GUESTBLOG: How Ghanaian Filmmakers Can Win An Oscar® – My Opinion
One of the most enviable award trophies in cinema which every filmmaker aspires to win in their life time is the Academy Award® popularly known as the Oscar®. Every year many films across the world submit films to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) in the USA for consideration for the prestigious award.
The process of submitting films for consideration for the award is even difficult for just a nomination. It is even extremely difficult for African filmmakers to send their films because of the challenges they have to endure in their various film industries. Some of the challenges include lack of proper funding for films; the absence of film policies; lack of modern sophisticated equipments; very few professionally trained filmmakers, technical personnel and film producers; lack of soundstages and back lots for filming. Despite these challenges, it has not stopped some African filmmakers from submitting their films for consideration.
Films must be of the highest technical quality and must follow very stringent entry and eligibility rules spelt out by the Academy (AMPAS) before it can be considered for the award. For instance, according to the two following rules; Academy eligibility rule 3 states that ‘a film must be released in the previous calendar year, from midnight at the start of 1 January to midnight at the end of 31 December, in Los Angeles County, California, USA to qualify (except for the Best Foreign Language Film category). Rule 2 states that a film must be feature-length, defines as a minimum of 40 minutes, except for shot subject films and it must be submitted either on a 35mm or 70mm film print or in 24 frames or 48 frames progressive scan digital cinema format with native resolution not less 1280×720.’(www.oscars.org).
As at 2014, only three African films from three African countries have won four Oscars and two African actresses wining totalling six Oscars for the continent. Three Oscars in the Best Foreign Language Film category (Algeria’s 1969 film, Z by Costa Gavras, La Côte d’Ivoire’s 1976 film, La Victoire en Chantant by Jean Jacques Amaud and South Africa’s 2005 film, Tsotsi by (Gavin Hood), one in the Best Editing category (won by a French editor, Françoise Bonnot) for the film Z (1969) and two in the Best Actress category (South African, Charlize Theron for the 2004 film Monster by Patty Jenkins and the other in the Best Supporting Actress category (Lupita N’yongo, Mexican born Kenyan) for Steve McQueen’s 2013 film 12 Years a Slave. A South African student, Tristan Holmes won the Student Academy Award for Best Foreign Film for his 2006 film Elalini. Other films and individuals who have been nominated but not won include Le Bal (1983) by Ettore Scola-Algeria, Poussi ères de Vie (1995) by Rachid Bouchareb-Algeria, Yesterday (2004) by Darrell Roodt-South Africa, Indigènes (2006) by Rachid Bouchareb-Algeria and Horsla-loi (2010) by Rachid Bouchareb-Algeria, Djimon Hounsou (Benin) for Best Actor for the 2003 film In America and Best Supporting Actor in Blood Diamond (2005) Barkhad Adbi (Somali) for Best Actor for the 2013 film Captain Phillips, Charlize Theron for Best Actress for the 2005 film North Country etc.
Ghanaian filmmakers can take advantage of the category for Best Foreign Language Film because it is easier to submit films for that category in my view, other than the main stream categories especially when films must first be released in Los Angeles before they are considered. An interesting thing to note is that, if a film submitted for the Best Foreign Language Film and is to compete in all the other major categories like, directing, acting, writing, editing, production design, costume design etc, the film must still be released commercially in Los Angeles County. The following are points that I have drawn up which in my view would increases the chances of Ghanaian filmmakers of winning the Oscar if considered carefully before submitting films for consideration to AMPAS.
- Original (Ghanaian) Stories: Every film begins with a story. If the story is not good, it would be difficult to produce a good film. Ghana is abound with many original stories told every single day. Filmmakers can tap into the wealth of stories the country has from the past to the present, wise sayings, proverbs, historical events, cultural practices, social events, festivals, dances, languages etc. which can be turned into screenplay. Stories on Yaa Asantewaa, Akomfo Anokye, Kwame Nkrumah, the Sargarenti War, the coming of the Europeans to the Gold Coast, legends on the origins of Kente, Dr Ephraim Amu, the 1966 Coup, The Asante Empire, Ghana’s Independence struggle, the Big Six and several other stories should be seriously considered for films. These stories embody our way of life and films from these stories would preserve and protect our heritage for generations yet to come and also showcase to the world what we are made of and our uniqueness as a people. Films based on these stories can be easily accepted by the Academy because of its originality and uniqueness and different from the usual Hollywood films made.
- Native Language: All films must have at least 60% of its film in a foreign language other than English before consideration for the Best Foreign Language Film category. Ghana has over 50 different languages which filmmakers can employ as the lingua franca in their films. Several languages could be combined including some English in a film to enrich it with the native languages being dominant. South African films and TV programmes are good examples of amalgamation different languages.
- Extensive Research: Every film made is researched on before it is shot. Some Ghanaian films are not properly researched making them unrealistic and less believable. Research is done to ensure that information relating to a particular theme for a film is accurate and a true reflection of the theme used in the film. For instance, if a filmmaker wants to produce a medical drama set in a hospital, the filmmaker(s) need to find information regarding activities that go on in a hospital, such as medical procedures in an operation theatre, work ethics, type of clothing used, equipments and materials used by medical practitioners in the hospital, relationships between staff and patients etc. The information got from the research is then creatively put into the story, shot and put on screen. Research is a crucial part of the filmmaking process and must not be avoided. Without research, the believability, reality and authenticity of the film will be on-existent.
- High Technical Quality: A lot of filmmakers assume that having A-list actors, an outstanding director and a lot of funding guarantees the production of a good quality film; but in most cases this is just a small part of producing a good film. A combination of many technical departments including those mentioned above contribute to making a very good film, others include cinematography, sound production, production design, editing, visual effects, special effects, costume design, make up, producing etc. All these departments must be seriously taken into consideration anytime a film is about to be shot. Filmmakers and film producers must make a conscious effort to invest time, money and personnel in each of these departments. All these departments come together to make a film what it is. Filmmaking is a collaborative endeavour where one department depends on another one way or the other either directly or indirectly, for instance if the cinematographer captures poor pictures with the camera; the editor will not have good rashes to choose from to edit a good film, this in turn leads to the inability of the production designer’s work to be recognized leading to actors not visible on screen for audiences and the anomalies goes on and on. Every single department of the filmmaking process is very crucial to the creation of a film of the highest quality.
- Creativity and Innovation: Creativity and innovation is abound in every filmmaker and the Ghanaian filmmaker is no exception to this. Filmmaking [Film] in itself is a creative art form. It is the only art form which incorporates all the 6 traditional art forms (Architecture, Literature, Music, Painting, Sculpture and Theatre) into one. Ghanaian filmmakers should explore other creative ways of telling stories through their films. Through experiments and use of different techniques to improve the production of films, Ghanaian filmmakers can develop their unique style and form of filmmaking which would be distinct from others elsewhere. The Academy (AMPAS) is also keen on seeing films which have employed new, creative and innovative techniques in filmmaking. These films have a higher chance of winning an Oscar. I challenge filmmakers to experiment and explore as much as possible all the elements available to them in this country.
The Academy Award® of Merit
The Academy Award of merit also known as the Oscars is an American ceremony honouring excellence in cinematic achievement in the film industry. The first Oscars were presented on 16th May 1929 at a private dinner at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel and are given out annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is a professional honorary organization made up of close to 6,000 film professionals dedicated to the advancement of the arts and sciences of motion pictures (Essex, 1999). Majority of its members are based in the USA but membership is open to qualified filmmakers around the world. Membership is obtained by being invited by the Board of Governors of AMPAS on behalf of Academy Branch Executive Committees. A person must have achieved a competitive Oscar nomination or an Academy member may submit a name based on other significant contribution to cinema. The incumbent President is John Bailey. The immediate past President was Cheryl Boone Isaacs and is the first African American and third woman to head the Academyy (www.Goldderby.com).
Voters of the Oscars
The Academy is made up of 5,783 voting membership as of 2012 (Cohen, 2008). The Academy is divided into 17 branches representing different disciplines in the film industry. Members may not belong to more than one branch. The branches include Actors, Casting Directors, Cinematographers, Costume Designers, Designers (Art Directors), Directors, Documentary, Executives, Film Editors, Make UP and Hairstyling, Music, Producers, Public Relations, Short Films and Animations, Sound, Writers and Visual Effects.
Actors constitute the largest voting bloc numbering 1,311. Members whose work do not fall within one of the 17 branches may belong to a group known as “Members at Large”. This is how the Academy votes for Oscars; for most categories, members from each of the branches vote to determine the nominees only in their respective categories (i.e. only directors vote directors, actors vote actors, editors vote editors etc.). There are some exceptions in certain categories like Foreign Language Film, Documentary and Animated Feature Film where films are selected by special screening committees made up of members from all branches. In the case of Best Picture, nominees are selected by all members for that category. Foreign language films submitted must include English subtitled and each country can only submit one film per year. Winners are then determined by a second round of voting in most categories including Best Picture.
According to a study conducted in February 2012 by the Los Angeles Times, sampling over 5,000 of its 5,783 members; the Academy is 94% Caucasian (white skinned), 77% male, 14% under the age of 50 and has a median age of 62, 19% women, 2% black and Latinos less than 2 %.( Horn, 2012).
Ownership of the Oscar Statuette
Since 1950, the Oscar statuettes have been legally encumbered by requirements that neither winners nor their heirs may sell the statuettes without first offering to sell them back to the Academy for US$1.00. If a winner refuses to agree to this stipulation, then the Academy keeps the statuette. Oscar awards not protected by this agreement have been sold in public auctions and private deals for six-figure sums (www.oscars.com)
British Academy Film Awards (BAFTAs)
The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) also holds a popularly award scheme for film known as the British Academy Film Awards aka BAFTA Film Awards the equivalent of the Oscars in the USA. BAFTA also holds similar awards for Television and Video Games. Ghanaian filmmakers should also aspire to also win this award and other credible international awards. The suggested points above also apply to the BAFTA awards as well and any other international award outside, but eligibility rules and entry rules may differ from one award scheme to the other. The Boy Kumasenu (1952) the first feature film produced in Ghana (then called the Gold Coast) directed by Sean Graham is the first and only Ghanaian film till date to be nominated for the BAFTA for Best Film from any Source at the 1953 ceremony (IMDb.com).
90TH ACADEMY AWARDS RULES
(Ownership of the Oscar statuette)
- “Every award shall be conditioned upon the execution and delivery to the Academy by the recipient thereof of a receipt and agreement reading as follows:
I hereby acknowledge receipt of Academy Regulations for use of the Academy Award statuette and the phrase “Academy Award(s)” in advertising. In consideration of the signing of a similar agreement by other Academy Award nominees, I agree to comply with said regulations. I understand that on (date) I may receive from you a replica of your copyrighted statuette, commonly known as the “Oscar,” as an award for (category) – (film title). I acknowledge that my receipt of said replica does not entitle me to any right whatever in your copyright, trade-mark and service-mark of said statuette and that only the physical replica itself shall belong to me. In consideration of your delivering said replica to me, I agree to comply with your rules and regulations respecting its use and not to sell or otherwise dispose of it or any other “Oscar” replica I have been awarded or have received, nor permit it or any other “Oscar” replica I have been awarded or have received to be sold or disposed of by operation of law, without first offering to sell it to you for the sum of $1.00. You shall have thirty days after any such offer is made to you within which to accept it. This agreement shall be binding not only on me, but also on my heirs, legatees, executors, administrators, estate, successors and assigns. My legatees and heirs shall have the right to acquire any “Oscar” statuette replica I have received, if it becomes part of my estate, subject to this agreement.
I agree that if I have heretofore received any Academy trophy I shall be bound by this receipt and agreement with the same force and effect as though I had executed and delivered the same in consideration of receiving such trophy.” (Academy Bylaws, Article VIII, Section 7.)
(Signature of Recipient)
SPECIAL RULES FOR THE
FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM AWARD
A foreign language film is defined as a feature-length motion picture (defined as over 40 minutes) produced outside the United States of America with a predominantly non-English dialogue track. Animated and documentary feature films are permitted.
- The motion picture must be first released in the country submitting it no earlier than October 1, 2016, and no later than September 30, 2017, and be first publicly exhibited for at least seven consecutive days in a commercial motion picture theater for the profit of the producer and exhibitor. Submissions must be in 35mm or 70mm film, or in a 24- or 48-frame progressive scan Digital Cinema format with a minimum projector resolution of 2048 by 1080 pixels, source image format conforming to ST 428-1:2006 D-Cinema Distribution Master – Image Characteristics; image compression (if used) conforming to ISO/IEC 15444-1 (JPEG 2000); and image and sound file formats suitable for exhibition in commercial Digital Cinema sites.
The audio in a Digital Cinema Package (DCP) is typically 5.1 or 7.1 channels of discrete audio. The minimum for a non-mono configuration of the audio shall be three channels as Left, Center, Right (a Left/Right configuration is not acceptable in a theatrical environment).
The audio data shall be formatted in conformance with ST 428-2:2006 D-Cinema Distribution Master – Audio Characteristics and ST 428-3:2006 D-Cinema Distribution Master – Audio Channel Mapping and Channel Labeling.
- The film must be advertised and exploited during its theatrical release in a manner considered normal and customary to theatrical feature distribution practices. The film need not have been released in the United States.
- Films that, in any version, receive a nontheatrical public exhibition or distribution before their first qualifying theatrical release will not be eligible for Academy Awards consideration. Nontheatrical public exhibition or distribution includes but is not limited to:
- Broadcast and cable television
- DVD distribution
- Internet transmission
- The recording of the original dialogue track as well as the completed picture must be predominantly in a language or languages other than English. Accurate, legible English-language subtitles are required.
- The submitting country must certify that creative control of the motion picture was largely in the hands of citizens or residents of that country.
- The Foreign Language Film Award Executive Committee shall resolve all questions of eligibility and rules.
- Each country shall be invited to submit its best film to the Academy. Selection of that film shall be made by one approved organization, jury or committee that should include artists and/or craftspeople from the field of motion pictures. A list of the selection committee members must be submitted to the Academy no later than Wednesday, August 16, 2017. Countries submitting for the first time, or which have not submitted for the previous five years, must present a list of selection committee members for Academy approval by Wednesday, March 14, 2018, for eligibility in the following (91st) Awards year. A country need not submit a film every year.
- Only one film will be accepted from each country as the official selection.
- The Academy will provide online access to each country’s approved selection committee so that the producer of the selected film can supply full production information.
- The following submission materials must be submitted to the Academy by 5 p.m. PT on Monday, October 2, 2017:
- Completed online submission forms
- 35mm or 70mm film print or DCP with accurate, legible English-language subtitles. The print or DCP submitted for Awards consideration must be identical in content and length to the print or copy used in the film’s theatrical release.
- Digital content delivery
- Full cast and credits list
- Brief English-language synopsis of the film
- Director’s biography, filmography and photograph
- 3 to 5 representative film stills
- A poster from the film’s theatrical release
- Proof of advertising for the film’s theatrical release
- Countries whose films are shortlisted will be required to provide the Academy two additional English-language subtitled prints or DCPs, to facilitate voting screenings. The two additional prints or DCPs are due at the Academy by 9 a.m. PT on the Thursday after the shortlist is announced.
- Films submitted will be retained by the Academy throughout the voting process. By submitting a film, the filmmaker agrees that the Academy has the right to make copies and distribute them for voting purposes only. The Academy will retain for its archives one print of every motion picture receiving a nomination for the Foreign Language Film award. Additional prints of those films receiving nominations will be returned to the sender at the Academy’s expense.
- Foreign Language Film nominations will be determined in two phases:
- The Phase I Foreign Language Film Award Committee will view the eligible submissions in the category and vote by secret ballot. The group’s top six choices, augmented by three additional selections voted by the Academy’s Foreign Language Film Award Executive Committee, will constitute the shortlist of nine films.
- The Phase II Foreign Language Film Award Committee will view the nine shortlisted films and vote by secret ballot to determine the category’s five nominees.
- Final voting for the Foreign Language Film award shall be restricted to active and life Academy members who have viewed all five motion pictures nominated for the award.
- The Academy statuette (Oscar) will be awarded to the motion picture and accepted by the director on behalf of the picture’s creative talents. For Academy Awards purposes, the country will be credited as the nominee. The director’s name will be listed on the statuette plaque after the country and film title.
- ADVERTISING AND PUBLICITY RESTRICTIONS
- Only motion pictures that receive nominations or Academy Awards may refer to their Academy endorsements in advertising and publicity materials. A motion picture that is selected for inclusion in the semifinal round of competition may not identify itself as an “Academy Award finalist,” “Academy Award shortlist film” or the like in its individual marketing or publicity.
- In addition to complying with the Awards Rules for the 90th Oscars, all participants in the Awards competition are also bound by the Academy Campaign Regulations concerning the promotion of eligible films and are subject to the penalties provided therein, including the potential declaration of ineligibility by the Board of Governors for violation of those guidelines. The Regulations can be found at Oscars.org/regulations.
- ELIGIBILITY IN OTHER CATEGORIES
- Eligible submissions for Foreign Language Film award consideration may also qualify for the 90th Academy Awards in other categories, provided they comply with the rules governing those categories.
- In order to qualify for other categories, the motion pictures must be publicly exhibited by means of 35mm or 70mm film or in the digital format specified in Paragraph B.1 above for paid admission (previews excluded) in a commercial motion picture theater in Los Angeles County, for a qualifying run of at least seven consecutive days, during which period screenings must occur at least three
times daily, with at least one screening beginning between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. daily. The qualifying run must begin between January 1, 2017, and midnight of December 31, 2017.
- Motion pictures nominated for the Foreign Language Film award shall not be eligible for Academy Awards consideration in any category in any subsequent Awards year. Submitted films that are not nominated for the Foreign Language Film award are eligible for Awards consideration in other categories in the subsequent year, provided the pictures begin their seven-day qualifying run in Los Angeles County during that calendar year.
For more information on the 90th Academy Awards entry and eligibility rules log on to www.oscars.org, and information on the rules and guidelines on the British Academy Film Awards (BAFTA) log on to www.bafta.org.
Written by, Emmanuel Quist-Haynes (Art Director)
Cohen, Sandy (2008, January, 30th). Academy sets Oscars Contingency Plan. AOL News.
Cheryl Boone Isaacs elected first African-American head of Oscars (2007, July, 31st). Retrieved 2nd August, 2013 from http://www.Goldderby.com
Essex, Andrew (1999, May, 14th). The Birth of Oscar. Entertainment Weekly.
Horn, John (2012, February, 19th). Unmasking the Academy. Los Angeles Times