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David Poland

By David Poland

20 Weeks To Oscar: How To Get Nominated

20-weeks-who-will-be-nominatedI’m starting this piece with less than an hour to go in the Oscar voting. And my advice (this is the cheap stuff… if I ever became an awards consultant, my advice would be way more valuable than this) is different for Phase II. But here goes… a list. I hate lists. But it feels like the right format here…

1. Have The Goods – This may be the most overlooked part of award season, not so much by the studios or consultants, but often by the media. For all the endless bitching and moaning about who deserves what, shit don’t float to the top of the award pot. It just doesn’t. We all have our personal preferences, but whatever your “worst of all time” nominations are, there is a significant group of Oscar voters out there who just plain feel differently than you about that film. Same with the question of whether a good performance deserves a nomination ahead of another performance any of us might deem “superior.” There is no “right” in these arguments. But more importantly, there really is no wrong. There are other issues involved with who and what actually gets nominated. That is where the debate should be. But none of the nominations, however much the product of marketing, timing, glad-handing, or whatever, ever seem to go the legitimately undeserving. You need to have horses that can ride with and through all that manipulation… and that means they have to be good enough.

2. Commit To Your Status/Timing – You can open a movie however, wherever, and whenever you want and still be a major part of the awards. But you have to know the repercussions of any choice in these regards that you make and decide that you can live with them BEFORE you go forward. If you open in the first half of the year, you need to have a lot of good things happen for your film on first theatrical release and then you have to commit to spending atop the DVD release to bring the film back to people’s memories. Sometimes, magic happens. The Grand Budapest Hotel seems to be on that track. We’ll soon see if the magic is sticky enough. But here is a March release, without the benefit of having the director readily available to pitch the movie, and the lead actor on a limited schedule as well. And still, people are now talking about Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, possible Best Actor, and a range of other possible nominations. And this happened on top of the same distributor – Fox Searchlight – having a surefire contender in Birdman in the same season. That is magic.

On the other side, be one of the last films to be seen – Unbroken and Into The Woods – and suffer the genuine trouble of overly focused expectations and disappointment in the place of what might otherwise have been a much more gentle berth.

Somewhere in the middle is a film like Gone Girl, which was not only a hit, but a very leggy hit… but somehow lost steam between early October and early December.

The most painful situations are the films that convinced themselves that they were not really meant for the award season and then get some serious awards attention upon release. Then, there is no commitment to lean back upon. And the result can be hysteria. Rarely is the public going to see this insanity. But it is happening in e-mails and phone calls and hurt feelings about what goes from no expectations to a pleasant surprise to bitterness over what suddenly becomes a lost opportunity.

And then you have films like Boyhood, which were not released in “award season,” and didn’t do shockingly great business by the standards of the big studio films, but understand how to ride the season’s back and let the wave carry them. Boyhood has actually played it remarkably close to the vest. Right now, if you live in LA or NY, you may have noticed a new ad push… presented by Paramount, which is doing the DVD/Blu-ray release. That will be followed by the primary spending by IFC and the film’s other financial partners… in Phase II (aka, post-nominations).

Some strategies work and some strategies don’t… and the ones that work may not be the most brilliant and the ones that fail may not have been wrong. But you need to have a clear strategy going in and then you need the guts (and ability to absorb abuse that sometimes comes with commitment) to follow it through.

3. Get The Talent Out There – There are those who can go through an award season without a ton of face time and still waltz to a nomination. And then you have 85% of the nominees.

Yes, Mo’nique happens. But it is rare and almost always something so powerfully stunt-y that the performance is undeniable.

The goal of being accessible to voters is not just being charming and kissing babies, but presenting an image of yourself and your film that makes it easy for people to choose you over “whomever” when it comes time to fill out the card. But it’s not just accessibility. There are plenty of potential nominees who make themselves very accessible each year and don’t get the nominations. And ditto for being likeable. See Point 1… you also have to have the goods. And the pieces of the puzzle need to fall the right way.

But… if you aren’t accessible and you aren’t getting known around town as stunningly, endlessly charming, and your name isn’t Streep or DeNiro or Fassbender (lately), you can essentially disqualify yourself.

4. Fake Sincerity – This becomes the most important skill of all as the early days of the season turn into December and January and February. There seem to be few things as intoxicating as the thrill of people thinking your work deserves singular attention. But pretty much anything gets worn out after a while, especially under the relentless scrutiny of the season. There are dozens of people around all the time just praying and hoping and wishing you will fart during your acceptance speech.

Every public appearance, including the endless meal events, Q&As, and walking on Montana Avenue is like a first date. You’ve already put out. That was the work in the film. But now you have to prove that you are not stuck-up, not arrogant, welcome the aggravating opinions of every know-it-all in Hollywood, and all-in-all the homecoming queen/king, master of congeniality, good enough to marry their child, and unlikely to show up on Oscar night without underwear or with a DUI.

And if you think you are now over the hump and that it can’t get any more difficult… sorry, but it’s only just begun.

5. Maintain An Even Strain – You want to know how you know that Ava DuVernay is a profoundly wise person? She hasn’t risen to the bait.

Hard to do. Hard to get those around you not to do.

It’s hard to do when there aren’t accusations of twisting history going on around your film. And even worse than being accused of something in a negative way is becoming a poster child for being The Right Thing To Do. Nobody wants to take their medicine.

Academy members, just like what seems to be the majority of the world, want to believe in the magic… even if they know better. They want to feel good about their choices. In the end, I firmly believe that they vote their true feelings. But like everything that is being marketed, what they really feel is subject to manipulation.

If you want to be nominated, be solid, steady, talented, and not too needy. And if you have the goods. And if you work. And if the voters believe the you that you present. Then you will be a nominee, my child.

Oh yeah… and it helps to have $10 million or so around to make sure that your message doesn’t get lost amongst the noise. But seriously… it can work without that. it probably can’t work without some part of that. You do need screeners and screenings and parties (oh my), but it doesn’t have to break the bank, so long as all the other pieces are working and working at full efficiency.

And now, as I finish this piece, voting has been closed for the last hour. So congratulations to all the nominees! You did good.

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2 Responses to “20 Weeks To Oscar: How To Get Nominated”

  1. spassky says:

    “How To Be The Right Whore”

  2. Bob Burns says:

    Your “Califano was a leftie” position on Selma is lame. You’ve posted it at least twice and having seen Selma, finally, I am surprised that you would take the word of a former Johnson aide at face value.

    This isn’t about film awards. The film and its topic are well above awards and I don’t think film awards will have much effect on its success or its future impact.

    JFK, RFK and LBJ and their political aides and administrations were actively involved with the King surveillance. LBJ is documented as having an active interest in the sex recordings. It wasn’t just Hoover. Why is it so difficult to believe that Johnson was avidly in favor of voting rights and actively seeking to intimidate and control King?

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