The Way to Win an Oscar | Teen Ink

The Way to Win an Oscar

April 24, 2018
By Jared McAdam SILVER, Cannon Falls, Minnesota
Jared McAdam SILVER, Cannon Falls, Minnesota
7 articles 0 photos 0 comments

Do you need to figure out a way to win an Oscar but don’t know how? Well the thing to remember is that like most things in life the Academy Awards are a system and as such there are hacks, exploits, and loopholes that begin to show themselves if you look close enough and I believe that there is a surefire way to win an oscar, as long as the film isn’t terrible. After scouring 87 years worth of nominee and winner data, I found, believe it or not, each category has its own clear formula for winning an oscar. Now it's not as exact as one plus one equals two but keep reading and I’m going to increase your odds tremendously with the help of some hard facts and bad joes. Now let the odds be ever in your favor.


First things first, you got to get nominated but it can't be that hard to get on the ballot right? Well in order to beat the system you need to understand the system. According to there are nearly 6,700 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the guys who are voting to get nominees on the ballot. Those 6,700 are divided into seventeen branches some branches you would expect like writers, directors and actors, others like public relations, casting directors and executives not so much. They all go through two rounds of voting the first time, members can only vote in their own category and this creates a nominee list. A month later everyone votes again, but this time in every category to pick the winners. The one exception to this is best picture. Best picture nominees are voted on by everyone both times so if you're looking to land a nomination know who you're playing to.  

According to the Los Angeles Times Oscar voters are 91% white, 76% male and they have a median age of 63, which means any movie mentioning their favorite childhood pastime of hoops and sticks in the street is going to get bonus points conversely anything involving modern technology. A Social Network may get a nomination just so that the gray hairs voting can look hip and cool, but when it comes to winning you're out of luck. They actually had no clue what your movie was about and to round out our voter statistics 33 percent of voting members are former nominees, 14 percent are former winners and 22 percent are actors, keep that one in mind. Now you can already start to predict how some of these trends are going to affect our winner, but hold on your horses or I suppose if you're John Travolta hold on to Adele dazeem’s face because we're gonna go one step deeper and pick apart the awards category by category and let's start with the biggie what it takes to win Best Picture.


So right off the bat I have two words for you that will increase your odds of getting a nomination immediately, True Story, as we get closer to 2019 movies based on a true story have swept the Oscars starting with Million Dollar Baby and going up to 12 years of slave. Since 2001 7 out of 11 movies in the category of Best Picture belong to the true story group. If you want to go the extra mile and really ensure your chance at a golden statue don't just make it a true story, make it a true story that occurred during the Holocaust. Schindler's List about a Nazi businessman who saves his Jewish workers was nominated for 12 awards back in 1993 then went on to go home with seven. Meryl Streep received her 2nd Oscar for 1982's Sophie's Choice about a woman haunted by her time in a concentration camp and Roman Polanski's The Pianist won 3 awards in 2002 from the 7 categories it was nominated in. In fact the trend is so strong that when Kate Winslet was a guest star on Ricky Gervais’s Extras this is what she had to say, “Now I'm doing it because I've noticed that if you do a film about the Holocaust you’re guaranteed an Oscar. I've been nominated 4 times and never won. Kate Winslet finally won her award for her performance in 2009 for The Reader, a film about the Holocaust. She figured out the formula, so clearly people have caught wise onto this period piece based on a sad true story trend and are exploiting the ever-loving bejesus out of it. I'm gonna give you the secret on how to make an award-winner that doesn't instantly reek of pandering.


Answer me this, what does the Academy love more than World War 2 itself? Remember the entirety of award season is about the film industry patting itself on the back and recently the Oscars ego has only gotten bigger and more shameless. In the last 7 years look at what's won the big prize movies about how great movies are and not just movies but specifically how great actors are. 3 out of 4 Best Picture winners from the 84th and the 87th academy awards are about how wonderful and important actors are. There's The Artist about the birth of sound pictures and the struggle silent film actors went through in making the transition. Birdman at its core is a commentary on the artistic purity of acting and most blatantly of all Argo about how a bunch of actors save the CIA by rescuing hostages in Iran. Remember when I said that 22 percent of the Academy voters are actors. Know your audience and it makes even more sense when you look at the other big common thread across Best Picture movies they’re vehicles specifically for the actors.


Look at Gravity it won 7 awards, the most awards of 2013, Best Director, cinematography, visual effects, editing score, sound editing, and sound mixing. Notice that it didn't win any acting awards and that it didn't win Best Picture despite having the most awards of the year and the Best Director. How about the year where both Inception and The Social Network were nominated, both big idea movies with cutting edge effects, unique screenplays, visionary direction and both winning a lot of technical awards, but ultimately losing the big prize to The King's Speech, a period piece spotlighting two of the industry's most beloved actors. Remember when everyone thought that Avatar was a lock for Best Picture because of its cutting edge use of CGI and 3D, well that 22 percent of the voters didn't take too kindly to CGI and the award went to the small human war drama known as The Hurt Locker. Birdman, a tour de force for its actors talking about acting. So you film some shamelessly dramatic period piece with actors chewing the scenery,time to edit the footage


My advice here, don't leave too much on the editing floor since Best Picture winners tend to be longer than your average film. Your average film over the last decade has been about 130  minutes long, your Oscar Best Picture winner is at minimum two hours looking at the data from Collider, 70% of all Best Picture winners are longer than over two hours, the films released after 1960 that number jumps up to 80%. The shortest Best Picture winner of all time Marty was only 91 minutes and that's very much the exception. Gone with the Wind, Ben Hur, and Lawrence of Arabia all tip the three-and-a-half hour mark if you include the intermissions. Return of the King is just under 3 and 21 minutes. In fact there's definitely length bias, Oscar voters like to give the award to the longest movie nominated. The longest nominee has won Best Picture more than 40 percent of the time so if you're thinking of making your director's cut anything under 4 hours you're doing something wrong. If you followed this advice, at this point you should be holding the perfect Oscar bait masterpiece, but don't drop the ball in the homestretch. You still have to release this thing and like in comedy, timing is every. If you want to win an Oscar, release it late in the year this strategic releasing means that Academy voters are more likely to have a fresh memory of your movie. It's a psychological phenomenon called the recency effect, plus the film is still being featured in the press when they're casting the votes. I took a look at the 97 films nominated at the Oscars between 2000 and 2013 and it turns out that 56% of films nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards were first released in the U.S. in either November or December. Over half in the last two months of the year.


So that's a lot of information let's recap in short if you want to go balls to the wall and give yourself the absolute best chance at winning an Oscar, find an inspiring true story of a Holocaust victim who was an actor and/or director who courageously used that gift to make the world a better place, then make sure that your stars have nice juicy roles, keep the runtime above two hours and release it in November. Voila, you have just done everything in your power to optimize your movie to win an Oscar. However, I'm not going to be content just giving the formula for the most tantalizing Oscar bait. I will outright give you the movie you have to make in order to practically guarantee yourself Oscar gold. The true story of Kurt Gerron.


Kurt Gerron was a German Jewish actor and film director born into a wealthy merchant family in Berlin. He served in World War One but after being severely wounded he became a military doctor instead. After the war he entered the world of theater starring in the first ever production of the Threepenny Opera, one of the most famous stage pieces you've probably never heard of, originating classic songs that have transcended generations most famously Mack the Knife and get this Kurt Gerron was the first ever to perform that song and as Threepenny achieved international success, Gerrans performance of the song became famous across Europe. This propelled him into the world of cinema starring opposite Marlene Dietrich in 1930s The Blue Angel, but then shortly thereafter the Nazis began to take power. Though his actor and director friends offered him an escape to Hollywood, Kurt refused to leave Europe. He was eventually captured by the Nazis and sent to a concentration camp where he was forced to put together stage cabarets for the German prison guards, including reprising his famous performance. In 1944, the Nazis made him direct a propaganda film about the humane conditions of the internment camps and when the film was finished Geron was deported to Auschwitz where he and his troupe of musicians and actors were immediately sent to the gas chambers upon their arrival and killed. And if that wasn't sad enough in a tragic twist his train was the last one between his camp and Auschwitz and the gas chambers were ordered to be closed for good the very day after his execution. If done correctly this film is nothing short of Oscar gold.

The author's comments:

The oscars are about commerating the best in hollywood. But is there a way to hack the system?

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