Preparing a presentation reel for the Academy’s annual visual-effects competition is something of an art form in itself.
By Academy rule, the reel must be spliced from a release print of the film, exactly as seen by the audience. No “before-and-afters,” no remixing of sound or music, and not a frame over 15 minutes.
That seems simple enough, but smart presenters know that a carefully crafted reel can make the difference between an Oscar nomination and oblivion.
For one thing, the effects supervisors who cut the reels can’t assume the branch has seen their movie, so a good reel has to provide some context.
“I try to tell the story of the movie, because that makes it coherent, while hitting the high points of the effects,” says John Nelson, visual-effects supervisor for “I, Robot,” which made it through this year’s bakeoff as one of the three f/x trophy finalists.
Nelson starts by narrowing the film down to the effects highlights, which usually produces a reel well over the allotted time. Then the serious cutting begins.
Though the branch is not supposed to be judging the sound quality, Nelson and his peers long ago learned to adjust their edits so that loud moments cut to loud moments and quiet cuts to quiet. “Sound pops take you out of the picture,” he explains.
Another common trick is to cut the reel down to about 14:30, then add in a few seconds here and a few seconds there to make the whole thing flow better.
“What you have to do is show the best work, but then also cut the best reel you can,” Nelson says. “You have to not only cover your position but be a good filmmaker, too.”