MCN Columnists
David Poland

By David Poland

20W2O: 14 Weeks To Go – Consult THAT!

Where are we now in this Oscar race?

Well, this is the moment when all of the serious BP candidates have been shown, voters for other awards are going to start voting next week, and the field is clear and clearly spread.

This is when Awards consultants make their money.

Well, this is when they do the work that will lead to them making their money in mid-January and late February… when nominations and wins come in.

Based on the movies I have seen, I personally feel that Zero Dark Thirty is the inevitable winner. It is a brilliant piece of hands-on filmmaking, a powerful story, and it is meaningful in a historic and political way. Others disagree.

But my biggest concern about 0D30 (and for Skyfall as well, btw) is that Sony hasn’t muscled up with one of the major awards consultants. They have hired some strong consultants and mutli-skill companies (companies in that class—not necessarily hired by Sony—would be 42 West, ID PR, Ginsburg/Libby, Strategy, PMK, Weissman/Markovitz and the like) who manage specific areas. But the last 15 years have become very focused on the strategies and styles of 5 consultants in particular. Here’s my 15 year scoreboard:

Cynthia Swartz – 5 BP wins (The English Patient/Shakespeare in Love/Chicago at Miramax, Crash/The Hurt Locker at 42 West)
Terry Press – 2 BP wins (American Beauty/Gladiator, back to back at DreamWorks)
Lisa Taback – 2 BP wins (The King’s Speech/The Artist, back to back at The Weinstein Co)
Michelle Robertson – 1 BP win (The Departed at WB)
Tony Angellotti- 1 BP win (A Beautiful Mind at Universal)

Of course, a lot of people worked, as consultants and full-time with each distributor, on all of these wins. Many will argue that giving credit out to these individuals is stupid… and I hear that argument. Others will argue more specifically about the influence each consultant has had on each specific film. Gotcha. And yet others with note the many films that each of these people worked on, even as they worked on the eventual winners, that lost or didn’t even get expected noms. Yes. I know.

But walking like a duck is what I am talking about… the forest, not the trees. Apologies to all of the trees. Many of you have been personally responsible for me and/or moving me through these seasons. So I truly am not meaning to diminish any of you. But…

My point.

There are four films in the last 15 years that have won, basically, with in-house strategy, some consulting help, and a parade of people hired to do the heavy lifting of the season. Each has its own story, but…

Fox Searchlight’s Slumdog Millionaire
New Line’s Lord of The Rings: Return of The King
Paramount/Fox’s Titanic
Warner Bros’ Million Dollar Baby

Again, I know the people who worked their asses off on each of these films. I think Rings had virtually every consultant in town (save 1 or 2) on board along the way. Searchlight relies heavily on their consultants (even hiring one into the company). Clint Eastwood movies are a lot of Clint and his team pushing the studio to make things happen. Etc.

BUT… what inspired me to think about all of this is the line-up this season.

Lincoln is being strategized by the great Terry Press, who is in the early stages of running CBS Films, but has been given the time to handle old boss’ Steven Spielberg’s baby while Team Disney Marketing is handling the day-to-day.

Lisa Taback is at the center of The Weinstein Company push, led by Silver Linings PLaybook, plus Django Unchained, The Master, The Intouchables, and Quartet.

Cynthia Swartz is working with Warner Bros this year, side by side WB’s longtime lead consultant Michelle Robertson… with Argo as their show pony and The Dark Knight Rises, Cloud Atlas, and The Hobbit as well.

Tony Angellotti is heavy into the game with year at Universal with Les Miserables. (He has also handled Disney animation for years, where he isn’t expected to bring home BP awards, but they are serious about winning Animation year in and year out.)

Which of the major Best Picture candidates is missing from this group of the tip-toppiest consultants? Zero Dark Thirty.

Sony has done awards campaigns for years, but in almost all cases, they had big-name outside support. Not this year. Not so far.

So does this doom the film? Well, as I noted, there are four cases in fifteen without the big guns, but still winning. There are the very skilled folks in Sony Marketing and personal publicists for talent… but who is running the show and are they ready for a run at the win? Is the movie good enough, not only to win, but to win over extreme pressure placed against it?

Also pushing hard without bringing on big guns to help is Paramount with Flight and David Chase’s Not Fade Away. Marketing queen Megan Colligan and her team over there are a long-time Oscar players, but they too hired more help in past years.

Ironically, Bigelow & Boal’s The Hurt Locker‘s Oscar win remains one of the great anomalies of modern Oscar history. Yes, they had The Mighty Swartz. But the poor gross in the summer made it one of the lowest-grossing films to win, specifically, but even more so in perspective with other nominees, in history. Still, it becoming Kathryn Bigelow’s time to win, Avatar‘s role as the Goliath, and a delayed push that should have killed it, but ending up being just right.

Thing is, the theme about this season has been the number of quality films and the sense that there is no clear frontrunner. So all of the top consultants are right over there… looking for an angle… hungry and happy to take down the big prize. Lincoln, Argo, Silver Linings Playbook, Les Miserables… 4 top contenders with the 5 top dogs. No one can consult to a win… in the end, it still comes back to the movie. But consultants set the table, forcing a narrowing (much as the role of the media in all of this, though with very different tools and mindset) and one misstep – no matter how much history supports it as a great choice – can knock your candidate off the table and to the floor, where it will become a dog’s supper.

Knives are already out for 0D30. “The Jessica Chastain character is a composite”… “there is no woman who was stuck in a car during a machine gun attack”… yadda, yadda, yadda. Firstly, I don’t know what is “true” and what is not. The film doesn’t claim to be a documentary… any more than Oscar winners like A Beautiful Mind, Slumdog Millionaire or Lawrence of frickin’ Arabia. I think it was BS to hold the ending of Argo against Argo or Jennifer Lawrence’s sensuality against Silver Linings or Russell Crowe’s rock voice against Les Mis or the lack of Lincoln giving The Gettysburg Address against Lincoln. The modern history of The Academy is not picking through excuses to dismiss films, but voting from the gut… once you survive the shrapnel.

And how can you blame the bomb throwers? There is a lot of pride and cash at stake. For the consultants, it’s not just about the movie. This is the stuff of careers. And all of these very, very smart people are armed with movies that have a legitimate chance to win.

And so… the season remains interesting…

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14 Responses to “20W2O: 14 Weeks To Go – Consult THAT!”

  1. Sam E. says:

    1. I guess Zero Dark Thirty could win but the Academy has a tendency to try of trying to avoid giving too many awards to one director which possibly dooms it.

    2. I didn’t see Life of PI on that list either.

    3. Whatever film wins it seems like the rare year in which four or fives films could reasonably win and no one would argue against their selection.

  2. KMS says:

    People need to give up on Life of Pi. It’s not that good, despite what deluded Ebert keeps telling himself. I don’t think audiences are going for it as widely and fervently as some have claimed either. It’s also not the visual masterpiece it’s being painted as, but whatever. Pretty isn’t everything.

    Also, if you’re listing people who helped a single film win the past 15 years, where are the names behind the remaining BP winners you DIDN’T name from the past 15 years? I don’t actually care who they are, but why leave them out when you obviously listed other single-fillm backers?

    Next: I do think the numerous and significant differences between film Argo and real event Argo are noteworthy, though I thoroughly enjoyed the film as a whole. I loved The Social Network more than almost any other film I’ve seen in the past 5 years, but I really wished it hadn’t differed from reality so blatantly with regards to Zuck’s girlfriend.

    As for Lawrence’s sexuality, it’s dumb if people are making an issue of that, but I doubt many are with great seriousness. It’s nitpicking that won’t take root for long, if at all.

  3. Sam E. says:

    Just because you didn’t like Life of Pi doesn’t mean it isn’t a contender Gurus currently lists it at 4 on their chart and it has 87% on RT. It certainly has a better chance than say Cloud Atlas or Not Fade Away which were both mentioned in the article.

  4. pj says:

    Huh? Give up on Life of Pi? That’s pretty far out in left field. Lee has been making the rounds and winning tech awards recently. He is in this race.

    And I think the BS is something all films will have to deal with since all films will have the detractors. It’s when there is universal praise that it gets worrisome. Oh god, I just made an argument for the relevance of Armond White.

  5. Keil Shults says:

    I dont think Cloud Atlas or Not Fade Away have chances either. I’m just saying that it has no shot at beating out films like Argo, Les Miz, Zero Dark, Silver Linings, Lincoln, and possibly others. I’m also saying people are overrating it, in addition to overestimating it.

  6. Keil Shults says:

    Mediocre films that naturally emerge as contenders (like Crash) have a shot, but rarely mediocre films that get shoved down viewers’ throats.

  7. Daniella Isaacs says:

    Just saw LIFE OF PI last night, finally, and think it’s ONE FOR THE AGES. I hope it gets something close to it’s due. It makes ARGO look like a TV movie from the early 80s.

  8. Krillian says:

    Just remembered I kinda enjoyed the first season of Starz’s Crash.

  9. Sam E. says:

    Hmmm…A Beautiful Mind, Forrest Gump and Braveheart were all films that a substantial number of critics thought were mediocre but were also widely beloved and BO hits. Regardless the film is likely going to be nominated and I imagine has a consultant campaigning for it.

  10. KMS says:

    I don’t foresee Life of Pi being widely beloved and garnering anywhere near the massive box office success of those other films (even ABM, especially if you consider inflation).

  11. KMS says:

    Again, I’m not saying Pi won’t get nominated (especially in a field of 7+ nominees), but it will not win. And yes, of course it has a consultant working overtime to make it into something it’s not, but I’m just hoping/assuming that Oscar voters will think for themselves (despite last year’s inclusion of Extremely Loud). It’s a flavor of the week. Moving on…

  12. Daniella Isaacs says:

    I doubt LIFE OF PI will, in fact, win. I’m cynical. I think you might have to go back to GODFATHER PART II/ANNIE HALL to have the best film actually win Best Picture. I expect it to be this year’s HUGO, at best. Hopefully a good number of nominations for it will at least get more people to see it. People who don’t see it in 3D and on a big screen are really missing out on a major experience. That and BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD are the two that blew me away this year–with several, 0D30, LES MIZ, AMOUR, and a few others still to see.

  13. Stephen Holt says:

    And where o where is the great Ann Dowd of “Compliance” in Supporting? This excellent veteran actress is trying against all odds to do her own Oscar campaign, which means paying HERSELF to send DVD screeners to allll of the SAG nominating committee. She’s starting with that. Is that like 2000 people? 500 people? And she has had to take out a personal loan to pay for all those DVDs herself. I think Magnolia is helping with the postage, but stil….

  14. David says:

    I wish you would do the charts youve done in past years. Thats always been one of my favorite things you do.

Quote Unquotesee all »

It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon