Oscar Campaigns: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

It’s well known that an Oscar win will boost a movie’s sales (usually), improve the careers of its actors (sometimes) and stroke the ego of the person who won it. (Always.) I mean – who wouldn’t want an Academy Award? And behind the scenes a lot of calculated decisions are made about how to get there.

Last year, Sandra Bullock (at the time celebrating her amazing performance in The Blind Side) flawlessly portrayed herself as the underdog in interviews … joking that Meryl Streep (of Julia and Julia) had sent her dead flowers. She was also a high profile figure on the  entertainment show front. Her acceptance speeches at prior award shows were humble and humorous. She played the likable everywoman, and walked away a winner.

Studios, however, commonly play the more aggressive, straightforward role… They carefully calculate who in their films is worthy of an award, and make calculated decisions on how to get them there. This year, though, things took a more unusual turn.

“For Your Consideration” ads are a tradition in the run-up to the Oscars, the pages are generally purchased by the movie studios to remind voters of a candidate for nomination and then for their final vote.  But this year, Actress Melissa Leo, a nominee for Best Supporting Actress in the film ‘The Fighter’ took out her own, self-financed advertisements. At the time, she was unapologetic, saying she wanted to try something that hadn’t been done before. She explained it was partly in response to the ageism in Hollywood that results in less magazine coverage of older stars.

Then, much of the media and bloggers seemed to collectively roll their eyes at the ads – which instead of showing scenes from the film, showcased her in glamourous old-Hollywood gowns… even a white fur coat by a pool.

They were, in essence, a little weird.

Some voters were apparently turned off by the ads and Leo began backpedaling, claiming the studio encouraged her to take them out.  (How a studio would ask a star to spend their own money to campaign for themselves.) Ultimately one hopes that her performance alone will determine Sunday’s result, but its hard to imagine not being shaken by the backlash.

Meanwhile, Paramount has been lobbying to get a win for True Grit’s 14-year-old newcomer Hailee Steinfeld. But even though she is largely the main actress in the film, the studio submitted her for Best SUPPORTING Actress… thinking few would vote for her in the lead category.  Critics and Oscar watchers are asking whether Steinfeld really belongs in the Best Actress field, and may avoid voting for her since she’s not placed in the proper category.

Aside from your performance, you don’t win an Oscar by staying home. It takes a lot of hopping around Hollywood to raise buzz and awareness about you and your role. Annette Bening hit the campaign trail during the home stretch, and it’s evidence by looking at TV listings.

According to the LA Times:

She recently introduced “The Kids Are All Right” at the Screen Actors Guild Awards and was honored at the Santa Barbara Film Festival. She’s made the TV rounds: “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” (Jan. 25), “Live with Regis and Kelly” and “Nightlight” (last Friday), “Charlie Rose” (Monday), “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” (Wednesday night) and “Nightline” (Thursday night).

And you can only imagine the whispers at the Oscar Nominee’s luncheon… where each contender is announced alphabetically… apparently, when Bening was named the crowd gave thunderous applause, but Portman’s name got a noticably less enthusiastic response. One writer even speculated the energy waned from the beginning of the alphabet to the folks further down. This is serious business!

It’s estimated that a studio will spend from 10 to 15 million dollars on a film that has multiple-award potential – it’s not to hard to understand why when you look at the numbers. While awards certainly add up to a career rush for the actors – for studio’s it’s really all about the dollars:

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Think of the bump as the Slumdog Millionaire effect: By the time Oscar nominations were announced in January 2009, the Danny Boyle movie had grossed $44 million. Ten nominations and eight Oscar wins (including best picture) helped boost its domestic earnings to $141 million and global box office to $377 million.


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