Whenever talk comes up about eliminating certain Oscar categories — or at least taking them off the primetime telecast — inevitably leading the list are the three short film categories: Documentary Short, Live Action Short and Animated Short. They represent a form that isn’t seen much in theaters anymore and most of the nominees are not known to the general public watching. For many, their sole purpose is to serve as tiebreakers in office Oscar pools. But in fact some of these films are actually better than many features nominated, and for the past few years thanks to ShortsHD and distributor Magnolia Pictures they have been finding increasingly larger audiences with compilation theatrical releases featuring the five contenders in each of the three categories. Last weekend, The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2012 opened on 120 screens across the U.S. and Canada and broke its previous record from the year before with a gross of $412,304, which is up more than $100,000 from 2011’s release. The companies plan to have the programs on over 200 screens before the Oscars next weekend.
This year’s nominees for Live Action Short are Norwegian (Tuba Atlantic), German (Raju), Irish (Pentecost and The Shore) and American (Time Freak) productions, making it a distinctly international lineup. But one of those, The Shore, really caught my eye since it comes from writer-director-producer Terry George, a two-time screenwriting Oscar nominee and prominent feature director who now has managed to grab his third nomination by downsizing to the world of shorts. He’s also proud to have made it a family affair and is part of one of the few father-daughter combinations in Oscar history to be nominated together. Daughter Oorlagh George, who produced the film, shares the honor with dad.
For Terry George, it was pure frustration with getting his feature projects off the ground that led him to this moment. “In 2010 I had done a lot of script work and rewrites and working on projects that didn’t fly for a year and a half or so, and oh yeah, the awful Dream House, and was kind of burnt out by it all, so I thought I would get back to what I make and stuff I do,” said the director of such films as Some Mother’s Son (1996), Reservation Road (2007) and Hotel Rwanda (2004). The latter brought him one of two screenwriting nominations along with In The Name Of The Father (1993), which he shared with director Jim Sheridan.
George asked his daughter if she could find the money to do a short story he had come up with, and she did. The film about the love triangle and reunion of two boyhood friends (played by Ciaran Hinds and Conleth Hill) who were divided for 25 years over the “troubles” in Northern Ireland became an instant family affair, with Oorlagh as producer, George’s son as second AD and his sister as costume designer. The 30-minute film was shot in six days basically in his Northern Ireland front yard, but he was not intimidated by the schedule since he also has done lots of TV — most recently Dustin Hoffman’s new HBO series Luck. He has become a big believer in the short film process. “The film (along with the other nominees) averaged $18,000 at the IFC Center in New York last weekend,” he said. “That’s more than most films out there. And with iTunes, Netflix TV sales, there’s a bigger life to it, perhaps a bigger life than say Reservation Road, which quickly disappeared [laughs]. It’s interesting. It’s a combination of the Internet, and people’s attention spans and the need for shorter material, so it has a good life I hope”.
He’s also a believer in the short film categories, which he hopes aren’t endangered. “I have serious competition. This ain’t a walk in the park in terms of the competition. They are all really good and particularly visual and strong,” he said. “Next year they are changing the process so that screeners will go out to all the Academy, and that’s great (currently members must show up at special showings of all short films nominated and vote at those specific screenings). It’s a form that used to exist, there was a short film before the feature in theaters. You have got to distill the story down in those 29 or 30 minutes and get it right. So I really think it should be paid more attention. And given how hard it is to get money for independent features now, it’s something that can allow young filmmakers or any filmmaker who has a story to go off and do it and increasingly find a market,” added George, who wouldn’t mind doing it again with the right project. However, he has already completed his next feature — Whole Lotta Sole, starring Brendan Fraser and Colm Meaney, which will premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in April. “I am always doing a lot of college lectures and telling students that this is the time when young filmmakers should get out and just shoot a film themselves, so it became kind of ‘practice what you preach’ ” he said. “With shorts you literally are your own fundraiser, producer, crew, editor, postproduction supervisor and marketing person.”
Doing all that, Terry George is about to find out if he will finally nab that elusive Oscar by taking the do-it-yourself “shorts” cut to the Academy Awards.