In response to the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Science’s controversial surprise decision to eliminate the Original Musical Oscar category, a coalition of filmmakers today issued a challenge to the independent filmmaking community to make more musicals. Billed as the “Indie Musical Challenge,” the initiative aims to inspire filmmakers to create original musical films that adhere to the specific requirements of the Oscar category.
“The Academy said there weren’t enough films to activate the Original Musical category this year,” said Dan Mirvish, director of “Open House,” a real-estate musical that was one of five eligible films in this year’s scuttled Original Musical category. “If that’s the case, then the answer is simple – make more.”

Calling themselves the “Coalition of the Musical,” the team includes Mirvish, Brian Flemming (co-creator of the Off-Broadway hit, “Bat Boy: The Musical,” soon to be a film directed by John Landis), and Jason McHugh (producer of the underground hit film “Cannibal: The Musical”). They are joined by an array of industry supporters including the Independent Feature Project (IFP), the Slamdance Film Festival, the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival, QuVIS Digital, FilmThreat and FilmCrash.

Matt Stone (writer/producer of “Team America: World Police” – which was also eligible for an Original Musical this year) voiced his support for the initiative, “The academy is an institution for studio films and mainstream Hollywood; it’s no surprise that they would ignore their rules when faced with a field of independent films.”

“Independent filmmakers are the best hope we have for original movie musicals,” said Flemming, founder of the indie-filmmaking organization Free Cinema. “I hope this initiative can help nudge innovative filmmakers to work in this genre, despite the Academy’s recent discouragement.”

Added Mirvish, whose “Open House” has the rare distinction of recording all of its vocals live on the set, “Experimentation is critical to progress, and we want to facilitate that with this initiative.”

The “Indie Musical Challenge” will require participating films to adhere strictly to the Academy’s rules for an Original Musical: The film must have at least five original songs from the same songwriting team. All songs must be “substantively rendered, clearly audible, intelligible, and must further the storyline” according to A.M.P.A.S.’s Rule 16 which governs all music awards. The songs must also have been written specifically for the film and can not have been performed or released in any other medium prior to being recorded for the film.

In order to qualify for any Oscar, all films also need to do a week-long qualifying run in Los Angeles. The Coalition has already made arrangements with Lawrence, Kansas-based QuVIS to provide its patented QuBit digital servers to ensure the highest quality Academy-compliant Digital Cinema projection for even the smallest budget independent films.

“Its been my experience that the musical art form needs support desperately,” added McHugh. ” When we made ‘Cannibal:The Musical’ and submitted to Sundance in 1995 we didn’t even qualify for a rejection letter. Ten years later ‘Cannibal: The Musical’ is thriving as a stage play. However, it has been recently censored by parents and administration objecting to a high school production at the Ironwoodridge High School in Tuscon, Arizona, even after all the religious references and obscenity were removed!! So we are in full support of The Coalition of the Musical!”

Mirvish summed things up, “With this Challenge, now is the time to help and inspire other filmmakers. And we’re looking forward to the Academy joining with us to encourage a new generation of musical filmmakers.”

The Original Musical has been a dormant Oscar category for the last four years and was slated for reactivation when five films were eligible for it this year. On December 13, the Academy’s Board of Governors voted to rescind its own rules because to award three nominations to such a slate of films “was not in keeping with the level of accomplishment” of the Academy, according to published reports of Academy spokesman John Pavlik. Three of the five films (“Open House”, “Greendale” and “Big in Germany”) were low-budget independent films, while the other two were Paramount’s “Team America: World Police” and Disney’s “Home on the Range.” “Open House” director Dan Mirvish was instrumental in organizing representatives of the other films and working with the Academy to ensure that all necessary materials were submitted. Mirvish has now turned his attention to securing a Best Song Oscar nomination for “Sellin’ A Dream,” which is sung by Sally Kellerman in “Open House.”

For more info, visit the Indie Musical Challenge website.

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