Sunday, February 12th, was a big day. The voting period for Oscar winners started, and it ends on February 21st. In campaign terms, this is Phase 2, when production companies are in a promotion frenzy to get members of the Academy to vote for their movies and nominees. There are actually specialists in Phase 2 promotion that movie studios hire. It took us a long time to find someone in the biz to talk about Phase 2. X, an actor in many movies, agreed to talk to us about it on the condition of anonymity.
Warning: No Spoilers: X, thank you for talking to me. I think my readers need to understand what goes into an Oscar campaign and the ramifications if a studio doesn’t get it right.
X: Whatever. You put my name in there–anything about any movie I was in—and I will sue you. My lawyer’s right there at the next table.
Except for the two of us and the barista, the café is empty.
WNS: It says in The NY Times that Taraji P. Henson wasn’t nominated for best actress in Hidden Figures because she didn’t campaign. Do you think that’s possible?
X: Sure it’s possible. If you don’t make the rounds on the talk show circuit, in the party circuit or put yourself in front of Academy voters in some way, your chances diminish. A couple of years ago, I expected to get nominated in my star turn in one of my movies, but it was an indie and all we had was about $2 million to spare for promotion. They say that big studios usually spend $10 million; independents $3 million.
WNS: What’s the best way to get your movie produced by a major production company?
X: Go to the film fests and seek out a production company. Sundance is always great—you can do a Q&A in a separate venue or introduce the movie. Then you go to the parties. Or to restaurants that you know where the big wigs eat. You get dressed in something stunning that makes you shine, and then you go and subtly beg.
WNS: You have a new movie out. How did it do in Sundance?
X: Not as good as we had hoped. We really wanted Harvey Weinstein’s company to pick it up. He’s a master at promoting his movies. Remember My Left Foot? It’s based on a true story about an Irish man born with cerebral palsy and the only part of his body that he could control was his left foot.
WNS: I remember—it starred Daniel Day Lewis.
X: Right. Harvey promoted Daniel to win best actor: one way was to have Daniel testify before Congress in support of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act).
WNS: That was all Harvey’s doing?
X: That’s right, but you didn’t hear it from me. He also gave audiences of screeners chocolate feet.
WNS: That’s a little much.
X: True, but it worked.
Daniel Day Lewis won the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1990 for My Left Foot. It was the first of three Best Actor Oscars. The other two were for There Will Be Blood and Lincoln.
WNS: What about this year, have you seen or heard about any interesting campaigning?
WNS: Remember, this is anonymous.
X: OK, well, look at Ruth Negga, who is up for best actress (for Loving). I mean look at her! She’s freakin’ adorable! But then think about it. Everywhere you see her, even on talk shows, she’s in the most quirky outfits that she can pull off, and she is also really photogenic. Her personality shines through, more so in her style than her talk show appearances.
I know this because she’s one of my closest friends.
X’s voice gets a little louder.
What? Do you think that it’s a coincidence that she looks absolutely amazing every time she is pictured? Even when she’s in jeans?
WNS: You think that’s part of her Oscar campaign? Really?
X is starting to get hysterical.
X: Were you born yesterday or did you just fall off of a dump truck? She was at all the events leading up to the Oscar nominations; she was so insanely in style that I would have started a Pinterest page about her fashion if someone else hadn’t beaten me to it. You can only imagine what she’ll be wearing during the Phase 2 events. With that Irish brogue, she’s going to be irresistible.
X is blue in the face. This reporter quickly changes the subject.
WNS: Let’s talk about the rules. This year there are new rules for Phase 2 promoting. Quoting the rules:
“academy members may not be invited to or attend any non-screening event, party or dinner that is reasonably perceived to unduly influence members or undermine the integrity of the vote.”
X: That’s fine, but who’s to say that you’re not going to a birthday party for a best actress or best actor nominees? And the people invited happen to be members of the Academy? I mean you have to be careful, but it’s still vague.
WNS: Have people been reported?
X: Yes, by those insane consultants that the movie studios hire. It’s a way to get your opposition flummoxed.
WNS: There other ways of getting around the rules, aren’t there?
X: Absolutely. There are career retrospectives at museums that happen to be shown during Phase 2; screenings with drinks or parties; actors introduce their movies or appear at more fests such as the one at Santa Barbara.
WNS: What about Spotlight, last year’s winner for best movie? I heard that they had a panel of its actors moderated by Malcolm Gladwell to give it an intellectual dimension. And that having the actors appear with their real-life counterparts was also a big promotional ploy.
(Spotlight is a true story about Boston Globe’s investigation into the widespread abuse by Catholic priests in Boston and the subsequent exposé.)
X: You got that right. They wanted to divert the voters’ attention from the Catholic scandal part—even though that’s what the movie was about.
WNS: Apparently it worked.
X: Yup! It won best movie even though Alejandro González Iñárritu won the Oscar for best director of another movie (The Revenant). Leo DiCaprio, who won best actor last year (also for The Revenant) came out of the woodwork to campaign for that one. He never gave interviews on TV until last year, and he was a charmer whenever he appeared, let me tell you. With his stories about acting in freezing weather and eating real bison livers.
WNS: As you also mentioned, a simple way to promote is holding a Q&A with the actors afterward. Seeing a movie with the actors is a much different experience that just seeing the movie in a movie theater.
X: Yup. You get the idea. Listen, this is fascinating, but I need to run. I have to wretch so my clothing fits for a party that Ruth Negga is giving. Joel Edgerton is also going to be there. They’re posing as a real-life couple so that no one knows that it’s a party to promote her nomination for Loving. They’re definitely not going out. But remember, I didn’t say anything. (Joel Edgerton is Negga’s co-star in Loving. Only she is up for an Oscar.)
WNS: Thank you for the interview!
Thank you for reading the interview. Except for the parts that are supported with links, I hope you realize that it’s fiction. Just a fun way to talk about the Phase 2 and Oscar campaigning.