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Last Updated: Monday, 20 February 2006, 07:58 GMT
The politics of an Oscar campaign
By Peter Bowes
BBC News, Los Angeles

Keira Knightley and Reese Witherspoon
May the best campaign win? Keira and Reese will battle it out for an Oscar
Winning an Oscar is the ultimate Hollywood honour. It is a mark of artistic achievement and for most actors, a career accolade second to none.

But the long journey from audition to acceptance speech involves more than learning lines and putting in a stellar performance.

It is also about the Oscars campaign. In the weeks before the big night studio publicists and awards campaigners go into overdrive.

Lobbyists design finely tuned marketing strategies to create buzz and focus media attention on their movies.

The Hollywood trade press is full of ads aimed directly at the voters. The studios send Academy members DVD copies of their movies, marked, "For Your Consideration."

Actors, who in some cases rarely give interviews, suddenly find themselves bouncing from one TV chat show to the next happily reminding everyone "I'm up for an Oscar".

'Commerce town'

"It's called Hollywood, not Vienna," says Tony Angelotti, an Academy Awards consultant and film publicist.

"We're really a commerce town and we love art as much as anyone else but if these movies don't make money there is no Oscar campaign, there can't be," he says.

In my case, last year, I'm pretty sure that they took into consideration the fact that it was my fourth nomination
Morgan Freeman

Once the nominations have been announced almost everyone gets roped in to the PR blitz.

"You're generating heat," says Morgan Freeman, an Oscar winner last year for his role in Million Dollar Baby.

"All of those actors and actresses and directors they're all pushing, we're all pumping up the profile of whatever the product is."

For most films, the campaign is planned at the same time as a studio rolls out its strategy for promoting the movie in cinemas. At that stage, the goal is to secure a nomination, which alone can vastly improve a film's performance at the box office.

Morgan Freeman adds: "In my case, last year, I'm pretty sure that they took into consideration the fact that it was my fourth nomination and a lot of people said, 'well, you should have won it before' - so all that factors in to it."

Aggressive

Aggressive Oscar campaigns tend to raise the hackles of Hollywood purists. A huge promotional push by Miramax is widely credited with bringing Oscar gold to Shakespeare in Love in 1999, even though Saving Private Ryan had long been the favourite.

"When I worked on Shakespeare in Love there were tons of articles that appeared without our generating them," says Mr Angelotti.

Charlize Theron
Oscar winner Charlize Theron is up for a second Academy Award

He adds that the media buzz surrounding the film reflected "a fascination with the subject matter that the media decided they wanted to keep writing about."

"It had nothing to do with the campaign even though we certainly got a lot of credit for that."

The influence of politics cannot be underestimated.

'Brave'

It has been suggested that Brokeback Mountain will do well because it was a "brave" movie make.

No, it's always suggested that these kinds of things can be bought and my answer is always the same: If they could, don't you think they would?
Tony Angelotti

Others believe the gay cowboy picture has been over hyped and has peaked too early - possibly opening the door for a surprise win by Crash.

Gil Cates, the producer of the Oscars ceremony, takes a dim view of the campaigns.

"Many of them are excessive, many of them go beyond where they need to go.

"If a campaign encourages you to go see a movie, I think that's great but for a campaign to try to encourage you to vote for one movie over another I think that's really irrelevant and in an odd way I think that's morally wrong."

Whether it be gentle cajoling or ruthless lobbying, the campaigns stop short of outright bribery. But could an Oscar be bought?

'Much easier'

"Do I wish it could - it would make my life so much easier," jokes Mr Angelotti. "No, it's always suggested that these kinds of things can be bought and my answer is always the same: If they could, don't you think they would?"

"There's an enormous amount of payoff," says Fredell Pogodin, who runs a public relations agency that specialises in independent, foreign and documentary films.

For low profile films with sub titles, Oscar glory can have far-reaching consequences.

"There a payoff for a country that's trying to promote it's own industry, perhaps its own tourism," says Ms Pogodin.

"It's easier if you're a producer or a director to raise money for your next project, if you've been Oscar nominated.

"A lot of these films start the Oscar race without a US distribution deal. Invariably about 80 to 90% of the time if you are an Oscar nominee you will be picked up by a US distributor."

Masterminding

In the best foreign language category, Ms Pogodin's company is masterminding the campaign for Tsotsi, a low budget film set in the Johannesburg township of Soweto.

"If you think about it, a film set in South Africa is not the easiest sell with an all black cast," she says.

"Most people are not into subtitled films. We're relying upon the Oscars totally to create an audience for that particular film."

For the US market, the big money lies in a nomination for best picture and to a lesser extent, the best actor and actress awards. Most experts agree that there is no magic formula for success.

"There are factors that are too many to list that direct a campaign," says Mr Angelotti.

"Luck is one of the greatest ones."




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