Oscar-nominated filmmakers in this year’s Animated Shorts competition found themselves stuck between a rock and hard place last week when they were asked to remove their films from the Internet by an Academy affiliate prior to the Oscar voting deadline. The request arrived at a crucial point in the Oscar race when buzz for the category was at its highest in years. It put nominees in a pickle, faced with choosing between allowing the widest audience possible to see their films, and getting paid for them.
The sprint for last-minute Oscar buzz began when Disney made its Oscar-nominated short Paperman widely available online on January 29. The move gave Disney a bump in publicity with three weeks left before Oscar ballots were due February 19. Nominated films were to be made available for digital purchase on February 19 as well via Shorts International’s ShortsHD program, but a race to post free full versions online ensued among fellow nominees, including Head Over Heels directed by Timothy Reckart and Adam & Dog directed by Minkyu Lee. Both films were subsequently posted to the Internet in their entirety. (Fox’s Maggie Simpson In ‘The Longest Daycare’ had a strategic release plan already in place and made its broadcast debut following Sunday’s episode of The Simpsons.) The fifth contender in the category, Showtime’s entry Fresh Guacamole, had been available via the network’s YouTube channel since March 2012 as part of its Short Stories series.
As the nominated films began circulating online for free, Academy distribution partner Shorts International expressed concern that the theatrical release of the Oscar-nominated shorts slate would suffer a sizable box office hit. Shorts International, which distributes the shorts nominees via ShortsHD on iTunes, On Demand, and premiered the lineup in theaters on February 1 with partner Magnolia Pictures, spooked filmmakers in a letter dated February 14 requesting that the films be taken offline.