Why Don Hertzfeldt Probably Won’t Win An Annie

Everything Will Be OK

There are five nominees for Best Short Subject in this year’s Annie Awards, which will be presented by ASIFA-Hollywood tomorrow evening:

• Everything Will Be OK – Bitter Films
• How to Hook Up Your Home Theater – Walt Disney Feature Animation
• Shorty McShorts’ Shorts “Mascot Prepâ€? – Walt Disney TV Animation
• The Chestnut Tree – Picnic Pictures
• Your Friend the Rat – Pixar Animation Studios

One of these films—Don Hertzfeldt’s Everything Will Be OK— is a true underdog because of unfortunate circumstances surrounding this year’s voting in the shorts category. The issue was first brought to my attention by an ASIFA-Hollywood member who contacted Cartoon Brew about the situation. I was struck by the unfairness of the matter and decided to look into what happened. I’m bringing this matter to light in the hope that all future Annie nominees will be given a fair shot at winning the award.

The Annie Award rules for short subjects specify that voting members must view all of the films before voting for a winner. Members can view the films through a password-protected online website that shows the films in their entirety. However, Hertzfeldt’s film was never shown to online voters in its entirety until the last day of voting. Here is a timeline of what happened, which has been confirmed by both ASIFA-Hollywood president Antran Manoogian and Hertzfeldt’s manager, Jeremy Platt of Spectacle Entertainment Group:

January 15, 2008: Online balloting begins. All of the films in the short subject category are posted in their entirety, except for Hertzfeldt’s Everything Will Be OK, for which there is only a six-second clip from the 17-minute film. (See UPDATE below which says that other films may not have been shown properly either.)

One week later: Balloting in this category is suspended. According to ASIFA-Hollywood president Antran Manoogian, “…[A]ll ballots that had been cast in the category up to that point were deleted, and those
individuals who had voted were instructed to go back and view the new video, and vote again.”

At this point, Hertzfeldt’s manager messengered over a dvd copy of the film so they could get the entire version posted on the online ballot. But instead of posting the entire film, ASIFA-Hollywood posted an incomplete 13-minute version of the 17-minute film. The film abruptly ends in the middle but voters have no idea that they’re watching the incomplete version.

January 31, 2008: Don’s manager, Jeremy Platt, discovers that the film is incomplete yet again and calls ASIFA-Hollywood. According to Antran Manoogian:

“Upon further investigation, it was determined that the reason for this error was because the DVD of “Everything Will Be OK” that had been provided for the ballot was defective, which resulted in the last few minutes of the film not appearing on the video, with the other shorts.

“Luckily our video editor was able to figure out a way to transfer the corrupt file of the missing footage, and the complete version of the film was uploaded onto the ballot, immediately.”

Platt contends that the dvd was fine, pointing out that they were able to eventually post the complete film from the same dvd. Also, with the running time printed on the dvd package, it should have been doubly clear that a 13-minute version was not the full film.

February 1, 2008: The complete version of the film is online for its first full day, but online voting also ended on this day. The entire version of Everything Will Be OK was posted on the site for just over 24 hours of the two week voting period.

That only a 6-second version was shown initially is unfortunate but could be chalked up to human error. A stupid human error, since it should’ve been obvious that it wasn’t a six-second film, but an error nonetheless. However, to be so careless as to not properly post the film the second time around is grossly negligent on ASIFA-Hollywood’s part. After screwing up once, it’s unfathomable that they didn’t double- and triple-check the second posting of the film.

Hertzfeldt’s manager Platt thanks ASIFA-Hollywood president Antran Manoogian for being attentive to the situation and taking steps to remedy it. Yet, Platt also says that he has not seen this level of “sloppiness” in any other major film award. The sloppiness has likely cost Hertzfeldt any shot at an Annie this year, and Platt tells the Brew,”We’re disappointed in the process and with how this award was carried out, but we’ll just move on.” Platt says that Don Hertzfeldt, who is busy finishing up his next short, is taking the whole situation in stride and doesn’t worry too much since winning awards is not the reason he makes films in the first place.

For ASIFA-Hollywood’s part, president Antran Manoogian tells the Brew that his organization, “believes that all the nominees were reasonably considered for the award.” He also accepts full responsibility for Hertzfeldt’s situation:

“Although it would have been ideal to have been able to start the voting all over again, with balloting set to close the next day, and the Annie Award taking place a week later, it was not possible to extend the voting period without jeopardizing the timely delivery of the voting results…While one could argue that many parties could be blamed for this situation, ultimately ASIFA Hollywood takes full responsibility for what happened, and intends to take whatever action is necessary to insure that this type of an incident does not occur again in the future.”

The decision to offer an award in the category this year hasn’t pleased everybody, including the ASIFA voter who initially made Cartoon Brew aware of the problem. Though he has asked to remain anonymous to avoid possible repurcussions, he tells me:

“In my honest opinion, if they don’t do the right thing this time – throw out the votes again  for another re-vote period – then they ought to just admit they made a gross error and declare there to be no winner in this year’s category, since the voting was so clearly flawed.  To admit all their mistakes but “go on with the show” anyway (and break their own printed rules about watching all the films) is not something I would call ‘animation’s highest honor.’

“It’s not fair to the other nominees either, because whoever wins that award is going to get it under these fishy circumstances that turn the trophy into tainted goods. I truly do love the ASIFA organization and what they are trying to do, that’s why it’s so important for me to see things like this done right.”

Whether Hertzfeldt wins tomorrow night or not is besides the point. The integrity of the voting process was seriously compromised in one of the Annie Award categories this year. In the future, ASIFA-Hollywood must put in place new and stricter safeguards to ensure fairness towards all its nominees and maintain the intregrity of its highly respected and coveted industry award.

Chestnut Tree

UPDATE: I received an email from Bert and Jennifer Klein, the producers of another film nominated in the shorts category The Chestnut Tree. They tell me that the problems with Hertzfeldt’s film were not an isolated incident and that their film was also not properly shown to online voting audiences. They sent details on what had happened with their film and have allowed me to reprint this portion of their message:

“Our film was entirely omitted the first time around, we didn’t even get a 7 second clip. We contacted Antran [Manoogian] right away, which was probably around the same time as Don’s manager did. The timeline for the rest is correct—they didn’t have our full version up until the Monday before the voting ended. That was 2 FULL WEEKS of trying to fix the situation! It’s a huge hurdle to try and even complete a film, and only us two independents were left out of the race.”


  • Ed J.

    What a shame, as it is, in my opinion, Hertzfeldt’s best film. Sharp, poignant, dark, truthful, and FUNNY. Way to go Don! If it only gets one vote, it’s from me.

    Brilliant.

  • Ace Weems

    Perhaps his next film title will be, “Hanging Chad”.

  • Melvin

    So THAT’S why “Everything Will Be OK” so abruptly ended in the version I viewed during my online Annie Award voting. It’s a pity this horrendous screwup had to affect the chances of any entry, let alone one so refreshingly unique in its humor and world view.

  • http://www.cartoonresearch.com Jerry Beck

    As a member of the Board of Directors of Asifa-Hollywood, I too am disappointed with this one-time unfortunate glitch in our online voting process. You can be assured it won’t happen again.

    We do state that “voting members must view all of the films before voting for a winner” and we try our best to provide an opportunity for our members to see all the films. In fairness, it should also be noted that Asifa members had at least one (and possibly several) opportunities to screen Hertzfeldt’s short at free, open-to-the-public, local screenings.

    I’m personally very proud of Asifa-Hollywood’s choice of short film nominees this year. These were five films virtually ignored (or unable to qualify) for Oscar consideration. Friday night we will celebrate these films and filmmakers at the Annie Awards ceremony – and that’s what our award and organization is all about.

  • http://www.synchrolux.com Kevin Koch

    It should be noted that the current procedure, even though it had a huge glitch this year, is a big step forward for the legitimacy of the Annies. In the past, ASIFA members generally had no way to see the nominated work in most categories, and yet were free to vote anyway. The voting in many categories seemed to come down to a name-recognition contest.

  • Jeremy Platt

    Amid…great story and thank you to the ASIFA member that brought this to your attention. I can 100% promise to all your readers that the DVD of “Everything will be OK” that was sent to them by me was not defective in anyway because I was in full contact with their technical team and was told that is was a gross error on their part – nothing at all to do with the DVD. Not sure who else or what other “parties” could be blamed for this situation – “While one could argue that many parties could be blamed for this situation” – but at least full responsibility was taken for this negligent and unfortunate series of events. I hope this raises a red flag and assures that in the future all Annie Award films – shorts and features – are judged fairly.

  • Noodles

    I saw this film at Sundance 2007 where it won the Grand Jury prize for short films. It’s such a shame that Don’s brilliant film, probably his best work to date, was not treated fairly by the very organization that is supposed to stand up for the little guy of animation.

    I too have dealt with the technical team of ASIFA in the past and have found them to be unreliable. Hopefully all of this will be cleared up soon so new animators can stand a fighting chance against the monsters crews of Pixar and Disney.

    I’m looking forward to Don’s next film…in its entirety.

  • http://www.tomsito.com Tom Sito

    I’ve judged a number of film festivals internationally, including the Emmys and Oscars as well as the Annies. All I can say is that I’ve never yet seen one without some problems, that others will call unfair. Every system is a work in progress, and every system undergoes a thorough review afterwards. Like Kevin said, being able to judge on line is a great step forward for the Annies. Hopefully future shows will be free of such glitches.

    I love both of these films mentioned, and I look forward to more works from these gifted people.

  • http://www.taberanimation.com Taber

    Wow now I feel bad even for voting on the incomplete shorts section. Throwing out the award would be a bit disingenuous as a reparation but including those shorts who were affect on next year’s ballot…? Anyway on with the show.

    I’ll have to buy Don’s short to make it up to him! :D

  • Jessie

    I’m frustrated I didn’t even have the chance to finally vote for this catagory – I can’t even imagine how many people could have voted since it was suspended so often up until the last day. I believe I saw the shorts when they included the 13 minutes of Don’s film … but I wish they had at least ANNOUNCED that the problem was fixed on the last day – then I would have been able to finish voting. :(

  • Chris

    I think the ASIFA should blame Bush for not properly getting Don’s “OK” up on their site. I find it funny that they would try and toss the blame to anyone else but themselves espcially since they put the 13-minutes up on their site to vote from and if there was actually an ‘error’ or the DVD was defective at all don’t you think any tech person with any experience would have said “hey maybe we should ask for another DVD” instead of posting the, as they say, error defective version on the site. I think ASIFA is trying to save face by coming up with a poor excuse and his comments only make them look worse. I feel bad for Don.

  • Jeffrey Boarini

    Yikes! That’s so unacceptable. So the president of ASIFA confesses to not showing 2 of the 5 nominees to voters until the very last day, yet “all the nominees were reasonably considered for the award”? Come again?

    Sure, every award show has its problems, but you can’t admit them midstream, shrug, and still do nothing about it. That just tells the world you either don’t take the awards you’re handing out very seriously, or you’ve got no respect for the artists you’ve nominated.
    If I was one of the other nominees, I’d be way embarrassed to “win” under these circumstances. It’s not fair to anyone.

    Now I’ve got my fingers crossed that Don or Jennifer’s movies somehow wound up with the most votes anyway! Go independents!!

  • http://theillustratedlife.com brenton

    i didn’t even realize they were posted online. if i had, i may have actually voted.

  • Brian Ellis

    At what point do a majority of working animators shrug off at the Annie awards more than they already do, and consider it a popularity contest among an incestuous group of filmmakers?

    In fairness though, at what point does that more or less resemble the oscars, or any other industry awards ceremony.

    It is an unfortunate case in Don’s situation, but only when ideally pegging the Annies as the utmost competition where all films made in a year can compete against one another on an even playing ground. Although subjective, I think most would agree that “Gladiator” probably wasn’t the best movie released in the year that it won the Oscar, but any number of less than ideal voting conditions gave it an award that it probably didn’t deserve. Any non-profit organization that gives recognition to animated films is a great thing, particularly shorts which are typically harder to see and benefit greatly from any promotion, but to hold the Annie’s up to a standard unrealistic for any judging process is betting on a losing horse.

  • Tiffany

    I’ve always had high respect for ASIFA. I’m deeply disappointed that their judging process is so warped – erroneous, unfair, and dishonest.

    GET IT TOGETHER ASIFA-HOLLYWOOD.

  • Jon Reeves

    For what it’s worth, I had already seen Don’s short twice before voting (which I did on the last day, so I didn’t even know about the snafu until reading about it here). I do still miss the opportunity to see everything on a big screen — but since only a handful of us attended the screenings in the past, I can understand why the change was made, and overall it’s an improvement.

    I would like to see some indication on each category of how long the related video is before hitting “play”, so you can plan your voting accordingly.

  • Girish

    This is a shame. I am a big fan of Don Hertzfeldt and it certainly sounds like he’s getting the shaft.

    I certainly know these sorts of shenanigans don’t happen at film festivals in India. My parting comments: Get it together ASIFA.

  • JEREMIAH

    For certain, all three Disney shorts were up in their entirety?

  • Danielle

    Wow, I work as an editor a lot of the time and I’m unfamiliar with a glitch in a DVD that could prevent the film from being pulled correctly the first time and then subsequently be magically fixed through a “transfer”. It sounds like the person who pulled it from the DVD made a mistake, didn’t realize it, and then ASIFA tried to use technical jargon to cover their tracks. This is a real shame. I do love ASIFA, but the level of incompetence I’ve witnessed over the past year or two makes me cringe. For an organization that keeps trying to elevate their awards show to the level of other film organizations, they have done nothing but take steps backwards this year.

  • Edwin Austin

    I wish I could have seen these on a big screen the way should be. Its rather hard to judge them honestly when the picture is so tiny.

  • Jennifer

    Jeremiah: The first time around, Disney’s Shorty McShorts entry played halfway through and then started over again. Goofy and Your Friend the Rat played fine.

  • http://www.christianziebarth.com Christian

    I think I logged in to vote for Short Subject around January 18th or 20th and I saw each of the five shorts in their entirety. Sounds like I was the exception.

    “I wish I could have seen these on a big screen the way should be. Its rather hard to judge them honestly when the picture is so tiny.”

    Yes, but it’s still better than not seeing them at all. I liked each one and like that with the new online voting system you are able to watch all the nominees. Hopefully the technical glitch doesn’t change the outcome but if it can be established that it did maybe all five nominees should win this time.