So I finally got around to watching last year’s Academy Award winning flick “12 Years a Slave.” It was a pretty good movie, and a very moving (and depressing) true story. But I just can’t help it. At the end, I found myself saying the same thing about it as I do about most films that win the Academy’s most coveted award. I found myself saying, “Yeah. That was pretty good.” But as usual, I could think of 3 or 4 movies from the past year I enjoyed more for various reasons. This trend frequently gives me pause, and begs the question, “what does it take to win best picture.” So after careful thought, I’ve come up with 5 tried and true steps to get your Best Picture award. Let’s get on with it!
1. Story: Find a true story, then base your movie off that story: For even better winning power, base your movie off a book that is based on a true story. that really gives it winning momentum.
1a. After finding your true story, it doesn’t matter even a bit how true to that story you are. You can embellish and change, or even create a completely new story. All that really matters is that when the opening screen fades to black, you see the words “based on a true story.”
1b. The story HAS to be about a tortured soul. It doesn’t matter whether that torture comes from other people, or from within. and again, it doesn’t matter whether any or all the torture really happened, so long as the story features torture of some form. The only other option is a true story about overcoming all the odds to succeed at some impossible task, but odds are you’ll still lose to torture if you go that route.
1c. If you absolutely can’t find a good true story, then just base it of some classic literature. After all, if you piggy-back off some other artists superior literature, you totally deserve recognition for that. Way to not screw up a good thing! Here’s an Oscar!
2. Casting: One or two big names help, but make sure you have at least one no name actor to round it out: This one is tough. Sometimes filmmakers avoid this. But if you can find that one person that really makes a splash and no one has heard of, then you create buzz. All the critics you are trying to influence will stand up and say “gosh, I’ve never heard of him/her. what an incredible performance.”
2a. This device is most likely to backfire if you aren’t careful. If you pick some no-name child actor who can’t deliver a single line with any sort of real emotion, then good luck with that…
2b. this goes for the director as well. Either have a respected director who everyone already likes, or have a no name that doesn’t have a reputation. If your director has a reputation for, say, teen TV drama, or Sci-fi action, then good luck convincing anyone he deserves an award. Forget how good the movie may be.
3. Length: Don’t worry about it. Seriously. Don’t. In fact, if you do worry about length, make sure to make your film longer. Much longer. Make it so an average film-goer will probably be bored out of their mind for half the movie. The Academy loves crap like that. I mean, ever since “Gone With the Wind,” it seems like those guys have been like “Yeah!!! we Love us some long-a$# movies! BOO-YAH!” Most regular audience members will say they liked it anyway, even though they fell asleep halfway through the third hour, so long as you carry out the other steps, especially the next one.
4. Tone/plot: With the length of the movie you’re going to have to make, it’s going to be really difficult to sustain the sense of gravity, or even the sense of interest. Not many people have that sort of attention span after all. But my advice to you is just don’t worry about it. You don’t need consistently good plotting, or effective tone/aesthetic to win your award. Just make sure you have at least two or three scenes that are really intense, or heart-wrenching, or otherwise give the audience insight into just how tortured the main characters are, or how truly difficult their task is.
This might be the most important step to winning Best Picture. If you can nail those scenes that are so real, or so teeth-grindingly, heart-wrenchingly painful (it can be emotional or physical, but if it’s both, then you’re truly golden!!!) then everyone who matters will be talking about your movie until the cows come home.
5. Other Nerdy Stuff: I say that because it’s stuff I occasionally notice in film, but don’t usually care about, and neither do you. But it has to be there for the nerds. For example, it could be an absolutely boring score composed to fit the boring movie, but people will say “what great music! It really enhanced the length of the three and a half hour film!”
Nerdy stuff can also help you with step 3. For example, take excessive time for long shots of scenery. make sure the colors reflect the tone you’re going for. the longer the shot, and the more effective, the more nerds will say stuff to make themselves sound smart like “check out that AMAZING cinematography!” or “This movie is so artistic.” You can even use these tricks to eliminate the need for dialogue. For example, take a couple of minutes to just watch the main character look pensive, somber, sad, or distressed. It doesn’t add to the plot, but it will lengthen your movie, and it will also somehow increase your actor’s chance at winning his own award, what with folks saying “gee-whiz, he sure looked real serious in that one shot that lasted for nine minutes.” or “He sure stares into space thoughtfully for long periods of time really well!”
If you accomplish all these steps, then sit back and enjoy your victory: Don’t worry about works of fiction that are more popular, have more relevant themes for today’s society, have more big name actors, or more critical praise. They didn’t follow the above things going for them. We all know fiction can’t be as poignant as true stories. Well… unless the fiction is based on a book. Not a book about a super hero, mind you. Definitely not a book aimed at youth, kids, or young adults. Those couldn’t possibly have the same impact on an audience. Which is why you know you’ve won.
I want you to know that at next year’s Academy Awards, I expect a thank you for giving you these steps. When you’ve finished your overlong-underscripted-loosely-based-on-a-true-story-masterpiece, I expect to be included in your thank you speech. I’m coming for you if you don’t.