Aperture Cinema - Winston Salem, NC | How does a film run for an Academy Award?
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How does a film run for an Academy Award?

How does a film run for an Academy Award?

A/perture cinema’s Red Carpet Party and 10 Year Anniversary are coming up this Sunday, February 9th, 2020, and so are the Oscars! I’m so excited for both of these. I saw as many of the nominated films as I could at a/perture this year, including Parasite, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Jojo Rabbit and Little Women. Even The Irishman, which is nominated for Best Picture,played at a/perture cinema a week before it came out on Netflix. Why was it in theaters a week before getting released on Netflix, anyway?

The answer may have to do with the 92nd Academy Awards. In order to qualify for an Academy Award nomination, a feature film has to be released first in a large chain cinema in Los Angeles County, California, for at least a week. Such films often get released in other theaters around the country at the same time, too. If a film goes to cable TV, streaming, or DVD before having a theatrical release, no part of it is eligible for an Oscar. Film festival screenings don’t count as theatrical releases.

While I can’t speak to how the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences chooses nominees, after an internship in film sales and distribution, as well as reading up on this year’s Academy Award Submission rules, I can explain how to run for an Award. Let’s break it down.

How to submit a feature film for an Academy Award nomination:

  •  Make a movie that is 40 minutes or longer, either on 35mm or 70mm film, or using a 2k or 4k camera. Turn it into a DCP (Digital Cinema Package), the standard commercial theater format.
  • Advertise the heck out of your movie. Submit it to major film festivals, such as Sundance, South by Southwest, or the Toronto International Film Festival. Film festivals are more of a suggestion than a requirement, but they are fantastic for creating buzz around your film!
  • Have the official release of the film occur in a large chain cinema in Los Angeles County, California, for seven consecutive days, starting between Jan 1 and Dec 31. It has to have at least three screenings per day, one of which has to be between 6-10pm PT. (If you were wondering, a film that was released on Dec 31, 2019 could still be considered for an Academy Award two months later because its release date started before or on the day of the deadline.)
  • Advertise your movie as much as you can.
  • Submit a General Entry Academy Award nomination for your film. That includes an application, a complete list of cast and crew as seen in the credits of your film, and a copy of your film, either in DCP or 35mm/70mm film print format. Those have to be physically mailed to the Academy.
  •  General Entry is for both Best Picture and for general consideration. If you want your film to be considered for something other than or in addition to best picture, or you are submitting a short film, you must submit a second form for the specific category of your choice. There are special rules for each category.
  • If your film makes it to nomination, you will be asked to send a screener, usually in the form of a DVD, Blu-Ray disc, or online link to your film, to each of the voting members of the Academy. (There are 7000+ voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.) The Academy may also make a copy of your film for voting purposes.
  • Keep advertising the heck out of your film!

If you think this sounds complicated, it is. Regardless of the nomination category, the requirements are very specific. Academy Award runs are often expensive affairs, so producers tend to make deals either with their production companies or their distributors (like Netflix or Sony, for example) where those companies will fund the Academy Award run rather than the producers themselves. This usually includes paying for the theatrical release and the extensive advertising of feature films.

While it can get pricey, it’s not impossible for filmmakers with modest budgets to run for an Academy Award. It’s really a question of finding the right people to promote their film. For independent filmmakers lacking big industry connections, one of the best ways to fund an Academy Award run is to get their film screened at a well-known film festival like Sundance. A hotbed of networking in the cold peaks of Park City, Utah, journalists, actors, distributors, producers, publicists, agents and more flock to the Sundance Film Festival to watch the most impressive new films of the year. The documentary Honeyland, which you might have caught at a/perture in early fall, was shown at Sundance in 2019 and is nominated for Best Documentary at the Oscars this year.

Other festivals such as South by Southwest, the Toronto International Film Festival, Cannes, Tribeca, and the Berlin International Film Festival are equally good contenders for making connections and getting press coverage for a film. Many of these, interestingly, are not only film festivals but film markets, where producers can find distributors to buy their films.

If you’re a filmmaker or aspire to be one and hope to win an Oscar one day, these Academy Award submission guidelines are good to keep in mind. Maybe we’ll watch your future Oscar-nominated film at a/perture in the future! Until then, come to a/perture cinema on Sunday for an evening of festivities and awards!

To learn more on what it takes to submit your film for an Academy Award nomination, check out this link from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ website.

To purchase last-minute tickets to a/perture cinema’s Red Carpet Party and 10 Year Anniversary, click here.

Written by Mariana Abou-Rizk, art house cinema appreciator and former a/perture employee. Mariana learned about film sales and distribution from her internship with Blue Fox Entertainment in Los Angeles in 2016.