The Academy Awards have honored short films since 1931. Throughout the decades, the categories evolved until 1957, when they settled into the two categories they are today: Live Action and Animated.
The Academy defines a short film as an original motion picture that has a running time of 40 minutes or less, including all credits. To be eligible for consideration, there are some criteria a short film must fulfill, including format, audio configurations, and theatrical or festival release.
If going the theatrical route (which student films are disqualified from), “the picture must have been publicly exhibited for paid admission in a commercial motion picture theater in Los Angeles County for a run of at least seven consecutive days with at least one screening a day prior to public exhibition or distribution by any nontheatrical means.
Securing such a theatrical release is an expensive endeavor. Another option is to have the film vetted by an approved competitive film festival — not only by being accepted into the festival but by winning a qualifying award at the festival.
Student films can also become Oscar-eligible by winning a Gold, Silver, or Bronze Medal award in the Academy’s Student Academy Awards competition.
There are qualifying festivals all over the world, and in the States there are 38 different festivals. Each one has different awards that are prerequisites for an Oscar nomination — you can check this Academy page for details.
- AFI Fest (California)
- Ann Arbor Festival (Michigan)
- Aspen Shortsfest (Colorado)
- Athens International Film and Video Festival (Ohio)
- Atlanta Film Festival (Georgia)
- Austin Film Festival (Texas)
- Bronzelens Film Festival (Georgia)
- Chicago International Children’s Film Festival (Illinois)
- Chicago International Film Festival (Illinois)
- Cinequest Film Festival (California)
- Cleveland International Film Festival (Ohio)
- Florida Film Festival (Florida)
- Hamptons International Film Festival (New York)
- Heartland Film: Indy Shorts International Film Festival (Indiana)
- Hollyshorts Film Festival (California)
- LA Shorts Fest (California)
- Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival (California)
- Nashville Film Festival (Tennessee)
- New Orleans Film Festival (Louisiana)
- New York International Children’s Film Festival (New York)
- Out On Film, Atlanta’s International LGBTQ Film Festival (Georgia)
- Outfest Los Angeles (California)
- Palm Springs International Shortfest (California)
- The Pan African Film & Arts Festival (California)
- Reel Sisters of the Diaspora Film Festival (New York)
- Rhode Island International Film Festival (Rhode Island)
- Riverrun International Film Festival (North Carolina)
- RSF Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival (Massachusetts)
- St. Louis International Film Festival (Missouri)
- San Francisco International Film Festival (California)
- Santa Barbara International Film Festival (California)
- Seattle International Film Festival (Washington)
- Siggraph (USA)
- Slamdance Film Festival (Utah)
- South By Southwest (Texas)
- Sundance Film Festival (Utah)
- Tribeca Film Festival (New York)
- Urbanworld Film Festival (New York)
If you’ve got your eye on creating an Oscar-winning short film, make sure you set yourself up for success. Research previous Academy Award nominees and winners. Check out our article about creating short films to read about what it takes to screen at festivals or win awards. Watch films and read scripts from festivals you want to submit to.
And finally, consider entering your script in a shorts contest to gauge how the story is received in a competitive atmosphere and get feedback about how to make your story even stronger before you begin production.
Enter the WeScreenplay Short Script Contest. Every entry gets free feedback and admission to a crowdfunding webinar put on by Seed&Spark.
Shannon Corbeil is a writer, actor, and filmmaker in Los Angeles with recent appearances on SEAL Team and The Rookie. An Air Force veteran, her articles have been published in Business Insider, We Are The Mighty, and Military.com. She has written and produced hundreds of digital videos with millions of views. You can read more about her on her website or come play on Instagram and Twitter!