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Mr. Hublot Still

The Oscar Shorts Category Explained In 6 Steps

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Not so long ago, the Academy Awards' three short film categories—made up of nominees few outside of the industry had even heard of, much less had a chance to see—were guaranteed to wreak havoc on your Oscar pool. But over the past 14 years, there has been a shift in the awareness and availability of short films, thanks in part to Shorts International, a company dedicated not only to screening the Oscar-nominated shorts in their celebrated theatrical programs, but also to bringing the best of short films into peoples' homes with the Shorts HD network.

Shorts International's theatrical runs have become increasingly popular. So when seeking answers about how a short film becomes Oscar-nominated, I turned to Shorts International founder, Carter Pilcher. A man of many talents, Pilcher worked as an engineer, lawyer, and investment banker before founding Shorts International in 2000. The strides his company has made in short film and the exhibition of the art form earned him a spot as an Academy member in 2009. Basically, he was the perfect person to answer my questions about a short's road to Oscar. Here's what I learned.

1. The Rules Of Qualification Are Determined By Academy Branches

There are up to 18 different branches in the Academy, "and each branch is responsible for the rules around the Oscar prizes that it manages, sets those rules, and presents its nominees in those categories to the rest of the Academy," Pilcher explains. "So for instance, the actors' branch decides what you have to do to qualify as an actor and what the rules are. And then they go through a process to submit their five nominees in their four categories. Then the whole Academy votes on everything." (The only category not chosen by one branch is Best Picture. Those nominations are culled from the top ten submissions from every Academy member.)

There are three short film categories: Live-Action, Animation and Documentary.

But these categories are actually determined by two different branches. One is made up of documentarians, who determine the nominations for Best Documentary Short as well as Best Documentary Feature. Pilcher is a member of the branch that determines the nominees for Best Live-Action Short, Best Animated Short, and Best Animated Feature. "The total branch size is probably 600 people," he tells me over coffee. "It's a fairly large branch within the Academy. The largest is the Acting Branch, and the Short Films and Feature Animation Branch is the second largest."

As to who makes up this branch, Pilcher explains, "It's people who have distinguished themselves in making short live-action films, short animated films, or feature animations. So it's a heavily animation-oriented branch."

2. First A Short Must Make The Long List Of Qualified Films

Per the rules set down by the Short Films and Feature Animation Branch, there are two methods that qualify a short film for the Academy's long list for potential nominees. The first is that a short (live-action or animation) must win a certified prize at an event the Academy recognizes as reputable enough to pick exemplary winners, like the Cannes Film Festival. "The second way you can get your short film qualified is by screening for three days in a movie theater in Los Angeles," Pilcher says. "Disney and Pixar, all their shorts get released in front of pictures. So those all qualify. And it also allows for someone to rent theater space and qualify their short. So some films go that route."

From these two methods a list is formed that boasts somewhere between 100 to 130 short films in each of the two categories. From here, these qualified films are screened for the Short Films and Feature Animation Branch. The screenings of the qualified animated shorts typically occur over a weekend, and take place in Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco. "You go nine or ten hours on Saturday, eight hours on Sunday," Pilcher says, "and everyone who goes turns in a ballot. Probably two or three hundred members of the branch come."

The live-action shorts have much heftier running times, and so only screen in Los Angeles. This past year, the screenings ran for four hours over Tuesday and Thursday for six weeks. Ballots are issued at each screening, but members must see at least 50 percent of these shorts to vote on which of these qualified films should earn a nomination. "It's a huge commitment," Pilcher says of this process, "and the fun thing in the American Academy is it's like being in a guild. And there's a very strong sense about your branch and about the importance of your branch of setting a standard globally for recognizing the very best film." From these sets of screenings, the shorts with the top ten scores in each category move on to the short list.

3. The Branch Picks From The Short List For Oscar Nominations

After the short list has been determined, Pilcher says, "we have another branch meeting, and everyone in the branch is invited. And not everybody comes, but I'd say more than half the people come. They do a screening in L.A., a screening in New York, and a screening in San Francisco. And we all sit in the theater for the day and watch the 10 animations in the morning, 10 live-actions in the afternoon 'til evening, almost dinnertime. Score all of them. And then the nominations are announced in January."

While people might chat and casually compare notes, there's no conference where the whole branch openly weighs their options. Instead, those members who attended this short-list series of screenings submit ballots, scoring each film from 6 to 10 points. The assumption is that no film that's made this list will be beneath a 6. However, films that get an average score of less than 7 are struck out of nomination running immediately. "So if everything scored below a seven, nothing would go forward," Pilcher says. Barring those shorts rated 7 or less, the top five animated and live-action shorts go on to get the official nominations.

4. Voter Turnout On Shorts Has Shifted Since 2012

Once the nominations are announced, every Academy member has the opportunity to vote on every Oscar category. If a member hasn't seen some of the nominated films, or feels ill equipped to weigh in on, say, Best Sound Mixing, they can choose to abstain from that category. The Academy operates on an honor system that assumes its members won't vote in a category they're incapable of for either of these reasons. Again, Pilcher emphasizes that this sense of being in a guild pushes Academy members not to take these decisions lightly. He explains, "there is a feeling amongst everyone that this is really important, what we're doing. We are setting the standards for our part of our industry, and that these prizes mean something to people's futures. It's all volunteer. Nobody gets paid anything or gets any special anything … it doesn't benefit them personally in any way."

In the past, the short film nominees were screened for Academy members in New York, Los Angeles, and London. These are the only places that ballots for these categories were distributed, while the rest of the Oscar ballot was sent to members. Typically, stacks of screeners are sent to Academy members to make seeing the nominated feature films as easy as possible. For the 2013 Academy Awards, the shorts categories followed suit, sending screeners of their nominees. The result was more of the Academy voting on these categories.

Pilcher is elated over this increased turnout of voters for his branch's categories. His feeling is that pulling from the broader base of members from all facets of filmmaking will only raise the standards of the category, and better reflect the Academy's goal of promoting the best in cinema. As to how this increase in other branches weighing in has impacted the category, he has observed that the strength of a story has become much more a defining feature of winners than it was before. For instance, last year Paperman beat out Head Over Heels, a short that Pilcher describes as "very, very interesting and charming." While its animation showed more compelling technique than Paperman's, its story wasn't as strong. And he's hearing more and more that's what's driving voters.

5. Short Animation: Oscar's Most Egalitarian Category

In award season, we often hear stories of independent films that just couldn't compete with the massive marketing campaigns waged by big studios. However, because of the possibility of entry through film festivals, the shorts categories are not afflicted by this issue. "Short animation is a place where studios with enormous budgets can compete against students," Pilcher says. "So we have a film this year called Feral that's done by one guy [Daniel Sousa] at RISD, the Rhode Island School of Design … he basically hand drew the entire seven-minute film! Hand drew by himself! And it's beautiful and interesting. And he's from a design background, so it's a bit provocative and certainly more open-ended. And that film is competing directly against Mickey Mouse [in Get a Horse] … And the Mickey Mouse is fabulous too. And it's great. There's nowhere else in the Academy [where that happens]."

The other area where shorts offer more opportunity is to international filmmakers. Again, the film festivals—several of which are international—offer a shot for films from all over the world to truly compete. The trouble in the features categories is that the Academy is not allowed to just pluck what members feel is the best film out of a given country. Instead, they have to accept a nation's submitted feature for consideration. Pilcher acknowledged this is often a political process that doesn't always offer a country's truly best work, but it's out of the Academy's hands. Yet in shorts, this barrier doesn’t exist.

"The docs are normally done in the English language, so they are usually American or British," Pilcher allows. But he points out three of the five animation noms are from abroad, as are all five of the live-action nominees, representing nations from France/Luxembourg (Mr. Hublot and Just Before Losing Everything), Japan (Possessions), the UK (Room on the Broom and The Voorman Problem), to Spain (That Wasn't Me), Denmark (Helium), and Finland (Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?).

6. There's A Simple Recipe To The Shorts Theatrical Screenings

Pilcher recounted to me the uphill battle of getting Shorts International's theatrical program of Oscar-nominated shorts going. When they started, your average movie-goer didn't really understand what a short film was, as they'd fallen out of theatrical culture from roughly the 1960s to the latter half of the '90s. But word of mouth has been huge for the growth of these three programs (Animation, Live-Action and Documentary). Pilcher says people often tell him they come every year, or they came because they'd heard what a fantastic cinematic event these screenings are. Word of mouth is huge for the Oscar Nominated Shorts Programs. This year, they will play in 400 theaters across the US.

Pilcher and his company have been working diligently to make short films more accessible to movie-lovers, and a major part of this means releasing these programs on VOD and iTunes at the end of February. But with a VOD release following so fast after their January 31st debut, these programs seem too risky to movie theater chains that sneer at day-and-date releases. So Shorts International works with independent theaters.

To make their programs all the more fun, Pilcher and his team even bolsters the Animation program with a few bonus shorts. This year, this includes a wacky cartoon about some hoity-toity chickens in A la Francaise, the romantic Pixar short The Blue Umbrella, and a heady adventure called The Missing Scarf that features narration from the one and only George Takei. Asked what determines which non-Oscar-nominated shorts will make the cut, Pilcher said he and his team look over the short list, and clear their picks by the Academy, but overall they're looking for something fun that will play well to their audience.

The Oscar Nominated Short Films are now in theaters. You can find a full list of theaters here. They'll be available on Demand and on iTunes February 25th. 

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13 Fantastic Museums You Can Visit for Free on Saturday
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On Saturday, September 23, museums and cultural institutions across the United States will open their doors to the public for free, as part of Smithsonian magazine’s annual Museum Day Live! event. Hundreds of museums are set to participate, ranging from world-famous institutions in major cities to tiny, local museums in small towns. While the full list of museums can be viewed, and tickets can be reserved, on the Smithsonian website, we’ve collected a small selection of the fantastic museums you can visit for free this Saturday.

1. NEWSEUM // WASHINGTON, D.C.

The Newseum in Washington, D.C. is an entire museum dedicated to the First Amendment. Celebrating freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly and petition, the museum features exhibits on civil rights, the Berlin Wall, and the history of news media in America. Their latest special exhibitions take a look back at the event of September 11, 2001 and go inside the FBI's crime-fighting tactics.

2. INTREPID SEA, AIR & SPACE MUSEUM // NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK

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New York's Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum doesn’t just showcase America’s military and maritime history—it is a piece of that history. The museum itself is one of the Essex-class aircraft carriers built by the United States Navy during World War II. Visitors can explore its massive deck and interior, and view historic airplanes, a real World War II submarine, and a range of interactive exhibits. Normally, a ticket will set you back a whopping $33 (or $19 for New York City residents), but on Saturday, general admission is free with a Museum Day Live! ticket.

3. AUTRY MUSEUM OF THE AMERICAN WEST // LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA

Perfect for art lovers, history buffs, and cinephiles alike, the Autry Museum of the American West (named for legendary singing cowboy Gene Autry) offers up an eclectic mix of art, historical artifacts from the real American West, and Western film memorabilia and props.

4. MUSEUM OF ARTS AND SCIENCES // DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA

A massive art, science, and history museum located on a 90-acre nature preserve, the Museum of Arts and Sciences features the largest collection of Florida art anywhere in the world, as well as the largest collection of Coca-Cola memorabilia in all of Florida. Its diverse exhibits are alternately awe-inspiring, informative, and quirky, ranging from an exploration of 2000 years of sculpture art to an exhibition of 19th and 20th century advertising posters.

5. INTERNATIONAL MUSEUM OF THE HORSE AT THE KENTUCKY HORSE PARK // LEXINGTON, KENTUCKY

The International Museum of the Horse explores the history of—you guessed it!—the horse. That might sound like a narrow scope, but the museum doesn’t just display horse racing artifacts or teach you about modern horse breeds. Instead, it endeavors to tackle the 50-million-year evolution of the horse and its relationship with humans from ancient times to modern times.

6. THE PEGGY NOTEBAERT NATURE MUSEUM // CHICAGO, ILLINOIS

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The 160-year-old Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum is pulling out all the stops for this year’s Museum Day Live! In addition to their vast exhibits of animal specimens and cultural artifacts, the museum will be hosting a live animal feeding and a butterfly release throughout the day.

7. OGDEN MUSEUM OF SOUTHERN ART // NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA

The Ogden Museum of Southern Art aims to teach visitors about the rich culture and diverse visual arts of the American South. Right now, visitors can view a collection of William Eggleston's photographs and check out the museum's 10th annual invitational exhibition of ceramic teacups and teapots.

8. BALTIMORE MUSEUM OF INDUSTRY // BALTIMORE, MARYLAND

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Located in a 19th century oyster cannery on the Baltimore waterfront, the Baltimore Museum of Industry tells the story of American manufacturing from garment making to video game design. Visitors this weekend can meet video game designers and create custom games at the museum’s interactive “Video Game Wizards” exhibit.

9. SYLVAN HEIGHTS BIRD PARK // SCOTLAND NECK, NORTH CAROLINA

You can meet 2000 birds from around the world this weekend at the 18-acre Sylvan Heights Bird Park. Visitors to the massive garden can walk through aviaries displaying birds from every continent except Antarctica, including ducks, geese, swans, and exotic birds from all over the world.

10. DELTA BLUES MUSEUM // CLARKSDALE, MISSISSIPPI

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Visitors to the Delta Blues Museum can learn about the unique American musical art form in “the land where blues began,” with audiovisual exhibits centered on blues and rock legend Don Nix, as well as Paramount Records illustrator Anthony Mostrom.

11. NATIONAL MUSEUM OF NUCLEAR SCIENCE & HISTORY // ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO

America’s only congressionally chartered museum dedicated to the story of the Atomic Age, the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History features exhibits on everything from nuclear medicine to representations of atomic power in pop culture. Adult visitors to the museum will delight in its impressively nuanced take on nuclear technology, while kids will love the museum’s outdoor airplane exhibit and hands-on science activities at Little Albert’s Lab.

12. MUSEUM OF THE MOUNTAIN MAN // PINEDALE, WYOMING

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Dedicated to the mountain men who explored and settled Wyoming in the 19th century, the Museum of the Mountain Man brings American folklore and legends to life. The museum features exhibits on the Rocky Mountain fur trade and tells the story of American folk legend and famed mountain man Hugh Glass (the man Leonardo DiCaprio won an Oscar playing in 2015's The Revenant).

13. BESH BA GOWAH ARCHAEOLOGICAL PARK AND MUSEUM // GLOBE, ARIZONA

Arizona’s Besh Ba Gowah Archaeological Park and Museum lets visitors connect with history firsthand. The museum is home to the ruins and artifacts of the Salado Indians who inhabited Arizona from the 13th century through the 15th century, and even lets visitors wander through an 800-year-old Salado pueblo.

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12 Secrets of Sephora Employees
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With more than 2000 stores in 33 countries, Sephora has arguably become the ultimate destination for all things beauty-related. Founded in France in 1970, the cosmetics giant sells a variety of makeup, nail polish, perfume, and skincare products, but it’s not your average beauty store. The shops offer customers an interactive experience, with beauty advice and free samples galore. We got the skinny on what it’s like to work there—from the special vocabulary they use to why they’re always happy to give out samples.

1. THEY HAVE THEIR OWN LINGO.

Sephora employees use a variety of terms to refer to themselves, their wardrobe, and where they work. Employees who interact with customers on the sales floor (a.k.a. the stage) are dubbed cast members, and managers are called directors. Continuing the theatrical theme, Sephora employees refer to their uniforms as costumes and call the back area of the store the backstage. There's also a particular term they use to describe all the free loot they get—gratis.

2. WEARING MAKEUP IS A JOB REQUIREMENT.

A Sephora employee in uniform applies eyeshadow to another woman seated in a chair
Bryan Bedder/Getty Images

Sephora employees sometimes jokingly refer to their costumes’ futuristic style—black dresses with red stripes or black separates with red accents—as Star Trek attire. But besides donning Trek-y garb, Sephora employees must also wear fragrance and a full face of makeup. “We had a minimum amount that we had to wear every day, and we got written up if we didn’t wear it,” writes Garnetstar28, a former color and fragrance expert at Sephora, on Reddit. “In the beginning it was fun, but when I started working the opening shift I really started to hate having to put that much makeup on at 6 in the morning."

While most employees must wear eyeliner, eye shadow, mascara, foundation, blush, and lipstick, some of them can get away with wearing less makeup, depending on their area of specialty and the location of the store. And although they don’t necessarily need to wear products sold at Sephora, management often encourages employees to do so because many customers ask cast members about the products they personally use.

3. THEY MIGHT NEVER HAVE TO BUY THEIR OWN MAKEUP …

Reps from various beauty brands regularly visit Sephora stores to educate employees about their new products and how to use them. In these trainings, which typically occur a few times a week, Sephora workers may receive free products (in full, half, or sample sizes) to try. That can add up quickly, with some employees estimating that they’ve accumulated thousands of dollars worth of products. “I will most likely never have to buy mascara ever again,” writes Kaitierehh, a Sephora Color Lead (the manager of a store’s color cosmetics section), on Reddit.

4. … BUT IF THEY DO, THEY GET HEFTY DISCOUNTS.

A line of women pour over a new Sephora display of makeup in Australia
Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

If Sephora employees want a specific product that’s missing from their gratis goodies, they can always purchase it from their employer—at a steep discount. Store policies vary, but most employees enjoy a 20 percent discount for in-store and online products. During the winter holidays, this discount increases to 30 percent, and products from Sephora’s own collection are always available for a 40 percent discount. Additionally, Sephora employees who work at stores inside J.C. Penney (Sephora has a partnership with the department store chain) enjoy a 20 to 30 percent discount on J.C. Penney products. Not a bad deal.

5. THEY CAN WORK THEIR WAY UP FROM CASHIER TO SKINCARE PHD.

At Sephora, most new hires—who don’t need to have any makeup application experience—start at the bottom, working as cashiers or stocking the shelves overnight. But opportunities for growth abound. “Once you feel comfortable you can let your managers know you want ‘to go through build’ where you will learn about all the different ‘worlds’ the store has to offer,” a Sephora employee going by littleboots writes on Reddit. “Eventually you will be tested, and if you pass, you will have your very own brush belt.”

Sephora employees go through plenty of training, from the Science of Sephora (a curriculum covering makeup application and customer service) to hands-on learning from brand reps. “Sephora is amazing about education,” says Kim Carpluk, a Senior Artist and Class Facilitator at one of the company's New York City locations. “I’ve grown so much as an artist in just three years with the company,” she tells Mental Floss.

Cast members who complete additional training (beyond Science of Sephora) are eligible to earn a Skincare PhD, a senior title bestowed upon employees who have comprehensive knowledge and serve as personal beauty advisors to customers. Additionally, a select few become part of the Sephora Pro team, traveling the country to demonstrate makeup application techniques and represent the company on the brand’s social media channels.

6. THEY WISH MORE PEOPLE WOULD PRACTICE GOOD HYGIENE.

A display of Mar Jacobs makeup a a Sephora store in Australia
Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

The various testers around the store let customers dab on concealer, experiment with a new shade of gloss, or test a bold eye shadow. Although Sephora employees work hard to monitor and sanitize the testing stations, they can’t completely control what customers do. “I’ve seen people with cold sores, people with really nasty chapped lips, and people who were visibly sick using lipsticks and glosses on their mouths,” Garnetstar28 says. Besides the gross factor, contaminated makeup brushes, applicators, and wands can harbor bacteria (including E. coli) and spread infections. To minimize the risk, Sephora employees use alcohol-based sanitizers and encourage customers to use disposable applicators.

7. THEY AREN’T PRESSURED TO MAKE COMMISSIONS.

Unlike salespeople at other beauty retailers, Sephora employees don’t work off commission—so they feel free to give customers their unbiased opinions about products. “We just really care. The reason a lot of us work for Sephora is because we don’t have to work off commission,” Carpluk says. “We’re there to support each other and make our clients feel beautiful and happy, and suggest what’s right for them based on their particular concerns.”

To encourage cast members to be positive and friendly (without the motivation of commissions), Sephora offers customers online surveys that allow them to rate their experience at a store. Managers may also reward cast members who meet hourly sales goals (selling more than $100 worth of products in the next hour, for example) with free beauty products. “If we do extra well a manager might randomly let you choose extra gratis,” littleboots reveals.

8. THEY'RE NOT ALL WOMEN.

5 Sephora employees, 2 of them male, pose in front of a display in a Santa Monica store
Rebecca Sapp/Getty Images

While many of Sephora’s employees (and customers) are women, you can still find plenty of men in the store. “I have three beautiful amazing super talented drag queens on my artistry team," Kaitierehh says. “At one of my previous stores, I even had two straight boys on my cast.” At Carpluk’s store in New York City, the employee ratio is almost 50/50 males to females. “We have a lot of men that work with us,” she says. “We even have a lot of male clients come in. I recently did a small makeover for an actor—I walked him through how to use foundation and concealer.”

9. THEY’RE HAPPY TO GIVE YOU FREE SAMPLES …

Sephora is generous when it comes to free samples, and employees fully embrace the store’s bighearted policy. “I love to give out samples,” Carpluk says. “We’re there to help and to give out as many [samples] as possible. If you’re having trouble choosing between two foundations, we want you to take them home and try it out.” Typically, employees stick to giving three samples to each customer, but some are happy to give even more. “Anything we can squeeze into a container is the easiest—think foundation, primer, skin care,” littleboots says. “We can make a sad attempt to scrape out lip gloss or cut off a piece of lipstick too, it’s just not as effective.”

10. … BUT THE STORE’S GENEROUS RETURN POLICY CAN IRRITATE THEM.

A selection of makeup on display at a Sephora store in Beverly Hills, California
Joe Scarnici/Getty Images

Sephora’s return policy lets customers return anything (even "gently used" products) up to 60 days after buying it for a full refund, and customers who return items without a receipt get full store credit. While customers love the flexibility of trying products and returning them, some Sephora employees get frustrated when customers abuse the return policy. “I’ve seen entire articles written about how to take advantage of Sephora’s generous return policy by returning half used products and shades when the trends change and you get tired of them,” writes Ivy Boyd, who worked her way up at Sephora from a Product Consultant to Senior Education Consultant. “It infuriates me, to be honest, and is a very entitled attitude. When items are returned used, they are damaged out. They are destroyed. They go to complete waste.”

11. THEY MIGHT NOT WEAR MAKEUP WHEN THEY’RE OFF THE CLOCK.

Sephora employees are passionate about makeup, but many of them choose to go barefaced on their days off. Besides saving time by skipping makeup, they can give their skin and pores much needed time to “breathe” without being smothered in products. Not all employees forego makeup on their days off, though. “Every single day of my entire existence I wear makeup,” Carpluk admits.

12. THEY LOVE MAKING PEOPLE FEEL CONFIDENT.

A male Sephora employee applies powder to a seated woman holding a mirror and smiling at her reflection
Steve Jennings/Getty Images

Besides scoring free products and getting paid to work with makeup, Sephora employees love making people feel confident and beautiful. Whether they help a customer with acne find a good concealer or boost the self-confidence of someone with the right mascara, Sephora employees know the importance of self-image and the power of makeup to transform. “That’s actually why I feel happy going to work ever day,” Carpluk says. “A lot of women haven’t heard how beautiful their skin is, or how sparkly their eyes are, or that their lips are their best feature. I try to compliment my clients as much as possible throughout the service to let them know how gorgeous they are.”

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