Even for serious Oscar ballot competitors, a few categories resist preparation. Foreign films, documentaries and shorts are not something most people think about until handed their ballot, leaving “Funniest Name” as the only reliable criterion. But for the last five years, IFC Center has been trying to change those odds.
Its double feature compilation of all ten nominated shorts—animated and live action—premiered last Friday to the Center’s third best three day numbers of all time, following the premieres of Antichrist and Gomorrah. What’s more, the $32,546 weekend outdid last year’s shorts series by about $8,000, a one third increase achieved without spending any extra money.
“Every year, it’s the same sort of artwork, the same kind of poster, the same announcements,” said Neal Block, who oversees the series’ national distribution for Magnolia Pictures. “Our advertising budget is the same, but more people come each year.”
He thanked good reviews, positive word of mouth and, of course, Wallace and Gromit, the befuddled duo of Englishman and English-beagle who have a mainstream appeal most short producers would kill for. “The animated program is definitely better this year,” he said.
Besides Wallace and Gromit, the awards favorite is “Logorama,” a Michael Bay-style explosion-fest set in a metropolis made of, and populated by, corporate brands and mascots. Of the live action shorts, which are altogether less zany, “The Door” is a family drama with a Chernobyl backdrop, while “Instead of Abracadabra” and “The New Tenants” are absurd black comedies, the latter sure to draw attention for starring Vincent D’Onofrio.
IFC general manager John Vanco likes that people are coming for the novelty. “We have so many people who come who have never seen a short film projected in a theater before, so many people who’ve never gone to see a double feature before.”
Double features and short films have an air of old Hollywood about them, and that’s what IFC is going for. “We don’t think that our competition is other theaters,” said Mr. Vanco. “Our competition is the couch.”
Magnolia, in collaboration with Shorts International, distributes the program across the country, from Chicago to Nashville to Peoria, IL., opening simultaneously in as many places as possible to best reap Oscar buzz. Mr. Block called the strategy “democratic.”
“And 75 percent of theaters across the country, our grosses are up,” he said. “People want to win their Oscar pools.”
The program is such a natural part of the run up to the Awards, it’s hard to imagine that they wouldn’t be playing somewhere in the city. Their first year distributing the shorts, Magnolia had them running a week after the show—when instead of all being contenders, two of the films had become winners and eight were losers. Since they started showing them before the big night, their grosses have risen steadily.
From a business standpoint, the beautiful thing is that Oscar does most of the work. “There’s so much publicity for the Oscars in general,” said Mr. Vanco, “that people who’ve seen the program in years past only need to be reminded that it’s Oscar season.”
But no matter how easy the marketing, it wouldn’t make money if it weren’t fun. Most of the shorts are light hearted, tightly constructed and surprising in a way that feature length Oscar bait usually isn’t. Awards-quality movies that are fun to watch! What a novel idea.