ANIMATION WORLD MAGAZINE - ISSUE 4.1 - April 1999
On Winning an Oscar...
compiled by Heather Kenyon
While the entire world recognizes the Oscar, Animation World Magazine asked past Oscar winners Frédéric Back, Gene Deitch, Faith Hubley, Tyron Montgomery, Frank Mouris and Jimmy Picker what the statue has brought to their careers. Did it open doors? Guarantee further film funding? Get them the career of their dreams? The answers will surprise you.
"All Nothing was nominated for an Oscar in 1981. I then received an Oscar in 1982 for Crac, which allowed me to undertake a more ambitious project: The Man Who Planted Trees. This film got an Oscar in 1988, and as a result I could carry out The Mighty River, despite a very difficult situation and severe budget cuts for Société Radio Canada, the producer of my films.
Since the success of Crac, I have received many propositions from outside, mainly for commercials, with very generous funds. But I prefer to use my time in favor of works that could have a beneficial effect on animation as an art and be of some help to environmental concerns. The consequences have been beyond my dreams!
Perhaps winning an Oscar has been too often an unduly tempting opportunity to be engulfed in commercial productions. This very important success should be used merely in favor of opportunities to create more and better short animations. Animation is an extraordinary and complex form of art, that constantly invents new paths and inspires many achievements in cinematography. Money should never be a priority. It is very sad if success has a destructive effect on talents and future wonders...beware, please."
Read "The Mighty Animator, Frédéric Back," an Animation World Magazine interview with the multiple-Oscar winning animator.
Gene Deitch's creation Nudnik fumbles the Oscar. Images courtesy of Gene Deitch.
"There are two things I feel about the Oscar: Not winning it is not an artistic failure, and winning it is not necessarily an artistic success, but as the most heavily hyped award on the planet, the Hollywood Oscar sure does give you something to talk about! My Weston Woods Classic Children's Collection, mostly tucked away in sweet little school libraries, and on exceedingly hard-to-get Children's Circle videocassettes, has won way over a hundred festival awards in all the assorted colors: gold, silver, and bronze. I am extremely proud of those awards, but they never made the animation history books. My most famous creation, Tom Terrific, never won any awards at all, but the name made its way into the language. Yahoo! lists 15,741 entries under a search for "Tom Terrific!" Five of my films were nominated for the Oscar: Sidney's Family Tree, made when I was creative director of CBS-Terrytoons, Nudnik, No.2, (Here's Nudnik), How to Avoid Friendship, Self Defense for Cowards, and Munro, all made in Prague for Rembrandt Films. Munro actually won. The Oscar, oh yes, the Oscar certainly opened doors! We immediately got a contract from MGM to produce Tom & Jerry cartoons, and from King Features, to do Popeye and Krazy Kat. That meant money, and that kept me in Prague long enough to marry my Czech production manager. So yes, the Oscar actually did change my life."
Gene Deitch's fascinating life as an American living in Prague, and one of the greatest romantic stories in animation, is captured in his book For The Love of Prague. For more information about the book visit: www.fortheloveofprague.com/
"This answer is going to sound very surprising. Winning an Oscar is usually disastrous. It is great for all the friends and family members, but on the professional side, it breeds jealousy and resentment. It sets off a kind of long, silent night. At least this is what has happened in my experience. Getting a nomination and not winning is Heaven. We received a nomination in 1974, the same year as Chinatown, and I remember myself, my wonderful husband John, and a group of folks from Chinatown -- we had a lot of friends who had worked on that film -- and we were all sitting at the bar singing, 'We are the losers. We are the losers. No one has to hate us, because we are the losers...' We had the most wonderful time because we knew that no one would be mad at us for winning. That was the best."
"When I received the Oscar in 1997, Quest had already won more than thirty festival awards, and it won a bunch more afterwards. The film was well known by that time, and I had made plenty of contacts with all kinds of companies, agencies and other filmmakers. The Oscar was just the cherry on top and didn't really change very much...apart from the press asking for interviews more often.
Still, it's a great prize to win, because it's highly recognized and the only film award in the world everybody knows. People do give you more attention as an Oscar winner and it does open some doors. But what counts in the end is the quality of the work. I never got a job because of the Oscar, but because people were impressed by Quest, especially by the film's visual power.
The Oscar could have changed my life more though, if I would have wanted it to. I had some good offers from well known companies in the US, but I didn't want to end up as a little cog in some animation factory. Staying independent, I can choose my own rhythm and also work in other fields, not only in animation. I have worked as a web-designer, visual effects supervisor, photographer, graphics artist, director of photography, programmer, and even as a voice actor. It's more fun this way and I'm actually quite happy I didn't accept any offer to join another company on a full-time basis.
Summarizing what the Oscar means to me, I would say: `An expensive trip to L.A. with a lot of fun -- and a nice decoration for the mantelpiece in my office.'"
"The financial benefits of winning the 1973 Oscar for Frank Film were more indirect than one might have expected. Our distributor sold and rented many prints to most of the major libraries, museums and universities, so we had a nice income supplement for a few decades, but it certainly wasn't enough to live on. Caroline and I, singly and/or together, did get a number of film grants over the years, enabling us to pay for most of the costs of Coney and Screentest (animated documentaries), impasse (abstract character animation), LA LA, Making It In L.A. (documentary with animated slide sequences), and now (at last, at length, finally...) Frankly Caroline (cutout animation again), but we certainly weren't paid for our considerable time. The commercial work offered right after the Oscar was either repetitious/simplistic (the titles for Rhoda), or risky (weekly bicoastal commutes for Bicentennial Minutes; helicopter footage of a trip across the USA), so we turned it down. Later, we enjoyed doing quickie television commercials (is there ever enough time?) for Levi's Shirts and Nickelodeon Toys, but mostly others just knocked off our style and did it for cheap. The Oscar probably helped us get freelance animation work (Sesame Street, MTV, VHI, HBO Comedy, Nickelodeon, Nick at Nite, Nighttime Entertainment, PBS, ITVS, Cartoon Network, PETA, Disney and Universal TV), but showing Frank Film and our evolving showreel was at least as important.
Frank and Caroline Mouris' upcoming film, Frankly Caroline. © 1999 Frank and Caroline Mouris
Caroline and I did Frank Film just to do that one personal film that you do to get the artistic inclinations out of your system before going commercial. Then we planned to join the industry, as you call it, armed with her MBA and my MFA. Instead, we became fiercely independent filmmakers, only interested in doing new films, whatever the genre, and not just repeating ourselves in one area of film. You could say winning the Oscar gave us the courage to pursue this personal film quest, but in fact, Frank Film had previously won the Grand Prix at the Annecy International Animation Festival and most other foreign and domestic film competitions and festivals. John Hubley was kind enough to warn me at Annecy that it was hard to turn down commercial work once you got into it, and that he and Faith were lucky to get a personal film done every summer, so I should leave plenty of time for our own work. I guess I took him a little too seriously, but when he died early, unexpectedly, it was sobering. Caroline and I are thrilled to be back with another totally hand-made film, Frankly Caroline, coming out in a few months."
On winning for Sundae in New York (1983): "Now no one can say I'm a bum!"
Heather Kenyon is editor-in-chief of Animation World Magazine.
Note: Readers may contact any Animation World Magazine contributor by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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