Campaigning to Win an Oscar

The Academy Awards ceremony is only a few short weeks away, and the deadline is February 19 for the final ballots from those eligible to vote in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which means the campaign to win those coveted golden statuettes (affectionately nicknamed "Oscar") is heating up. As a clear example of the competitive nature of the race, my weekly issue of Hollywood Reporter arrived in the mail heavier than usual. The extra weight was the result of not one but two heavy-stock booklets promoting one of the contenders for "Best Picture." The print industry should feel very grateful to the people of show business who continue to spend outrageous amounts of money on magazine and newspaper advertising and print marketing collateral to hype their nominees during the awards season.  This is in addition to the extra budgets for press junkets, extra showings of contending movies in theaters for Academy members, free screeners and tchotchkes, and more, all to try to earn an edge and win what is seen as the ultimate prize.

The two marketing booklets that were attached to this week's issue of Hollywood Reporter were for Lincoln and Argo, arguably the two frontrunners to win the "Best Picture" category. The Lincoln piece was probably the third hefty insert I have seen for that film in the past few months. DreamWorks is really trying hard to spare no expense to make voters know that this is a "special" movie worthy of top honors for everyone involved. The Argo insert included a mini-documentary DVD about the true events that inspired the production and a booklet that neatly combined in one package everything that the previous Lincoln pieces showcased -- a timeline of the historical events in the film, the characters and actors who played them, the creative talent behind the scenes, the stellar quotes about the motion picture by critics from a long string of publications, and most importantly for Argo, a list of the many awards it has already won. 

These are not cheap one-sheets, but expensive multi-page marketing material. Spielberg has been burned in the past (as chronicled in the book The Men Who Would Be King) losing out to other films when arguably he should have won the prize, so no doubt his studio is sparing no expense in this campaign.  Likewise, Warner Bros. and its production and distribution partners are doing the same for Argo, which continues to stun with its strong word of mouth, great reviews, and victories in other prestigious awards ceremonies, including for director and star Ben Affleck, who was snubbed by the Academy.

I used to be so naive, thinking that the awards were given out to deserving winners based on quality and merit alone, that voters actually voted on the actual movies they saw, not manipulated by all the hoopla paid for by the producers and distributors who spend a small (and often not so small) fortune in an attempt to emerge victorous on Oscar night. These campaigns are no joke, starting with the early "For Your Consideration" shout outs for everyone and everything, and culminating with this burst of fevered pitching and shmoozing.  Politics has nothing on campaigning compared to show biz.

Is all the expense really worth it?  Do Oscar victories really translate to a boost in box-office and ancillary sales? I suspect that it's more about ego than just a financial investment. The Academy Awards are, after all, the film industry's self congratulations, and who among us does not wish to have the respect and accolades of our peers?  Who wouldn't want the phrase "Academy Award Winner" attached to their name and project?

So, who will emerge victorious? Will it be Lincoln or Argo? The irony might be that another film altogether steals the spotlight.