How to Buy an Oscar

When I watch the Oscars, I watch for 2 reasons: to see all the dresses, and to win money off my dearest friends. I often don’t agree with the choices, or even that awards should be given for art at all. At least half the time I think the host is a drag and the speeches are pretentious. But I’ll give respect where respect is due: it’s not easy to take home an Oscar. You can’t even earn an Oscar by acting, no matter how hard  you try. No, an Oscar must be bought, and Oscars don’t come cheap.

Variety has estimated that an Academy Award will set you back somewhere in the vicinity of 3-10 MILLION DOLLARS. It’s not George Clooney who’s paying out of pocket, mind you. It’s the studios. An Academy Award will likely give their movie a push in the box office, or consideration-coralinecertainly in at-home rentals (Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby went from just $8.4 million pre-nomination, to gross over $90 million after its Best Picture win). It’ll put a fancy gold sticker on the DVD box in stores. And it’s a shiny piece of hardware not only for their office, but for any movie poster coming out of their studio for the next several years. Prestige!

If you’re anything like me, you may have cringed over some blatant Oscar name-dropping. Take Collateral Beauty for example (this is the first and last time it’ll be mentioned in the same sentence as Oscar this year, poor dud). The trailers likely introduced the stars as “Oscar winner Helen Mirren”, “Oscar winner Kate Winslet”, “Oscar nominee Edward Norton,” “Oscar nominee Will Smith,” “Oscar nominee Keira Knightly,” “Oscar nominee Naomie Harris,” and “plain old Michael Pena.” Well, okay, not so much the plain old, but you catch my drift. It’s always a little embarrassing when inevitably someone in the cast has been left out. Michael Pena might be a little put out with his ranking, but on a movie like this, the studio will do everything in its power to remind you that the cast is stellar (the story: well, that’s another question – hopefully we’ve blinded you with all the Oscar talk!).

Two rounds of ballots go out to Academy members. The first went out to secure nominations. Now everyone can vote on who will actually win. People are encouraged to only vote if they know enough about the category to make an informed choice (possibly the costumer knows little about visual effects), and are encouraged to see all of the master1nominees in order to judge accurately. But these  Hollywood types are busy people! They can’t be hitting up the cinema like us regular folk! Solution: studios can send out free screeners so big important people can watch the contenders in the privacy of their own homes. It will cost the studio about $300 000 to do that (it’s a lot of free DVDs – and there’s always a chance of piracy) but that’s just a drop in the bucket when it comes to buying an Oscar.

 

Next you have your print and TV ads, billboards and all the rest of the ‘For Your Consideration’ items to be paid for: all kinds of crap with the movie’s name tarted out all over it. And then there’s the constant round of balls, parties and teas, plus the special screenings with the stars in attendance, and all the talk shows and private lunches and everything else that come with pressing the flesh and hoarding votes. An Oscar campaign is like a political campaign. You have to be bold and ruthless. You have to want it, and you have to tell everyone you’re running. But you also have to pretend not to want it too much, while basically begging for every vote you can get.

If you’re really serious about toppling over, say, Natalie Portman, you may even hire an Oscar consultant. Yup, that’s a real job, and it’s their heavily-paid job to predict what voters are thinking, and try to swing it in your favour. Meanwhile, you’re going to rack up ridiculous airmiles, wear millions of dollars in outfits and jewels (about half a mil per event), and talk about the same damn movie over and over at press junkets for a good 9-10 months. You can make a human baby in less time!

Since we’re in the nitty gritty of Oscar voting now, there are some rules as to what the studio can do officially, so they’ve invented ways around, of course. The Santa Barbara film festival exists only to give fake awards to actors and industry in order to remind Academy voters who they are (this year, Barry Jenkins, Damien Chazelle, Denis Villeneuve, and Kenneth Lonergan ALL received Outstanding Director – suspicious much?).

If that made Damien Chazelle nervous then he could always start a whisper campaign about how Kenneth Lonergan needs to coat himself in pickle brine in order to fall asleep. ocrw2bgbThat sounds like I’m joking and indeed I’ve never heard anything about Lonergan and any kind of pickle, but Harvey Weinstein is famous for being – er – quite competitive, stopping at nothing, including the nasty rumour mill, and lavishing expensive gifts on Academy members just out of the “goodness” of his heart, no strings attached (except vote for my movie or I’ll blackball you forever).

This year there is arguably a three way frontrunner for best picture: La La Land, Manchester By The Sea, and Moonlight. So all three will ramp up spending in order to compete.Manchester was made by Amazon, who has deep pockets and is looking to establish itself as a  powerhouse. Moonlight on the other hand was an indie film, with a budget of just 5 million. This is where the personal touch comes in: it’s not enough to take out print ads (what are those?) – studios are making sure that the stars are available for selfies with each and every voter. Brie Larson, who took home best actress last year for Room said that her worst Oscar fear was “getting pinkeye” – she shook a LOT of hands, and god knows where they’ve been!

Harvey Weinstein is pretty much responsible for the modern, despicable Oscar campaign. He pours lots of money into wins, and he gets results: over 300 Academy Award nominations to date. 1990’s My Left Foot was Harvey’s first big campaign and he went hard: he had Daniel Day-Lewis testify to the Senate for the Disability Act; he chased people on holiday; he even set up screenings at the Motion Picture Retirement Home. He spent a record setting amount securing a Shakespeare in Love upset over Saving Private Ryan, and insisted the British crew move to Hollywood for the duration of award season. In 2002 he mounted a smear campaign against A Beautiful Mind, accusing the film of editing out the biography’s mention of homosexuality, and later pointed to “Jew-bashing passages” from the book. To take advantage of a loophole, he rereleased City of God 3 times to eventually secure it some nominations; it was first eligible in 2002 but received nothing, so Harvey kept it in theatres for 54 long weeks. He targeted Jewish voters for nominations for The Reader by screening at Jewish cultural events and seeking endorsements form the Anti-Defamation League and from Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel. While campaigning for Inglorious Basterds, he engaged a whisper campaign against Hurt Locker, hiring soldiers to come forward and call out the film’s lack of realism. When The King’s Speech went up against The Social Network, he had Jennifer Lopez and Mick Jagger host star-filled events. With The Artist, he reached out to Charlie Chaplin’s granddaughters. In 2013 he went so far as to hire Obama’s campaign manager to bolster The Silver Linings Playbook

 

Harvey’s not quite a pioneer though. The first real campaign reaches back to 1945 when 1945-joan-crawford_2149643iJoan Crawford hired a press agent to get her a win for Mildred Pierce. He kept her name in the news and planted items in the gossip columns. Still, she was too nervous to attend the ceremony, fearing a loss. Her agent, however, dispatched hair and makeup to her home while cover for her: a fever of 104 degrees, I believe he said. She won, and when press raced to her house, she was sitting up in bed, full hair and makeup, sexy negligee, and an Oscar cradled in her arms. Success!

Nowadays you have to have swag. When The Descendants was up for an Oscar, it sent out personalized ukuleles to members. More perplexingly, the team behind Lincoln sent out turkey roasting pans. Universal sent out iPod shuffles that just happened to be pre-loaded with music form Les Miserables. Disney sent out toy bows and arrows for Brave. None of this is exactly legal, but studios are willing to bend the rules to secure wins, and why on earth would the gift recipient ever complain? So yeah, the Oscars are a complete sham – or worse: they’re a 4-hour movie commercial.

 

 

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47 thoughts on “How to Buy an Oscar

  1. Ben

    Really interesting and fairly shocking to be honest. You wouldn’t think it should be this way with an “award.” Also another reason the Academy Awards are becoming less and less credible.

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Jay Post author

      I just wonder: since everyone knows it and it’s all so out in the open, why do people still act like winning means something? People cry! They thank god in their speech!

      Liked by 3 people

      Reply
      1. societyreviews

        The Actors probably thinks it means something to them as it represents some childhood dream but really you are talking about an award voted on by industry professionals who let politics and millions of dollars influence their decision.

        Like

  2. Liz A.

    Screeners… If you know someone in the industry, it’s a way of getting to see a movie earlier than it would normally be released for home audiences. And as I know someone who knows someone, I’ve only seen a couple screeners. Sigh.

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  3. Paul. Writer, Blogger and Filmmaker

    Brilliant article! I hate politics/elections and I hate awards ceremonies. Hmmm… are they connected somehow?

    While it’s good fun to discuss who deserves this and who deserves that but you have to wonder if the Academy members have a chance to watch everything and end up just voting for their mates or are swayed by Weinstein’s spin and shenanigans.

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  4. Birgit

    I knew it was fixed with all the plugs but i did not know all the details like what you mention here about Weinstein…makes me throw up in my mouth just a little. I had to laugh at the turkey roasting pans. When they first began, MGM was the one that often tried to fix things and Mayer was fuming when Columbia`s It Happened One Night won. I watch it because, despite the crap, I love it. I love to diss at the fashions and the over the top eye make-up(My dad would say their eyes look like 2 piss holes in the snow) and the antics of what some stars will say. I always like to figure out which wins my trophy for `what Drug are the on`award. You know this one will be politically charged like it was in the 70`s

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    1. Jay Post author

      Yes, this is a really cynical look on things, but there’s a lot of corruption and has been since day one when they had just a few judges deciding, and you’d just have those judges over to your home for dinner.

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    1. Jay Post author

      He refused to campaign the year of the departed so he learned his lesson and campaigned hard last year and it paid off. Now he knows, it has nothing to do with performance and everything with the time and money you put into the schmoozing.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  5. karengadient

    I watch to win the betting pools, like my parents before me. Yet, with each passing year, I kind of loathe watching more and more. This year, maybe we’ll just get text notifications and spend the time with whiskey.

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  6. ninvoid99

    Yeah, I hate Oscar campaigns. Anyone remember the one Melissa Leo did? That was disgusting and her performance in The Fighter was just over-the-top. Plus, I also believe the reason Gwyneth Paltrow won was because she asked Steven Spielberg to buy it from her since Spielberg was a friend of her dad’s.

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    1. Jay Post author

      Yes, sometimes if the studio won’t pay the actors do it themselves. She felt she wasn’t getting as much attention because she was older and less well know so she took things into her own hands!! You have to be shameless. It definitely rubbed a lot of people the wrong way.

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  7. Tom

    This might be the best, most insightful thing I’ve read on here. And you guys put out a ton of good stuff!

    While I definitely am not naive eniugh to think the people who ultimately win are winning purely because of the art they create, and while I did recognize there is some political wrangling and all that shit going on behind the scenes, the details here are what really surprise me. I always knew that the Weinsteins were brutal, but jesus. Some of that stuff is crazy, eg DDL testifying, and the other competing films he would try to sabotage (The Hurt Locker, wow….really?). Fascinating. Also lame.

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  8. Lloyd Marken

    Thank you for the article Jay. Weinstein’s campaigning is well known but it is amazing what some actions have been taken. That being said and it all being subjective I feel most nominees are deserving regardless of how they got there or not. But it is subjective. I have a friend who can’t quite get over A Beautiful Mind winning in the year that those particular nominees were competing and Crash beating Brokeback Mountain he’ll never let go. Crash and a Beautiful Mind weren’t terrible movies though were they? It appears that the National Board of Review seems to pick films that will stand the test of time better than the Academy.

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    1. Jay Post author

      That’s simple: the Academy is most straight, white, older males. Guess which movie they’re more comfortable with?
      They tend to gravitate toward war movies, and historic stuff with meat and action to it. They’re not as good with sensitive subject matter, and they clearly weren’t on board with gay material.

      Liked by 1 person

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  9. J.

    Weinstein is a machine! I didn’t know any of that about him. The guy is focussed!

    My issue with award ceremonies in general is they aren’t about acknowledging or recognising art as they are about recognising money and their own commercial opportunities.

    Still, Weinstein’s tactics are impressive. Clearly the man knows how to play the game!

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  10. Brittani

    This is a fascinating post. I love the Oscars, but I never paid too much attention to the campaigning part of it. I didn’t know about some of the merch studios sent out.

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    1. Jay Post author

      I didn’t realize how many so-called film festivals that take place this time of year are fake – everyone gives out fake awards just to keep the actors visible, and to let them make speeches, which circularly reinforces the idea of their performance being great.

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  11. Often Off Topic

    What does one have to do to receive all this free nonsense?!
    In all serious though, this post was fascinating, I didn’t know anything about the campaigning that goes on behind the scenes 🙂

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    1. Jay Post author

      Yeah, it’s heavy duty and quite embarrassing. I think they don’t want us to know how much they all secretly want it. They tell the cameras that it’s an honour just to be nominated but they stab each other in the back trying to claw their way to thank hunk of metal. Then they tell us “Oh that old thing? I don’t even know where my Oscar is!” – yeah right.

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