Do not make art looking for popularity - or awards. But then again, as a novel filmmaker, you want to start building the basis of your career. An Oscar may look like pie in the sky, but like Mount Everest tempting climbers everywhere...it’s there! Why not reach for it?
The Live Action Short film category has provided a jumpstart to many industry pros, like American director David Frankel. He won in 1996 for “Dear Diary” and went on to helm “The Devil Wears Prada” (2006), and “Marley and Me” (2008). If your taste veers towards the indie movies Art House, take note of Andrea Arnold. She won with “Wasp”(2003) before delivering the smashing trio of “Red Road” (2006), “Fish Tank” (2009), and “American Honey” (2016). Martin McDonagh won one year later with “Six Shooter.” He returned to the podium with “Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri” (2017), and got a truckload of nominations for the wonderful “The Banshees of Inisherin” (2022).
Director Andrea Arnold, here pictured with actress Sasha Lane after winning the Jury Prize at Cannes for "American Honey" (2016), jumpstarted her career by winning the Best Live Action Short Film Oscar with "Wasp" (2003). / Photo by Dreamstime.
Even international movie artists working in languages other than English can score. Check out German director Joachen Alexander Freydank’s “Toyland,” winner of the 2009 Best Live Action Short Film Oscar. "Toyland" is now streaming on Popflick. Who says you can’t be the next Freydank?
AMPAS put out for the 96th Academy Awards, so we set out to read them and highlight some points. You must do a detailed review of the full rules yourself, and if you have any questions, reach out to the Academy. Think of this as a brief introduction.
1. Oscar-qualifying short films can go up to 40 minutes in running time. It is a big difference with, say, the Cannes Film Festival, which sets a 15 minutes limit. There is no industry standard in this matter. Just try not to end in the no man’s land of something too long to be a short and too short to be a feature film. It is harder to program and sell to broadcasters. We already covered how to get your short film into Cannes. Some time has passed, but most of the advice is still valid.
2. Release dates are very different from those of feature films. Feature-length movies need a release date within the regular calendar year dates of January 1, 2023, to December 31, 2023. Live Action Short films release date run between October 1, 2022, and September 30, 2023. You only have three and a half months to make a screening happen! Or else you will have to wait until the 2025 Academy Awards.
3. About that screening, there are only six qualifying metro areas in the US: Los Angeles County (CA), the five boroughs of New York City (NY), the Bay Area (CA), Miami-Dade County (FL), and Fulton County, Atlanta (GA). If you can’t find a venue there, you are a duck out of luck.
4. Oh, yeah, the venue. Well, it has to be a real movie theater, which should program your movie for at least seven consecutive days. The title must feature in the theater listing with dates and showtimes. And it must be exhibited to paying customers. So, if you think of four-walling a place, you still have to sell tickets through the box office. Forget about handing freebies on the sidewalk or the parking lot.
Your path to an Academy Award goes through a Drive In Cinema! / Photo by Dreamstime.
5. Drive-in cinemas qualify as exhibiting venues! That is so cool. Roger Corman would be proud. We are not sure how many remain in those areas. At some point during the pandemic shutdown, there was a surge in re-openings. If you book in such a place, schedule at least a daily show for seven consecutive days.
6. If you are a student or made your film within an academic course: the theatrical release rules do not apply. To qualify for Live Action Short Film Oscar consideration, it must have won an award at a qualifying film festival. Or, it must have won Gold, Silver, or Bronze at the Student Academy Awards in the Narrative and Experimental categories.
7. Don’t think you can burn a Blu Ray and call it a day. You must comply with requirements for standard digital cinema projection, from print in 35mm or 70mm - look at you, little overachiever! -, or a 24-48 frames progressive scan Digital Cinema format with a minimum project resolution of 2048 by 1080 pixels. You can check out all the technical details in the rules document, but for brevity sake, plan to deliver your film in an industry-standard DCP.
8. Make it sound great. Digital Cinema Packages have 5.1 or 7.1 channels. The minimum allowed is three-channel encoding, one left, one center, and one right. So don’t get all retro with old-timey stereo with just left and right channels or mono. You must encode audio according to the Society of Motion Pictures and Television Engineers (SMPTE) standards.
9. Great! Your short played for a week in a nice theater in Los Angeles to masses of enraptured fans. You even got glowing reviews in the alt-weeklies. Wait, there are no alt-weeklies anymore! Let's say you got great reviews in Letterbox and Reddit. Now, you only have to wait for the Academy to call and congratulate you for your awesomeness, right? Wrong. You must fill out an online submission form at the Award Submission website and upload the streaming version and other requested materials.
Martin McDonagh, winner of Best Live Action Short Oscar for "Six Shooter" (2004), with Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell, stars of "The Banshees of Inisherin" (2022). / Photo by Dreamstime.
10. Here’s another set of dates you have to keep in mind. If your film completes its qualifying run between October 1, 2022 and May 31, 2023, your deadline to complete the submission process is 5:00 pm Pacific Time on Tuesday, August 15, 2023. Films released between June 1, 2023, and September 30, 2023, have until 5:00 pm Pacific Time on Monday, October 16, 2023.
11. There are two rounds of voting. If you are lucky enough to pass the second round, you have to submit a film print or DCP of your short.
12. We arrive at the “Sophie’s Choice” part of the process. Only two persons can be nominees, and one of them is the director. The other must be a co-director, a writer, or a producer. If there are several producers, an Academy branch committee will decide. Yes, you can appeal their decision. We hope your creative relationship - and friendship - survive.
Bonus tip: You don’t get to hold on to your movie and wait for the next cycle. You have to submit it in the year when it qualifies. And you can’t submit it more than once. Read the complete rules on the Oscars’ website. And make sure to send us a courtesy pass to the drive-in screening! No, wait...we'll buy it.
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