Oscar Rodeo Rules: Short Animation Submission Qualification and Rule 19
Rule A is an especially interesting feature of the Short Film qualification, one we’ll revisit with a critical eye and professional input later on in this article. Overall, the initial section of the rules of eligibility is fairly straightforward. For example, it details parameters for screening the film in a public venue, with projection meeting specific standards of theatrical aspect ratio, with audio that is "typical Digital Cinema Package", i.e. a 5.1 channel surround mix, or at least three discrete channels suitable for a theatrical environment. Many of the technical specifications, such as the acceptable formats for digital submission, are altered as needed, but are rarely the cause of serious confusion or elimination for any filmmaker who has worked in the industry (or at least knows someone who does).
Instead, the area that trips up many otherwise polished films and is often the cause of disqualification is clause B of the Eligibility rules:
(III. Eligibility, Rule B) A short film may not be exhibited publicly anywhere in any nontheatrical form, including but not limited to broadcast and cable television, home video, and Internet transmission, until after its Los Angeles theatrical release, or after receiving its festival or Student Academy Award. Excerpts of the film totaling no more than ten percent of its running time are exempted from this rule.
In many cases, filmmakers who have embraced the Wild West of the Internet to showcase their finished work in whole form have end up shooting themselves in the foot. Hoping to get notice from potential clients, or to have a single link to provide studio headhunters, many filmmakers are attracted by the simplicity of online publication coupled with the promise of visibility. Additionally, the lure of television or, increasingly, large-readership website distribution as a platform for new work leaves a lot of great shorts cut from Academy consideration. Getting disqualified because of a distribution deal is an especially frequent story for young animators, often tempted at the start of their careers to take whatever promotion opportunities come their way. If everyone’s putting their films up, it can feel pointless not to join in the world wide party.
So, should those who want to join the big leagues hold out, or give in? This question, like many raised by assessing the Academy rules, is less a matter of subjective reasoning, and more one of perspective. Ron Diamond, producer, festival organizer, Academy voter, and ringleader of the Short Animation Nominee Press Tour for the last twelve years, was able to bring his experience to bear on the issue. When asked if he often sees the Academy rules causing confusion, and why that might be, he responded that it’s a simple matter of people not knowing the process because they don’t read the rules. Diamond is committed to changing the shadowy nature of the nominee eligibility, having personally presented numerous programs at film festivals detailing why it’s worth it to comply with Rule 19.
“I've gotten up in front of 700 producers and said ‘Look, this is how it works,’” he explained. “Yet, every year, there are a couple films that make it into every festival, that are great films, and you say ‘Why didn’t this get nominated?’ And it’s because they disqualified themselves.”
When asked if the required exclusivity, with respect to keeping a completed film offline and out of broadcast deals, could hurt young or less established filmmakers, Diamond was adamant about holding back. “You’re rarely more than a year out [from the Oscars],” he reasoned, citing that it’s always worth it to sit on your film for an awards cycle if it has a chance of getting into the running. As for how you can tell if your film is worthy of Oscar consideration, Diamond recommends analyzing past winners and nominees to get a feel for what’s within the Academy’s scope. Usually, he says, a first film might be a delight for the eyes, but not an Oscar hopeful. Most filmmakers are fairly self-selecting in this area for just that reason; Diamond says that less than 50 films are submitted every year to the Animated Shorts category, far fewer than one might expect.