Oscar Rodeo Rules: Short Animation Submission Qualification and Rule 19
To a newcomer, one of the more daunting elements of the qualification rules is the option of arranging a screening in a commercial theater within L.A. County. As stated above, the run must be at least three days, with a minimum of two screenings a day. Arranging the run can qualify a film in lieu of winning a prize from one of the listed festivals. This begs the question of whether or not such a rule grants an unfair advantage to persons or studios with money that can afford to bankroll a 3-day run. Diamond, however, points out that the price of arranging a screening is relatively small when compared to all the shipping and processing costs a filmmaker incurs submitting their film to each of the major festivals, which can add up fast. In fact, he surmises, it levels the playing field more than anything; he says that you could count on your fingers the number of people who attended the L.A. theatrical runs of the last two Oscar-winning films. As he pointed out, when it comes to the Academy, it’s a matter of a tree falling in a forest; it doesn’t matter if there’s no one around to hear it go down.
One additional benefit of this rule to filmmakers may not be apparent. The screening regulation, which Diamond mentioned pre-dates his tenure, also provides a means for a film to qualify that may have missed much earlier festival submission deadlines. In other words, a film that was either finished after the major film festival submission deadlines have passed, or for whatever reasons was not submitted, can gain Oscar qualification merely with the 3-day theatrical run. Theatrical premier dates matter for submission to an Oscar round, and if filmmakers have not quite made the dates for certain festivals, the screening option saves them from having to wait until the next year’s qualification period.
Questions about cost and potential screening advantage led to another concern; that it’s inherently unfair to pit independently financed and produced works, or works from small studios, against films from giants like Pixar, whose shorts are routinely nominated. But Diamond challenges this assumption, asking how many years it has been since a major studio took the Short Animation honors. Surprisingly, one might find, the answer is not since Sony Picture’s The ChubbChubbs! won ten years ago. The Academy members are discerning voters, Diamond says, who “try to elevate themselves above the cost of the film. We never know.”
“All the money in the world doesn't mean anything. It doesn't mean you'll win. Sometimes [films] suffer under their own importance or subject. Polish is not as important as the subject.” It is here, Diamond explains, that independent studios have the advantage over big studios. Academy voters may be jaded by short film’s employing the same big studio style and rhythm they see year round in theatres. “When you're driving a titanic-sized ship, if you want to turn on a dime, you have to make that decision a half-day in advance. In a short film, you can do whatever you want. Studios, despite their best intentions, make certain kinds of films.”
Knowing Diamond’s commitment to improving Academy rules literacy, I concluded by asking what he felt was the root cause of the misunderstandings, and what advice he would give, as a seasoned producer, to those for the first time facing decisions like distribution schedule and getting the word out on their film. The issue, he emphasized, is very much one of education.
“I think it's important for faculty, those who are teaching animation, to be knowledgeable, and let students know [what the rules are]. Not for student films, but future works, so they can be prepared when they go on. If they don't know [the rules], they can't make informed decisions.” Diamond spoke with great passion about the need to treat students as future professionals, and train them to conduct themselves that way from the start. For those who might jump the gun, Diamond cautions, they need to be aware of Rule 19, and “what the value of the proposition is…that it might be worth holding back a film.” In this day and age, there’s no reason not to keep a film on a password-protected site like Vimeo, or to distribute a file to a limited audience of fans via e-mail list.