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How to Win an Oscar for Best Short Film

If you’re a filmmaker, it’s a near certainty that you’ve practiced your Oscar speech in the shower at least a few times. It’s a nice fantasy, but the reality is that the odds of taking that golden statuette home are astronomical. Even with the best cameras, lights, actors, video editing software and the biggest budget, there is simply no way to guarantee that your film will even be seriously considered for such a prestigious award.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. After all, what was the point of all that speech practicing if you never put forth the effort required to achieve your lofty dreams?

If you’re reading this article, it’s likely that you’re not a Hollywood big-wig, A-list director or Silicon Valley billionaire with the budget necessary to create a feature film worthy of big awards like Best Picture, Best Director, or the acting and writing awards. However, there are three awards that are almost always won by people you’ve never head of. And filmmakers with even the most modest resources can achieve them. They’re the short film awards - Best Live Action Short Film, Best Animated Short Film and Best Documentary Short Subject.

The Academy defines a short film as "an original motion picture that has a running time of 40 minutes or less, including all credits." This is prime ground for the amateur or up-and-coming filmmaker who has the talent to put together a short but compelling narrative or documentary.

While no set of instructions can secure you a spot on red carpet outside the Dolby Theatre, you’ll find below a general roadmap that could potentially lead you there – if you’ve got what it takes.

Make Your Film
This is the most important part of the process. It’s also the most difficult. Anyone who has made a film knows it's a monumental undertaking, even for a short film. It requires patience, attention to detail and infinite dogged persistence to go from fade-in to credits. Fortunately, this is also the part of the process where you have the most control. In every other aspect, you’ll be reliant on someone to make a decision in your favor. But when you’re making your film, you are in the driver’s seat and you can make those decisions made by others much easier by creating a stellar piece of art.

Unfortunately, we don’t have any filmmaking tips in this article. And even if we did, we wouldn’t dare tell you how to make your film. That’s something that you, the genius filmmaker destined for greatness, will have to figure out on your own. And that’s how it should be.

Get Your Film Oscar Qualified
There are several ways to accomplish this step. But they all have one thing in common – get it seen by an audience. Screenings in your home theater or YouTube won’t suffice. You need to put your film in the festival circuit and win some awards. You only need to win one Best Short Film award to qualify for Oscar consideration. And the Academy has provided this list of qualifying festivals so you know which festivals can secure your film a qualification.

If your film doesn’t get accepted to any of the qualified festivals, or doesn’t win an award, you shouldn’t lose hope of getting your film qualified. Short films that are publicly screened at a commercial theater in Los Angles County, California, are qualified for Oscar consideration. It’s important to remember that the screening of your film must charge admission, be open to the general public and run for at least three consecutive days with at least two screenings a day. There are some additional formatting rules for this qualifying option that you can peruse on the official rules page provided by the Academy.

If you’re a student filmmaker, your short film can qualify for an Oscar nomination by winning the Gold, Silver or Bronze award in certain categories of the Student Academy Awards Competition. The qualifying categories are Animation, Narrative, Alternative and Foreign Film. Documentary student films cannot qualify through the Student Academy Award Competition.

When focusing on getting your film qualified for Oscar consideration, it’s just as important to make sure you don’t disqualify yourself. The most common way filmmakers do this is to put their films online or noncommercially distribute them before their qualifying theatrical screening. A good rule of thumb to avoid this is to only screen your film in a theater with an audience until the qualification, submission and voting process is complete.

Submit Your Film for Consideration
Once you’ve got your film made and qualified for Oscar consideration, its time to submit it to the Academy. This is probably the simplest part of the process. All you need to do is fill out a form and send your film to the Academy. At that point, it’s out of your hands.

Once your film is submitted, there are several rounds of voting. You’ll be notified by the Academy if and when your film advances or receives a nomination. If you end up being nominated for an Oscar, there are some rather stringent campaign rules you must follow when promoting your film with members of the Academy.

Write Your Speech for Real
Keep in mind that if you get to this point your short film has achieved more than the overwhelming majority of short films ever produced. It’s a testament to your abilities as a filmmaker to be nominated for an Academy Award. And you should be prepared to win. But even if you don’t achieve any of the above steps, simply making a film should be an award unto itself on some level. Keep that Oscar speech in your pocket because even if you never get a chance to read it in front of an audience, striving for the absolute best is a worthy goal that there is no shame in pursuing.