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.”

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