding British film.

Members who opt-in – they can only opt-in to up to two of the four – then vote for the winner in each.

The outstanding British film category uses an independent jury in addition to the opt-in chapter. The first-round of voting creates a top 15 from which the top three films are automatically nominated. The jury then debates a further three to add from the next 12. A winner is chosen by the entire opt-in chapter from the final six nominees.

Only the outstanding British debut category uses a jury for both first and second-round voting.

This article originally appeared on sister site, ScreenDaily.

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