When Oscar balloting officially concluded at 5 p.m. Tuesday, electrolyte-depleted marketing gurus and studio publicists all over Hollywood collapsed in nervous exhaustion. With the conclusion of yet another death race of glad-handing, talk-show gabbing, Academy screening Q&Aing, and red-carpet grinning, I asked experts the question: Does Oscar campaigning even work? One Oscar consultant replied, “Does it make a difference? Absolutely. Can it make no difference at all? Absolutely.” Another consultant: “It might not be that campaigning works so much as not campaigning is a great way to not win.”
So there you have it: Supplicating to the Academy won’t necessarily get you an Oscar ... but it’s your only hope. With that irresistible sales pitch, I asked for the tactics that are most likely to nab nominees an Oscar. (Unless they don’t.)
Oscar Tactic No. 1: Show your hunger.
It might seem obvious, but the best way to win an Oscar is to let people know you want to win an Oscar. “It’s like throwing a birthday party,” explains our first Oscar consultant. “You can’t tell people that you don’t want [any presents] and then be shocked that they don’t give them to you.”
One marketing expert relates an example of a campaign that failed as a result of just such an approach: Julie Christie’s non-campaign for Best Actress in 2006’s Away From Her. “She told us, ‘I’ve never been a campaigner,’” relates this insider. “She kind of disappeared; she went back to Europe — and she lost. Whereas Marion Cotillard [nominated for La Vie En Rose] moved into the Chateau Marmont and let everyone know she wanted it. I remember saying to her, ‘You might want to come back here.’”
This year, two actors who have traditionally eschewed campaigning — Lincoln’s Daniel Day Lewis and Silver Lining Playbook’s Robert De Niro — worked overtime to court Academy membership, for Best Actor and Supporting Actor respectively.
“Supporting Actor this year is interesting,” opines one studio chief. “Harvey practically got De Niro to wash cars on Santa Monica Boulevard.” Adds the first consultant, “De Niro hasn’t done much glad-handing and personal appearances in his career. But this guy, for a supporting role, is everywhere — including that Hollywood International Film Festival. On Goodfellas, he was nowhere to be seen. I remember studio publicists were driven to drink over his nonchalance.”
Notes the head of marketing at another studio without skin in the Best Actor race, “Daniel Day-Lewis is going to win no matter what, but he also campaigned more than he ever has before. He was out here a lot — I’ve never seen him doing it before — probably because it’s such a tough field of competitors, you know?”
The studio chief does, however, warn of the dangers of someone of their pedigree being seen as wanting it too badly. “If it doesn’t work, then that’s bad, because you’ve sold out shaking hands and kissing babies; when Academy members see noneffective glad-handing, people avert their eyes.” Rough town!
Oscar Tactic No. 2: Be a beautiful woman.
Just a year ago, the Los Angeles Times published its own examination of the Academy’s secrecy-enshrouded membership, and the results were quite unlike the broader movie-going public: Oscar voters are nearly 94 percent white and more than three-quarters (77 percent) male, the Times found, with a median age of 62. Members younger than 50 years old make up less than 15 percent of the membership. To put that in technical demographic terms, it means the electorate is filled with dirty old men. “Here’s the sad truth: The more ‘fuckable’ the actress, the more likely the chance to win,” says our first consultant, not a little forlornly, adding, “The academy is all men. Beautiful women get nominated, out of all proportion to the numbers — to the point that some of these winners have never equaled that [nominated] performance again. But look, they’ve done studies. Even babies are more drawn to attractive people. This year, you’ve got an 86-year-old woman and a 6-year-old girl up against Jennifer Lawrence. So who do you think is gonna win?