Saturday, July 06, 2013


So, you have just been nominated for an Oscar.

It is the symbol of excellence in filmmaking. The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) Award.

This is the summit. The peak. The recognition of your hard work and sacrifice.

This is the goal you set yourself all those years ago. The litmus test that you have 'made it'.

You are honoured to be nominated and thrilled at the opportunity to win it.

Or are you?

"The whole thing is a goddamn meat parade. I don't want any part of it."

Such were the words of George C. Scott. Winner of the 1971 Academy Award for Best Actor.

Also, the first person to ever reject an Oscar.


I wouldn't be surprised if you were. This behaviour flies in the face of a lot of cultural norms today.

But in deifying the Academy Awards, as we have in modern times, have we overlooked a fairly basic truth?

By way of comparison, have you ever seen a poster for a film covered in tiny 'Official Selection, (insert Film Festival name here)' logos, like floral epaulettes?

The filmmakers place them there to add an impression of prestige to the film.

Keep in mind, however, that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of film festivals in the world. The end result is that, in the eye of the beholder, the 'Official Selection' logo ultimately reads a lot like this:

And this is the basic truth I was referring to: context matters.

If there were only one film festival in the world, an official selection logo would suddenly be meaningful. But alas, there are thousands. In the full context, the harsh truth, the 'Official Selection' logo looks pretty but is ultimately meaningless to the vast majority of observers.

And so it is with awards for artistic merit, like the Oscars: context matters.

Context, in fact, is even more vital for an Awards program because awards do not have intrinsic value. Awards derive their power and value from respect bestowed onto them, by both the giver and the receiver.

Unfortunately, in the case of the Oscars, there is a growing schism between these two groups.

The receivers still largely respect the awards as a symbol of excellence. Anyone who has watched a starlet melt into an emotional downpour on stage knows that holding that small golden erection means something deeply profound to a recipient.

But on the giving side?

To those that bestow the Oscar, is it still the symbol of excellence or a leverage of pure politics?

Recent events lead you to wonder.

Like the institution, by the Academy, of a new rule that means a documentary has to have been reviewed by the LA Times or The New York Times to qualify for an Oscar.

The new rule is designed purely to reduce the number of films The Academy actually has to consider and judge for the Oscars. Is this behaviour respecting the idea of the Award being the pinnacle of the film achievement? Surely a great documentary is a great documentary, regardless of whether it has been reviewed by these two publications?

And therein lies the problem. When the givers of an Award have deliberately introduced a rule that could, conceivably, exclude legitimate contenders, they diminish the respect in which that Award is held.

Couple this example with the controversy around Academy Members speaking out against 'Zero Dark Thirty', suggesting it endorses CIA torture, and you get a picture of an accolade that has become more political platform than altruistic reward for excellence.

So, what does this all mean?

It's simple really.

Don't chase the accolades. Don't use an award, even one as glamorous as an Oscar, as the symbolic end goal for your success.

Enjoy the work because the privilege of making a living telling stories, that an audience responds to, should be reward enough.

And if it's not, for the love of god, do something else for a living. There are far easier ways to make money and garner respect.

Leave this one for the raconteurs.

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