By Mitchell Block | SydneysBuzz February 28, 2013 at 1:00PM
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As this last weekend approached I was faced with marking my Academy Award ballot. This process is always really difficult. How does one sort out the “best” film or accomplishment of five or nine in the case of the Best Picture? For me it has been over 30 years of screenings. Thousand of films. Some really great films and many not so great. I also try to think what it means to be one of the nominees. What was the off-screen story but always more importantly what their contribution was to the work and how the film compares to others. What’s great about short films is that they can be made for almost nothing by a few filmmakers without a large budget, crew or cast.
The Academy has three nomination categories for films less than 41 minutes in length: short fiction, documentary and animation. Once nominated, there are public screenings and panels to celebrate the nominated films at the Academy in Beverly Hills. A group photograph of all the nominees is taken with a large Oscar in the lobby of the Academy headquarters. It is really a wonderful experience.
It wasn’t always like that. There were no special celebrations for the short or documentary films until the l980s. While the Foreign Language films had their seminar, nothing was done for these films. We tried to remedy that in the 1980s and started the Direct Cinema receptions and screenings with UCLA, USC and, a few years later, the IDA sponsored “Docuday” and the Academy started doing an annual reception for the shorts and documentary filmmakers. Today the Academy’s evening receptions for the short films, animated features (a relatively new Oscar category) and the documentaries are annual sell-out events. The filmmakers and their works are celebrated and it has become a highlight of the Oscar week for the filmmakers and those associated with the films.
When I first became a member of the Academy the short films and animation branch was headed by a number of extraordinary talents: T Hee, Saul Bass and June Forey. These three remarkable artists represented classic Disney animation (T. Hee), fiction and narrative short films (Saul Bass), and the television and theatrical films (June Forey, who voiced hundreds of characters.)
Saul Bass articulated the branch’s membership policy, “We want them to be part of our branch.” This liberal interpretation allowed documentary filmmakers like Ken Burns as well as voice artists and creatives like Stan Friedberg (and June Forey) to be part of a group that included IMAX filmmakers as well as classic character animation directors, colorists, layout artists, producers and other key short film and animation filmmakers. The animation filmmakers represent both the studio animators and the independent animators who work globally doing personal work as well as studio work. Other governors from 1979 to the present have included Hal Elias, who served on the Academy board for 37 years and was a short film publicist for MGM among other things; Bill Littlejohn, who worked on over 90 films as an animator ranging from Charley Brown, Peanuts Christmas Specials to working with the Hubleys’; Bill Scott, who acted and wrote over a hundred animated films, and Carl Bell, who worked on over 35 films at Disney in its animation department.
Unlike most of the other branches, the Short Films branch screens all of the submitted films in 16mm and 35mm and now in Digital Cinema, in an effort to find and nominate the best short films produced in the world. The branch rules allowed films to qualify in an effort to encourage more international entries in the 1990s by taking a first prize at key festivals in addition to the method that all Academy films can use to qualify, a theatrical week long (now three day for shorts) run in a theater in Los Angeles County. Branch screenings were expanded to New York to permit more members to participate in the nomination process in the 1990s. The final short listed screenings are in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Over one-third of the branch participates in the voting. The best change took place this year, sending DVD screeners to all Academy members of the short live action and animated nominated films. While this still won’t force members to watch them, members can’t claim they can’t see them. This is not only great for the branch but great for the nominated filmmakers. Who would not want to screen their short film for Academy members?
The process of the branch for selecting Nominees has remained unchanged for years—members screen the films in a theater rather than on DVDs, which is how the Documentary branch is dealing with the flood of feature docs and their unwillingness to trust committees. Nothing beats seeing films projected on a large screen with perfect sound and that is now lost. In a two step process, a committee (self selected from the branch membership) screens the films and the 15 films with the highest scores are short listed. The short listed films are then screened again and members vote.
The current Short Film Branch governors are Jon Bloom (pictured with the 2007 nominees), a 1983 fiction short nominee, filmmaker, editor and producer who chairs the branch, animator and Disney Creative Head and multi-Oscar winner, John Lasseter, and William "Bill" Kroyer,an award-winning director of animation and computer graphics commercials, short films, movie titles and theatrical films and faculty member Chapman College.
One of the challenges for the branch is how to grow live action producing members. With the addition of feature animation to the awards and the large number of feature animation films being released, the branch would like to have the most qualified animators to become members. The number of animators grows at a far faster rate than that of the live action filmmakers since only a few live action filmmakers can qualify for membership. The commercial success of animated features, the long production schedules and the large number of animators who work in qualifying positions allows for six plus individuals per picture to be eligible for membership. With five nominees a year, the number of individuals who can play a key role in two or three features becoming eligible for membership can easily approach 30 plus individuals annually. Add in the short animation nominees and competition for the limited new slots allocated to the branch can be brutal. The talent pool of animators is both astonishingly strong and suggests that Hollywood can easily double production from the 15 or so films made annually to 25 or 30 without having to compromise on talent.
Many of the filmmakers in the branch who make their Oscar nominated or winning live action short have made or are interested in making feature length works. A number of recent nominees or winners have made that transition. The following list looks at all of the live action nominees from 2001 to 2011, using the Internet Movie Database I looked up each nominee and listed what they reported they were doing professionally. Obviously, this is not intended to show everything. In each case, I listed credits or summarized credits shown in the IMDB listing.
Some observations about 11 years of Live Action Short Film Academy Award Nominees:
- There were 86 nominations (out of a possible 110) This is because in some years only three films were nominated and in some cases only one filmmaker from a film was eligible for a nomination.
- Non-US based filmmakers dominate this category. Despite the huge number of short films being made annually in the US, a majority of the nominated films come from filmmakers based abroad. In part this is due to the government subsidies available, but it is also due to the strong training programs, commercial support for the short films and a rich tradition of theatrical shorts. This year (2012) four of the five films in the live action category are from US filmmakers. This is an unusual year.
- Few filmmakers have more than one nomination, only a handful of the nominees have made multiple Academy worthy short films.
- As one might expect, many of the filmmakers have continued their film work in television, some in features.
- The European Oscar winners (vs nominees) have done better at snagging features after a win than have their American counterparts. Again, this is likely a function of government support for entry features.
- Perhaps one of the short films seem to have been turned into a feature (or television) film. Some of the short films are intended to be sizzle reels for features, but it is not clear why so few of the nominated short films have been turned into features.
- A number of the Oscar winners have not continued working in film. No record of future productions are shown on IMDB. It would be interesting to see what they are doing now.
- Two of the Oscar winners have written critically award winning screenplays, one received two Academy Award nominations for his screenwriting.
- None of these nominees have gone on to win Oscars in directing or producing for feature films.
The data is from the Academy and the IMDB databases.
Apologies in advance, if credits were missed or other factual errors were made. In a week we’ll be able to add this year's winner.
SHORT FILM (Live Action) (* won Academy Award)
- *the accountant -- Ray McKinnon: Two Features: Randy and the Mob 2007 and Crystal 2004 Lisa Blount: Produced these features.
- Copy Shop -- Virgil Widrich
- Gregor's Greatest Invention -- Johannes Kiefer
- A Man Thing (Meska Sprawa) -- Slawomir Fabicki, Two Features: Loving 2012, Retrieval 2006 (Also wrote) Bogumil Godfrejow Has shot multiple features
- Speed for Thespians -- Kalman Apple, Shameela Bakhsh
- Fait D'Hiver -- Dirk Beliën, Anja Daelemans produced Comrade Kim Goes North
- I'll Wait for the Next One... (J'Attendrai Le Suivant...) -- Philippe Orreindy, Thomas Gaudin
- Inja (Dog) -- Steven Pasvolsky Feature, Deck Dogz Joe Weatherstone, produced episodic television.
- Johnny Flynton -- Lexi Alexander, directed 3 features: Lifted, Punisher: War Zone and Green Street Hooligans Alexander Buono as a DP has shot series and features
- *This Charming Manon (Der Er En Yndig Mand) -- Martin Strange-Hansen, Mie Andreasen produced both features, series and documentaries.
- Die Rote Jacke (The Red Jacket) -- Florian Baxmeyer Multiple television films and series
- Most (The Bridge) -- Bobby Garabedian, William Zabka Mr. Zabka has appeared as an actor in numerous films and television shows
- Squash -- Lionel Bailliu Features: Fair Play and Denis (in post)
- (A) Torzija [(A) Torsion] -- Stefan Arsenijevic Directed: Lost and Found, Love and Other Crimes, and Do Not Forget Me Istanbul
- *Two Soldiers -- Aaron Schneider,ASC (Cinematographer numerous credits) and feature, Kiss the Girls, Andrew J. Sacks Series The Closer (98 episodes) and Major Crimes.
- Everything in This Country Must -- Gary McKendry Directed Killer Elite, Joseph and the Girl
- Little Terrorist -- Ashvin Kumar Produced and Directed features (2) and documentaries (2)
- 7:35 in the Morning (7:35 de la Mañana) -- Nacho Vigalondo Directed and written multiple films, series, shorts
- Two Cars, One Night -- Taika Waititi, Acted and directed and written multi television and films Ainsley Gardiner NZ based producer of multiple shorts, television and feature films
- *Wasp -- Andrea Arnold Actor, director and writer of numbers films, television programs
- Ausreisser (The Runaway) -- Ulrike Grote Ms. Grote has acted in over 42 programs, features, television series and films
- Cashback -- Sean Ellis, Director/Writer Metro Manila, The Broken Lene Bausager Producer, The Broken, Ginger and Rosa
- The Last Farm -- Rúnar Rúnarsson, Director/Writer Volcano, Thor S. Sigurjónsson Produced multiple features
- Our Time Is Up -- Rob Pearlstein, Director/Writer multiple television and a feature Pia Clemente Producer, documentaries
- *Six Shooter -- Martin McDonagh Writer/Director Seven Psychopaths, In Bruges
- Binta and the Great Idea (Binta Y La Gran Idea) -- Javier Fesser, no other credits shown Luis Manso Produced multiple features
- Éramos Pocos (One Too Many) -- Borja Cobeaga Writer, multi films and television series
- Helmer & Son -- Søren Pilmark no other credits, Kim Magnusso Producer over 100 film, television films (4 Best Short Film Academy Award nominations) Won for Ernst & Lyset
- The Saviour -- Peter Templeman, no other credits Stuart Parkyn, Producer, multi-short film credits
- *West Bank Story -- Ari Sandel Director, one short, one documentary
- At Night -- Christian E. Christiansen, Directed, Features and television series Louise Vesth Producer, multi features
- Il Supplente (The Substitute) -- Andrea Jublin
*Le Mozart des Pickpockets (The Mozart of Pickpockets) -- Philippe Pollet-Villard Actor and director short films, a television film
- Tanghi Argentini -- Guido Thys, Director, Multiple television series Anja Daelemans, nominated for 2 Short Film nominations (Gridlock, 2002) Producer/PM various
- The Tonto Woman -- Daniel Barber, Directed The Keeping Room, Harry Brown Matthew Brown Produced 2 shorts
- Auf der Strecke (On the Line) -- Reto Caffi
- Manon on the Asphalt -- Elizabeth Marre, Director, Television series Olivier Pont Director, Television series
- New Boy -- Steph Green, Director Run and Jump Tamara Anghie Producer Run and Jump
- The Pig -- Tivi Magnusson, Producer Over 64 titles many short films, Dorte Høgh Writer multiple series, (Directed The Pig)
- The Door -- Juanita Wilson, Director As If I Am Not There James Flynn Multiple Producer credits for over 50 titles, television and theatrical
- Instead of Abracadabra -- Patrik Eklund, Director, Television film and feature Mathias Fjellström
- Kavi -- Gregg Helvey
- Miracle Fish -- Luke Doolan, Multiple credits as editor Drew Bailey Multiple credits as Assistant Director
- *The New Tenants -- Joachim Back, no other credits shown as a director, Tivi Magnusson This is Mr. Magnusson’s first Academy Award and second nomination. See 2008.
- The Confession -- Tanel Toom
- The Crush -- Michael Creagh
- *God of Love -- Luke Matheny Feature Love Sick and multiple Television series episode
- Na Wewe -- Ivan Goldschmidt
- Wish 143 -- Ian Barnes, Multiple directing credits Television Samantha Waite Credits as production coordinator on multiple titles
- Pentecost -- Peter McDonald, Credits as actor Eimear O'Kane Credits as Producer on The Shadows and on television programs.
- Raju -- Max Zähle, Director, Television series Stefan Gieren Producer-Writer credit on feature film, Kunduz: The Incident at Hadji Ghafur
- *The Shore -- Terry George, Writer Two Oscar nominations for screenplays In the Name of the Father and Hotel Riwanda Producer and director on films and television series Oorlagh George Numerous credits as Assistant on features, documentaries and television shows
- Time Freak -- Andrew Bowler Writer and actor in a short film Gigi Causey Production manager, producer shorts, series and films
Credits: Editing by Jessica Just for SydneysBuzz
Mitchell Block specializes in conceiving, producing, marketing & distributing independent features & consulting. He is an expert in placing both completed works into distribution & working with producers to make projects fundable. He conducts regular workshops in film producing in Los Angeles and most recently in Maine, Russia and in Myanmar (Burma).
Poster Girl, produced by Block was nominated for a Documentary Academy Award and selected by the IDA as the Best Doc Short 2011. It was also nominated for two Emmy Awards and aired on HBO. He is an executive producer of the Emmy Award-winning PBS series Carrier, a 10-hour series that he conceived & co-created. Block is a graduate of Tisch School and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Business. He is a member of Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, the Television Academy, a founding member of BAFTA-LA and has been teaching at USC School of Cinematic Arts since 1979. Currently Block teaches a required class in the USC Peter Stark Producing Program.
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