If a picture is worth a thousand words, picture this snapshot of the company culture at UPD.
We work hard, and we spend a lot of time together on project teams. But “all work and no play,” as they say, so we sponsor a few office pools as a way to have some fun together outside of the work. “Distractions,” we call them. Fantasy Football, more for the shit-talking it inspires than for the actual playing of the games. The NCAA March Madness tournaments, both men’s and women’s brackets, which we kick off in a neighborhood bar on the Thursday afternoon the men’s games start.
And then there is our Oscars pool which culminates this weekend. The simplest and least labor-intensive of all our pools, all one has to do to be eligible for the first, second or third place prize money is to fill out an online ballot and predict which films will win an Academy Award.
But sometimes working with smart, analytical people who really want to win can have its unintended consequences. A few of our data geeks put a new spin on “friendly competition.”
UPD’s Oscars pool started out about a decade ago just like any other typical office pool. But then, two years in a row, the first and second place winners skipped actually watching any of the movies and instead went straight to the betting sites to identify the odds-on favorites for their selections. The next year we thought we could level the playing field by changing our point scoring to reflect the Vegas odds. If you picked a long shot and it won, you’d get more points. But the year we did that almost none of the long shots won anything, so the “cheaters,” as they affectionately came to be known, won again anyway.
Since then, however, we’ve countered the morally questionable application of the analytical skills of some (what, me judge?) with the creative tendencies many of our staff harbor as well. Now, instead of basing the winning films on what the Academy of Motion Pictures decides, UPD empanels its own “academy.” We have a group of film buffs, mostly unknown to UPD’s staff, who select the winners from the Academy’s list of nominees. It is our group’s choices that determine the winners of our pool.
This has worked pretty well for the last few years, but this year has brought into focus the limitations of our fix from a completely different perspective: what do we do when the movies the real Academy nominates suck?
Okay, maybe “suck” is too harsh, but only slightly so, I think. The disappointment is palpable in our offices this year as many of our part-time movie critics have been grumbling about having to suffer through some of this year’s films just to participate in our pool. The complaints are all the more poignant with the knowledge that there are so many good movies from 2019 that were snubbed by the Academy. The Last Black Man in San Francisco, Us, Dolemite Is My Name, One Child Nation, Clemency, Atlantics, The Farewell. You know, the year’s really good movies that featured some of the 84 percent of the world that isn’t white.
It has become too distasteful for our culturally sensitive team to continue to pay homage, even in fun, to a film industry in which over 80 percent of the directors are white men. So next year is going to be different. We’re going to ask our very diverse group of UPD “Academy” judges to not only vote on the winners but to nominate the selections as well. We’re divorcing ourselves from that other Academy.
Stay tuned. We may be looking for an awards show host just as soon as the rest of the industry catches on to our pool.