Since 2010, indie distributor GKIDS has grabbed six best animated feature Oscar noms, and once again has two in the running this year with Tomm Moore’s lovely Irish-themed “Song of the Sea” and the sublime “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” from Studio Ghibli co-founder Isao Takahata. The question is: Does either have a chance of scoring an upset win? Probably not this time, but Moore (who was first nominated for “The Secret of Kells” five years ago and is rapidly becoming the Miyazaki of Ireland) should win eventually.
Just don’t suggest that GKIDS was responsible for edging out “The Lego Movie,” which some believe would’ve won the Oscar if it had been nominated. “I really liked ‘The Lego Movie,’ Beckman said. “I have an 11-year-old son, and, like most 11-year-olds in America, was really upset that it didn’t get in. We did the math a bunch of different ways to figure out how we get two in and what wouldn’t. I’m no expert but maybe it’s part of the phenomenon that comedies don’t get the love they need from the Oscars either. And so if you look at ‘Lego’, the animation was inventive and it was a funny, engaging story but it still doesn’t translate into a nomination.
“I think the Oscars are a great leveler. People aren’t getting nominated from box office. The Academy members sit in a room and in the end deciding how they feel about the movie, so the goal for us is to just get them in the damn room — our focus has been getting the film in the right hands.”
And GKIDS has obviously enjoyed great success in creating a recognizable brand for smart, hand-drawn indies that’s translated into Oscar nom success, thanks to rave reviews, effusive coverage and a slew of awards. Indeed, Beckman has taken a page out of Sony Classics’ playbook (“The Triplets of Belleville”) by snapping up festival faves. This will become increasingly important now that his deal with Ghibli is halting after this year’s release of “When Marnie Was There.”
“I hope the pause in Ghibli’s output won’t be long,” Beckman added. “But having animation be part of a deep national culture, as it’s been in Japan and now Ireland, has been satisfying, having that be an element of depth, mystery and wonder in your movies.”
This year, in fact, GKIDS will have a slate of three Oscar contenders with “Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet,” from an omnibus of 10 top animation directors (including Moore), overseen by Roger Allers (“The Lion King”) and spearheaded by producer Salma Hayek-Pinault, as well as the award-winning feature from Brazil, “Boy and the World.”
However, Beckman’s top priority now is to establish a more profitable business model: “We have a lot more to do as a company in terms of the digital audience for these films: theatrical distribution is the worst business in the universe. It’s a losing endeavor and Fandango owns my customers. We’re looking to get a little more direct consumer and owning the customer and pulling all of these different types of films together in one place. That’s our next step in terms of taking what we’ve built on so far.”