What a Difference an Oscar® Makes
Producer of 2011’s Oscar-winner The Lost Thing, Sophie Byrne isn’t surprised in the least when filmmakers allow themselves to follow their passions on the heels of winning. “I think it no doubt assists in getting recognized in the global industry, in particular if that animator/director is looking to ‘step up’ into the world of feature directing. On the flip side, the animators/directors I know have actually retained a more ‘indie’ status. [Lost Thing Director] Shaun Tan and I, and notably Adam Elliot here in Australia, have been able to develop our own independent projects with the gravitas of having won an Oscar for our shorts to assist with development and further financing.”
When it comes to opening doors, the impact of receiving an Academy Award “really does not compare with anything else,” Elliot agrees, having won in 2004 for the clay animated short, Harvie Krumpet. “People put it up on such a high pedestal and somehow think that by winning one, you have some secret 'gift'. They assume you know what you're doing and can easily win another if you tried. They think your life will be forever paved with gold.”
He’s quick to caution that simply isn’t the case. Nice as it may be to earn top honors in your field, having to live up to the title of ‘Oscar Winner’ can also take a toll. “In many ways, I have felt like a fraud,” he shares. “I often feel I disappoint people when they meet me and find the pressure and expectation on every new film I make almost excruciating at times. I'm not complaining, but there are certain 'realities' that accompany an award as fantastic as the Oscar. I always say winning any film award is a cross between entering a beauty pageant and winning the lottery.” “The other point to remember,” he continues, “is that we may have won by just one vote - we'll never know. I often lament how filmmaking has become a tournament. Why should we have to compete with each other?” he asks. “I'm a bit of an idealist and prefer that films be treated more like paintings - to be observed and pondered individually.”
He isn’t the only one to notice Oscar’s tendency to create a bit of a stir. “When you show the statue,” shares Nicolas Schmerkin, who accepted the statuette for 2009’s Logorama, “people usually become strange and start acting in a surreal way.” Elliot, for instance, saw his way of life “turned upside down and back to front the moment we won. The whole of Australia went berzerk and I lost my anonymity in a split second. That was almost ten years ago and the general public here in Australia still recognizes and celebrates my achievement.”
In terms of being celebrated, co-directors William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg most definitely got the hero treatment in the wake of their win for The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore just last year. “Our hometown threw us the first ticker tape parade they'd had since the end of World War II,” Joyce recalls, summing the entire experience up as “an atomic fun bomb.”
Even once the dust settles, David Fine has found Oscar’s appeal to be enduring. “So many people come out of the woodwork and are proud to know an Oscar winner. That's a really nice feeling, that people get pleasure from it by association rather than it just being about the winner. When people come to the house and want to see it or hold it, it's fun that we have something that gives them a thrill,” he says. “I love to see people's faces when they get to ‘touch an Oscar!’”
Those hoping to someday see a statuette of their own adorning their mantle should heed some of the following advice, direct from the Pros. Consider structuring your project around its most unique element and explore it to its fullest potential. “We actually made Closed Mondays somewhat to show off clay animation techniques,” Vinton states. “Each of the little events that took place within the art gallery in the film was designed as a way to show off the style of Claymation.”
Byrne believes “the first and most important thing is to produce a film, or tell a story, that resonates with audiences. Technique and production value are important, but narrative strength or a great idea seem to carry the most weight.” She’s quick to add, however, “that does not mean it has to be a linear or necessarily ‘conventional’ narrative. In fact, short film seems to be one of the arenas where artists and directors have the most freedom to work outside of convention or commercial conforms.”
“Then of course, the practical side of getting your short recognized by the Academy is that you need to plan a rigorous festival schedule, highlighting all Academy Accredited ones. Ideally, you should plot your strategy around film completion and the start of the festival run and lead-up to the Oscars the following year,” Byrne notes. “If you are lucky enough to win at a couple of the Academy Accredited festivals, then you are lucky enough to be able to submit your film for ‘shortlisting’. From that point on, it’s really out of the filmmaker’s hands, in my experience.”
Should the fates smile upon you and send a nomination your way, Oldenburg suggests mentally preparing yourself for the possibility of a win. “Write a Thank You speech to get your head in the right place, but throw it away and do not try to remember it when the time comes. If you are so fortunate to get to the podium, speak from the heart then get home as fast as you can. Your family and crew are dying to give you hug or better yet throw you a parade.” And also remember Schmerkin’s words of wisdom, and “try not to do too many silly poses during the photo call.”
At the end of the day, the Academy Award, like anything else in life, is what you make of it. Perhaps a launching pad for your next great project, perhaps confirmation of your abilities as a filmmaker and testament to your contributions to the medium. Since receiving his more than fifty years ago, Gene Deitch has watched it change somewhat over time, noting that “its gold plating is almost as wrinkled as my own 88-year-old face.” If his smile is any indication, though, it’ll never lose its luster.
James Gartler is a Canadian writer with a serious passion for animation in all its forms. His work has appeared in the pages of Sci Fi Magazine, and at the websites EW.com and Newsarama.com.