MCN Columnists
David Poland

By David Poland

20 Weeks To Oscar: Sell Short

The is something new happening in this business of the same old song & dance (taken literally as the game plan for the producers of the award show these last two years).

I don’t think anyone has conspired, but it feels as though this entire awards business has been quite seriously shortened. When the completely meaningless Hollywood Film Awards are handed out in mid-November, it really will be “the kick-off of the award season.”

Yes… of course there are campaigns going on.

Yes… of course there were a slew of launches at film festivals in September and AFI is a week out from slinging the latest pack of awards hopefuls in our general direction.

Yes… Eddie Redmayne has fabulous suits.

But for as busy as things have been these last few weeks, it’s been kinda slow.

it’s been 3 weeks since Birdman flew into NY and became a critics’ darling. Since then, it’s really only been Interstellar. And that’s a release campaign so far… even if they are doing Guild and Academy Q&As by the ton.

Nightcrawler, a film I love, but is challenging for Academy members (and is with Open Road, which doesn’t have a ton to spend on Academy) has taken up a lot of the conversation lately, in great part because no one else is out there pushing. I would love to see Jake Gyllenhaal get the nomination for the amazing work he has delivered in the last few years, particularly in this part. But he won’t really be here doing heavy lifting until next week. Same with Steve Carrell, Channing Tatum, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Timothy Spall.

And Best Actor contenders like David Oweyelo, Oscar Isaacs, and Jack O’Connell aren’t even set to come onto the field yet, as their films have not been seen, though Isaacs’ A Most Violent Year film lands at AFI—in the Kodak, no less next week. O’Connell’s Unbroken is scheduled to start screening for guilds/unions over Thanksgiving weekend. And Oweyalo’s Selma… well, who knows?

Jessica Chastain is also arriving with the AFI premiere of A Most Violent Year. And everyone is inundated with Reese Witherspoon for Wild, right? No? Amy Adams for Big Eyes? No? We’ll all have been going to the round-the-clock screenings of Still Alice, for which Julianne Moore is guaranteed the Oscar she has deserved for so many years… ya?


And those are four of the six current Gurus o’ Gold frontrunners for Best Actress nominations. (Rosamund Pike, off having a baby sometime soon in the UK, and Felicity Jones are the others.)

You’re not late to the party. It just hasn’t really started yet. And it doesn’t much matter that, Still Alice, for instance, was at Toronto. It was seen. It was liked and loved. There is even Supporting Actress buzz out there for Kristen Stewart. But until people who actually vote start seeing the film in numbers, we’re just not out of the gates.

And by the way… the aforementioned, utterly corrupt Hollywood Film Awards, which are nothing but a marketing tool created by a conman that will not be called out by 90%+ of the media because they are participating in the gravy, moved from mid-October to mid-November with no fanfare at all… because the studios wanted it that way. Historically, The Carlos Awards (my name for them, honoring the scumbag who created them) gave the distributors a red carpet platform in October, where there was none. NYFF ends that first week of October. They wanted something between then and AFI where talent could look great in photos serviced to the world (and voters). But the idea of a TV event in October was not so pleasurable. And so, it’s now in November, between AFI and Thanksgiving. And have no doubt, there will be films that were no complete whether the awards were chosen that will get Carloses this year…. because there is no voting involved… just marketing.

It’s November 1 tomorrow and none of the Top 5 Gurus o’ Gold Supporting Actress candidates has really shown their face at all outside of film festivals… which were weeks and weeks ago already. Arquette, Knightley, Dern, Stone, Streep. The only one in the group whose film is still in hiding is Streep. And she is Streep! But I gotta say… it’s not like we have been inundated with wannabe climbers into the nomination game. (Hmmm… The Nomination Game… almost like a movie title…)

Fury has been spinning its wheels. Forget Pitt… where’s Logan Lerman? Is anyone in The Grand Budapest Hotel still alive? I’d love to see that movie emerge, but it’s not going to happen without anyone asking. Do Jennifer Aniston’s people think that a Pete Hammond grease-up online (or in an advertorial magazine) is going to get her into the Best Actress race? Cause, with due respect to Pete love, not close to being enough… not even a serious starter kit. Shailene Woodley is truly wonderful in The Fault In Our Stars, but if she is not present – a lesson from the movie? – her candidacy isn’t going to be alive in February.

Yeah… some people get exemptions. Bradley Cooper starts previews on Broadway next week for “The Elephant Man” and the show runs until the week before Oscar. I’m sure there are plenty of people working on movies and such. That is the nature of things. But almost no one is taking serious advantage of the quiet before the storm. And when the storm comes, only those with deep roots tend to make it through.

Of course, there are other reasons for the unofficially shortened season. Talent burns out… some even before they start campaigning. And there are very few films using Oscar season as a catapult for their films nowadays. It’s “sell the movie” first, then chase awards.

In the real world, where studios are just selling movies with massive marketing campaigns, the marketing windows have shrunk in recent years. Big TV buys, it seems, can wait for 3 weeks out if the awareness has been pumped up via publicity for the months and months before. This is why ComicCon has value. it doesn’t sell movie tickets. But it’s an awareness launching pad. And as such, it can be a key part of the marketing puzzle. They still have to sell the movies, but awareness is step one.

Have Oscar campaigners taken this lesson to heart? Are the early September festivals just an awareness play, followed by a 6 – 8 week window of lingering, and then the real campaign in the course of just a few weeks? Then leave the real fighting for Phase II (after Oscar nods)?

It sure seems that way. Both Gone Girl and Birdman were released off of the NYFF event marketing. Gone Girl‘s done great. We’ll see what the Birdman story looks like as it plays out. But the rest? Apparently, they can wait… all those whiny features about too many movies too late in the season for voters to catch up be damned!

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2 Responses to “20 Weeks To Oscar: Sell Short”

  1. Bob Burns says:

    Fine with me if the Oscar campaign season is shorter – shorter because a couple of months has been taken out of the middle. Teluride to Kodak is a very long period of time for anyone care about two hour parcels of passive viewing. The baseball season is that long but each team provides 162-plus bits of entertainment along the way.

    This raises the question about ad revenue for the bloggers, really. Fewer ads in October and November, but a splurge later? Or not?

    We hear about campaigns, but they aren’t actually reported. Who will name the publicists and who will finally put them on record – or on the record most of the time? When do we get actual reporting of campaign “events” without all the coy allusions.

    Think about how a baseball season is covered. They have a product to sell, too, but it’s all there out in the open, names named and quotes reported straight up, owners called out. Wouldn’t the baseball owners love to have direct control over the revenue of the press covering their teams the way the studios can pull strings on the people covering movies and the Oscar race?

    Which is to say that there isn’t enough content for people to care for that long. The high awards season of two months is too long for the content, particularly as it is not actually reported.

  2. Hank Graham says:

    I wish the marketeers could find a way to wake up the Academy voters to things that happened earlier in the year. Right now, the best performance by an actor I’ve seen was Ralph Fiennes’s masterful work in “Grand Budapest Hotel.” It’s depressing to think it probably won’t even get mentioned.

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