Campaigns are a lengthy and expensive process, but you already know that, which is why you’ve been planning yours since the day you started work on your critically-lauded drama about the American Revolution. All the components have been carefully planned, and as the anti-climax of your nominations success is declared to the world, you need to ramp your rallying up to the max.
You have already made sure that from the thousands of films made, yours was noticed and nominated as one of the best, but now it’s your job to ensure that the Academy chooses your film over your perfectly credible and equally well-promoted rivals. It is this period, between the nomination and the ceremony, when everything comes down to the campaign…
PART VIII: THE CAMPAIGN
Over the past seven weeks you have laying the best possible foundation on which to launch your Oscar offense. You have the right cast, crew, company, composer, and release date. You have already succeeded in securing a Best Picture nomination, but to join that elusive list of classics on the Oscar roll of honour there is a whole gauntlet of press releases, publicity stunts, and parties to attend. You didn’t get the Weinsteins on board for nothing.
Harvey Weinstein, the King of the Oscars, could win awards in his sleep. He knows how to win favour with Academy voters, and over the years many top filmmakers have surrendered their every waking moment to the whim of the Weinstein publicity machine. Following the multiple nominations for Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino has conveniently declared his willingness to participate in the Oscar season, and if you look really closely you can almost see the puppet strings.
In 2003 Martin Scorsese attended every industry party, and agreed to every promotional opportunity with an uncharacteristic enthusiasm. His producer was keen to justify the $100 million investment in Gangs of New York – almost unheard of for an independent film – and as such their awards campaign at times grew desperate. The infamous Robert Wise incident was the final nail in the proverbial coffin, as the film lost all ten of its nominations.
However Weinstein’s disappointment with Gangs was compensated by Chicago, which swept the board that year, winning six Oscars including Best Picture. In fact Weinstein was responsible for three of the five Best Picture nominees in 2003. So if you want to win an Oscar, bear in mind that not even the most calculated and aggressive campaign will guarantee success, and the most important ingredient of any campaign is a great film.
But you also need to give yourself that extra edge, making sure you leave the best impression of your film in voters’ minds. Over the years the extremes to which desperate Oscar hopefuls have been driven to secure those all important votes have led the Academy to publish campaign rules, which they update annually. On July 25th 2012 the campaign rules for the 85th Academy Awards were announced:
- Academy members can be invited to a maximum of four screenings that include filmmaker Q & As. The participants of which must have at least been eligible for nomination. A fifth screening in the UK is permitted.
- Screenings are prohibited from including a reception or any complimentary food and beverages.
- Members can only receive one piece of mail and one email per film company per week.
- Linking members to websites ‘that promote a film using audio, video, or other multimedia elements’ is strictly prohibited.
- ‘Film companies may not have a publication use its subscriber lists to send stand alone materials to members, except in connection with the distribution of the publication itself’
There are some other regulations and stipulations to be aware of too, as violating these rules will be devastating, and could lead to the disqualification of your film. So you see, the Academy attempts (as much as possible) to prohibit excessive and inappropriate levels of lobbying. In other words you can host screenings, you can send Academy members a copy of your film, and you can spend as much money as you want advertising in trade magazines, but don’t be an asshole about it. At least not publicly.
The Academy cannot stop you having friends, and if you work and live in Hollywood you are likely to have many opportunities to befriend voters. Seize these moments, and do it throughout the production of your film, so by the time voting comes around you don’t need to set up elaborate promotional events and lavish dinners that risk landing you in trouble with the Academy. All you need to do is a round of hellos to all your ballot-bearing chums, deliver them a DVD and have a chat and a coffee, you know, as friends with no ulterior motive whatsoever, and you may just find all those years of schmoozing pay off handsomely.
I know what you’re thinking, there are people like Woody Allen who publicly condemn the campaign process and Hollywood politics, but still manage to win more Oscars than most will even be nominated for. He is an exception firstly because he is an incredibly talented and remarkable filmmaker, and secondly because he represents auteur cinema and possesses all the qualities that Hollywood like to project. He wins because he deserves to and because he gets away with snubbing the Academy. You won’t, so don’t kid yourself, and if you want to win an Oscar you need to spend money advertising your film through trade magazines, screenings, and any other way that gets voters’ attention. But follow the rules, be smart, and most importantly MAKE A GREAT FILM.
Now go and win that Oscar…