How to get an Academy Award nomination – on a budget
…When all the odds are stacked against you
My friend Rick Goldsmith has just received his second nomination for an Academy Award, this time for his feature length documentary “The Most Dangerous Man in America” which he made with Judith Erhlich.
Rick’s previous nomination was for “Tell the Truth and Run.”
That was back in the days when the web was young (mid 1990s.) Rick and I put together one of the first web sites built around a movie. The site looks pretty primitive now, but pioneering things often do. (We haven’t updated it in at least ten years, but it still gets the job done!)
It’s pretty amazing to get nominated for an Academy Award, even more amazing for it to happen twice.. especially for films made on a limited budget and on serious subjects.
Rick specializes in making films about people who tell the truth under difficult circumstances, something this country and world can use a lot more of.
How to get nominated for an Academy Award – Step One
Truth be told, I don’t know 101 techniques to get nominated for an Academy Award, but I do know the details of how Rick got nominated the first time. It’s a story that has inspired me continuously since the day I first heard it and I’ve shared it with many people over the years.
The topic: George Seldes…the grandfather of investigative journalism in America.
Among other things, Seldes was the first to report on the cover up of the science that showed modern cigarettes were designed to be addictive and caused cancer (this back in the 1940s!) His work inspired Studs Turkel, Howard Zinn, Ralph Nader, IF Stone, and the subject of “The Most Dangerous Man in America” Daniel Ellsberg.
Rick learned about Seldes after learning that Seldes had passed his 100th birthday and shot some interviews with him using a Hi8 video camera.
Over time (and on his own time), Rick developed these interviews into a full length feature documentary Tell the Truth and Run which captured not only the details of Seldes’ remarkable career, but also many of the big events of world history from the World War I to the Cold War. Along the way, he recruited Susan Sarandon and Ed Asner as narrators.
Step One: Make a great piece on a subject you believe in and get it done any way you can.
How to get nominated for an Academy Award – Step Two
The original version of “Tell the Truth and Run” was actually a video which made it ineligible for an Academy Award, so getting a nomination was the furthest thing from Rick’s mind. Nonetheless, he carried out the second essential task in making a film which is to tirelessly promote the finished work.
One of the places he brought his work to was the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. A lady in the audience came up to him and said: “That’s such a great film. It should be nominated for an Academy Award.”
Rick filled her in on the facts. In order for a film to be nominated, it has to be on film (not video) and it has to have a run in a New York or Los Angeles theater. (Dear reader: Check the details. The requirements may have changed since the mid 1990s.)
The lady then asked Rick what it would cost to transfer the video to film and exhibit in a “real” theater in order for the film to be qualified. He told her and she raised the money and made it happen.
How to get nominated for an Academy Award – Step Three
Step Three is to contact the Academy and put your film in the running. I imagine all the current information you need to know about how to do this is on their web site.
Here are key take-aways from this story:
1. Rick made the film he believed in, not something he thought would be sexy or award winning
2. He made a beautifully crafted piece of work, in spite of a low budget and in spite of a scarcity of free time
3. He got the film out there and by doing so created fans for it
4. With the help of one fan, he thought “outside the box” (don’t you hate that term?) and turned an illegible video into an eligible one by learning and and following the rules
5. He threw his hat in the ring
End result: An Academy Award nomination.
So what happened?
Did “Tell the Truth and Run” win?
No, that year the prize went to an acquaintance of mine Leon Gast from my Film Center days in New York City. (If you’re in the film biz you know the legendary/notorious Film Center on Ninth Avenue.)
Actually, Leon was more than an acquaintance. He was the client of an audio post-production firm I helped my friend Bill Markle (aka William Markle) get off the ground back in the late 1980s when digital sound editing was brand new.
Leon’s film: “When We Were Kings” – a documentary about boxer Mohammed Ali.
Truth be told, no one was going to beat Ali in 1996, but this year, for “The Most Dangerous Man in America”? – I’m cautiously optimistic.
After all, the Saints won the Super Bowl. This may be the year when ANYTHING can happen.
I’ll be watching the Award ceremony in New Orleans and you know what happened the last time that happened…Go Rick!
P.S. I’m not going to miss an opportunity to plug my own work…
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