What It Really Takes to Enter the Oscar Race with Your Film?
What It Really Takes to Enter the Oscar Race with Your Film?
by Claudia Ciuffo
“Everyone in the movie industry wants to win an Oscar. I don’t think that’s why you make movies. But winning an Oscar is not just about making a great movie, unfortunately. “ Mick Jagger
I must admit that the first time the naive side of my brain learned about the details of the Oscar Campaign, I got a little disappointed, not to say shocked. The first thing to understand about the Oscar Campaign is that it’s very similar to a Presidential Campaign, except that it happens every year.
It usually starts at the beginning of the Awards Season during the Toronto Film Festival and ends during the final voting.
My passion for movies started years before I became an “insider” in Hollywood. And the Oscar night was always a big deal at my parent’s place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Back in the 80’s and 90’s, the Oscar ceremony was the only night we could see the actors, actresses, directors, screenwriters etc. who were behind the movies we loved. Before “The Internet Era”, that was our only chance to be “closer” to the people whose work was inspiring us so much.
Talking about the past sounds very poetic, but the reality about the film business hit me when I moved to Los Angeles 7 years ago. People are not kidding when they call it “the entertainment industry” here. It’s an industry, competitive and, for a restricted group, a very profitable business.
As aspiring filmmakers, you all know how hard is to sell a script, to shoot a film and find a distributor for it. And if, after having worked very hard, your movie becomes a box office success, is acclaimed by the critics, and loved by the audience, you’d think you’d have a shot to get an Oscar nomination? No, not at all.
The studios and producers actually spend a great amount of money “campaigning” their titles during the Oscar Race.
The first step is to hire a PR Company specialized in the Oscar Campaign. Then, they have to get the actors and the director out there to promote their films.
If you have been following the Oscar Race for 2016, you will have seen the star and the director of “The Revenant”, Leonardo DiCaprio and Alejandro Inarritu, giving numerous interviews and doing Q&As after screenings all over Los Angeles. They’ve been promoting both the film, nominated in the Best Picture category, as the lead actor, DiCaprio who got a nomination in the Best Actor category.
When we step back and take into consideration the studio’s perspective, it makes sense to have an aggressive marketing strategy, as their job is to convince over 6,000 members of The Academy of Motion Pictures, aka, the Oscar voters, to actually watch their movies.
I’m not a member of the Academy nor do I vote for the Oscars. But I’m a member of the Film Independent Organization and I vote for the Spirit Awards. This year I received over 15 DVDs, which means I had to spend over 30 hours to watch all the films and documentaries sent to me. For an Academy member, you can multiply the number of films they received by 10. So I get why it is necessary to invite the Academy members for screenings, premieres and Q&As to make your film stand out of.
Learning about the Oscar Campaign also helped me understand the reasons some of my favorite movies have never been nominated in any of the categories.The more recent example was “Begin Again”, my all-time favorite film in 2014.
The movie, directed by John Carney, starring Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo, tells a simple story using New York City not only as a location, but mostly as a character. Carney is Irish and hadn’t been to NY before shooting the film. He did an amazing job in a city that was new to him.
“Begin Again” was produced by The Weinstein Company, owned by Harvey and Bob Weinstein, known as the best “players” in Hollywood. Harvey is the “king” of the Oscar Campaign. No one does this job better than he does. The press liked the movie, as the public in the US, but the film didn’t get any Oscar buzz. Partly because it was released in the summer (note: if you want your movie to be a part of the Awards Season, you have to release it in the Fall, starting from October) but mostly because Harvey was campaigning for “Selma” and “The Imitation Game”, two movies based on historical facts and that apparently had more Oscar potential.
As a result of a good “Harvey” campaign, “Selma” and “The Imitation Game” got nominated in the Best Picture category. (“Birdman” beat Harvey’s movies winning Best Picture last year.) Keira Knightley did get a nomination in the best actress category for a supporting role, but she lost it for Patricia Arquette who was great in “Boyhood”. But in my humble opinion she should have gotten a nomination not for “The Imitation Game”, but for her performance in “Begin Again”.
Whether you like it or not, the Oscar Campaign is a reality. If you want to make it in Hollywood, you have to be ready to attend Q&As at The Academy of Motion Picture and at the movie theaters the members of the Academy go to. Be prepared to go to (boring) parties and dinners. And be aware that even Meryl Streep, the most nominated actress ever with nineteen nods, still has to do it, even if in a smaller scale.
To raise your chances at getting an Oscar, you should do your best to get a Golden Globe or a SAG (Actors Guild of America) Awards nomination. But be careful when you’re writing your acceptance speech. The members of the Academy are watching it too. Your acceptance speech on one of these awards stages can influence the Oscar voters.
Obviously, you will have to talk to the press, a lot of times on camera. Be nice. Every single word that comes out of your month counts during the Oscar race.
If you’re a producer, make sure that the Academy members are not only receiving the film’s DVD at home, but invite them as well to a screening at a movie theater. They will love you more for that, especially if there is a reception afterwards. Everyone loves to drink and eat for free in Hollywood.
If it sounds like a lot of work, it’s because it is. Not the best work for a creative filmmaker. But at the end of the day, Mick Jagger is right, as much as most people want to win an Oscar, that should not be the reason why you’re making movies.
The amazing actress Rita Hayworth never got nominated for an Oscar. Even though her performance in “Gilda” is outstanding. If you’re making movies for the right reasons, you will focus less on a prize and more on inspiring your audience with a powerful story.
That’s what I believed when I was watching those amazing movies with my parents 30 years ago. And I still believe that’s what cinema is all about. If you watch the movie “Tangerine”, for example, you see that it is possible to make art, shooting an entire film on an iPhone, showing a different and much more real side of Hollywood, where reality beats the superficiality of a campaign for a golden statue. It’s all up to you.
Claudia Ciuffo loves wine as much as she loves people. She’s addicted to twitter. Obsessed with movies, TV Shows and books. They keep her sane in this crazy place called Hollywood. You can connect with Claudia on twitter at @claudiaciuffo