So now we have a plan for our documentary.
“Tis Autumn: The Search For Jackie Paris” will be released theatrically by Outsider Pictures in New York. The date currently hovers around early October. That we are being exhibited in a good old fashioned theater for a week (or more?) neatly places us in two somewhat dissonant camps: the top percentile of independently made films as well as the retro-release category. Because as we all know, while a theatrical release is always preferable, it is not mandatory any more. There is no shame in going to straight to DVD–as long as the movie has found a home where it can in turn be found by those that are interested.
Unless, of course, you have aspirations toward being recognized by AMPAS. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences steadfastly clings to the notion that the communal viewing experience is essential to the art (and I suppose the preservation) of the cinema. Sid Ganis, the President, has publicly urged people to continue to see films as they “were meant to be seen–in theaters” (I’m paraphrasing, but he couldn’t have said it all that differently.)
I’m a proud member of the Academy, having been nominated for a short that I made in another lifetime. I like the free Christmas time movies and I make sure to vote every year, except when I forget to. That said, the Academy’s rules for qualifying non-mainstream films for award potential (i.e. shorts, docs etc.) are flabbergasting, irrational and subject to change every year. But I see why they do it: every year the movie business not only gets more fragmented but becomes MORE RELIANT ON THE ACADEMY TO RECOGNIZE AND APPROVE A HANDFUL OF MOVIES AS CONSUMER WORTHY.
Though they didn’t ask for this job, the Academy–which began as a loose knit group that threw Hollywoods only formal awards party once a year (remember that it wasn’t even broadcast for its first decade and a half)– has now become the ultimate arbiter as to what selection people should make when dealing with films that are not necessarily designed for the basest commercial purposes.
In other words, if you make “Saw” you’re not in need of AMPAS opinion. (If you made ‘Saw” you probably are not in need of much of anything right now.)
But if you’re in the (apologies to Terry Southern) “quality film game”, you’re aim is simple, clear and elusive; an Oscar nomination. Certainly big companies with slickly oiled PR machines can work the room hard. But if you’re making a film that will not really have much of a life unless recognized by the Academy, the need for their acknowlegement becomes a lot bigger.
To be nominated for an Oscar, you need to exhibit theatrically for a given window of time in a given number of cities.
( I wont go into the particulars–anyone interested can probably find out on the AMPAS website). This can be done digitally, although there is no true digital standard by which all theaters project thereby making it a hell of a lot more work to exhibit digitally than it might otherwise be if we would all jump on the same bandwagon and make the big change that’s been endlessly discussed over the past several years. Nonetheless, if you manage to make the final round of Academy consideration, you are still required to deliver TWO 35MM prints to the Academy. Presumably this is for viewing by Academy members in the Academy theater. Assuming that this is the case, the Academy installing a proper digital projection system in their theater would save the handful of independent filmakers who make it this far something like $30,000–which they may or may not even have.
It’s not the Academy’s job to save filmmakers money, though. And maybe this arcane rule serves a larger purpose. Keeping the pool of contenders small. Fine. But what if the best short or best documentary is not actually being seen and/or recognized simply because there isn’t the money to go to 35mm?
That would be a classic tail wagging the dog. The strange thing is that the tail has become 35mm film.