PART III: THE STUDIOS
You might be thinking this is simple, all you need to do is get one of the major studios on board and you’ll have all the support you need for an Oscar-winning campaign, and to some extent that is true. However image is everything, and you need to secure this support through the right channels, with the right names stamped on your project to gain that all important credibility.
In a nutshell, you need the backing of a big studio but you can’t broadcast it because this will be detrimental to the film’s promotion as a viable Oscar contender. Luckily for you Hollywood are one step ahead, and in the past twenty years a new market has emerged to capitalise on the major studios’ conflict of interests, caught in what Peter Biskind calls a ‘perennial tug of war between art and commerce’.
This market has been appropriately nicknamed Indiewood – integrating the resources of the majors with the creative licence of the indies, resulting in credible, critically acclaimed movies with the opportunity to turn a healthy profit at the box office.
The list of Oscar-winning films from the 1990s onwards has been overwhelmingly dominated by these mini-majors, the independent studios owned and/or financed by the majors. This includes New Line, DreamWorks, and Miramax. Many of the past twenty Best Pictures have been produced by these smaller studios.
Miramax is a prime example, having been owned by Disney throughout much of this period, yet building an image around this rebellious, risky, auteur-driven style of filmmaking. Disney’s branding is tightly-controlled (and almost the exact opposite of Miramax), and their corporate synergy is executed so effectively they are the envy of their fellow studios, so they could never sell a film in this way without a subsidiary. But these films are produced and sold to smaller, niche audiences in order to secure the credibility necessary for a successful Oscar campaign, so if Hollywood is a profit-driven business (which they are), why do they care about controlling these smaller studios, and why do they care about winning Oscars?
The answer is simple: they broaden their portfolio while investing in talent who currently lack the experience and the box office clout to helm bigger projects. For the major studios it is a long term investment with the short term reward of critical and peer acclaim.
So with that in mind, let’s go back to your film. You don’t want to go straight to the top of the Hollywood tree, wasting money kissing big studio butt, because you’ll end up penniless, filmless, and Oscarless. Don’t be greedy. You have an American period drama with a host of expensive Hollywood stars, so the budget will be substantial, but it doesn’t have to be huge, so if you want to win an Oscar you need to target the mini majors.
They will produce your film with awards in mind, because this is how they build their reputation, and they will use the funds of major studios to do it. You need The Weinstein Company – owned by Harvey Weinstein aka King of the Oscars, a Hollywood veteran with multiple Academy Awards under his belt, a vast knowledge of the industry, and an unrivalled track record. Your cast, director, and script are exactly right for someone like Weinstein to manufacture another sure-fire Oscar success.