Campaigning for the Oscars Just Got More Sophisticated, More Expensive
Over 40 million people will tune in this Sunday to watch the Academy Awards. But what they might not have seen between the announcement of nominees and the opening of the envelopes are the multi-million dollar marketing campaigns waged by studios to capture that little gold statue. Jennifer London tells us it's never been more complicated, or more expensive.
Jennifer London: A horse race for Oscar gold that reads more like a script from Washington politics than Hollywood make-believe. Actors as candidates...
John Horn/Los Angeles Times Film Writer: Daniel Day-Lewis is a very private person, but he is out there talking about his film.
London: ...In-your-face advertising, from social media to print to the radio to primetime -- studios as super PACs.
Horn: There is a multi-million dollar business of Oscar strategists.
London: ...And you can't campaign without cash, lots and lots of cash -- record-breaking spending. Sounds like a story we've heard before.
Ali Velshi [video clip from CNN Money]: This presidential campaign will be the most expensive on record.
Horn: It's the most expensive campaign in the history of the academy awards. Some of the studios are spending at minimum $10 million and at maximum $25 million on their Best Picture races.
London: John Horn is a film writer for the L.A. Times. He says there are three factors making this year's campaign for Oscar gold a horse race like no other.
Horn: You have a close race, you have the big studios, and then what's different this year is that the voting period -- the time between nominations are announced and the deadline for balloting to close -- is six weeks, and it's typically four weeks. So it's a longer season. So you add all that up and you've got tens of millions of dollars on the table.
London: Millions that are being spent on screenings, cocktail parties, Q&As with the candidates. And, of course, a small fortune is being spent on advertising. Consider the cost of running the ubiquitous "For Your Consideration" ads in the paper. Here is an example: Over just one weekend, Silver Linings Playbook and Argo, both Best Picture nominees, each ran three ads over the course of three days.
A full-page, black-and-white ad in the L.A. Times costs roughly $45,000 dollars. Add a splash of color -- the price goes up 9 grand. In total, according to the L.A. Times, the 9 films nominated for Best Picture have run a total of 189 full-page ads this season. You do the math.
We know Hollywood spares no expense to create fantasy that often times will mirror reality. What's real? What's not? But make no mistake, the tremendous amount of money being spent on this year's Oscar race is very real. And the studios are doing what they do best, pushing the creative boundaries to make things appear different than they really are.
Consider the parade of Best Picture nominees on primetime. If you've watched television in the last few weeks, you've no doubt seen "Argo Declassified," "Lincoln: An American Journey," and "Silver Linings Playbook: Erasing the Stigma of Mental Illness." If you think they are mini-documentaries about the making of the films, you'd be wrong.
Horn: These are not national spots, but they're local in Los Angeles and sometimes in New York, but they are very expensive.
London: That's right. They are nothing more than expensive advertisements creatively disguised. Think of it like a primetime infomercial that's red-carpet ready.
Horn: It's not about the movie. It's about the experience of watching the movie and kind of rekindling fond memories that you might have had watching the movie. Listen, the studios will try anything in their power to try to get an Oscar vote. I talked to one studio that said they thought the cheapest rate that one of these spots would go for was $85,000, and the most expensive was close to $150,000. So that's a lot of money to buy for a 30 minute ad.
London: The studios are also banking on their big-name stars to glad-hand Academy members and get out the vote, but some refuse to buy into the Oscar drama, publicly bad-mouthing the process. Anthony Hopkins made headlines when he said, “It's kind of disgusting," while Joaquin Phoenix went a step further saying, “I think it's total, utter bulls**t." Horn says when actors don't follow the campaign script, it still costs the studio.
Horn: The people who think it's really beneath them -- I think they do pay a price. If you're not out there working your film, if you're not doing the cocktail parties, if you're not doing the Q&As, I think it does take you out of the conversation.
London: And then there are those struggling to be part of any Oscar conversation but lack the cash to compete with the deep pockets of the big studios. And that's where creative campaigning really starts to count.
Heather Burgett/The Burgett Group: The Internet and social media has been this campaign's saving grace.
Heather Burgett is a publicist working on the Oscar campaign for this year's Best Animated Short Film nominee "Head Over Heels."
London: This is the first year the films have all been posted online.
Burgett: We don't have the marketing and advertising dollars that the big studios have, so by using avenues like YouTube and Facebook, we've actually been able to reach quite a large number of people. In fact, in the last week alone, we know that we've reached at least a quarter million people.
London: "Head Over Heels" is the only student film to be nominated in the category, putting it up against industry heavy weights with money to spend.
Burgett: We sort of have a David-versus-Goliath theme happening. They're up against big studios like Disney and Fox.
London: Which means, so is Burgett.
Burgett: It is very challenging to compete against someone like Disney, but that's why we are taking the world by storm through social media. Our hope is that we are getting the attention of the Academy, that Academy members will hear the buzz, and they'll hear about the story, and they'll pay attention to this film that is an underdog.
London: Whether you're an underdog or a clear front runner, winning an Oscar means more than just having a gold statute on your bookshelf.
Paul Hertzberg/President, Cinetel Films: It means more money and more profits.
London: Producer Paul Hertzberg is an industry veteran, with dozens of film credits to his name.
Hertzberg: If a film wins, two things happen. If they're still being released in the movie theaters, hopefully the people who haven't seen it will then go out to see it, which raises the box office. If it's already left the theaters, they may bring it back into theaters, again to raise the box office. And then comes the ancillary markets, such as the DVDs and VOD.
London: Hertzberg is also an Academy member. Every award season he is besieged with movie material demanding his attention before he casts a single vote.
Hertzberg: By now you will have received most of the screeners for the movies. On the off chance that there was one that was missed, you'll get that screener. But then you start getting the screenplays.
London: Which would be what we have here. This is Lincoln.
Hertzberg: Little booklets, yes. Life of Pi.
London: Silver Linings Playbook. And this is the actual screenplay.
Hertzberg: Yes. Flight, Argo...
London: And they send you the screenplays for the movies that are up for best screenplays. The idea that you're going to go home and read this entire thing? All of them?
Hertzberg: No comment. (laughs)
London: So you get some screenplays.
Hertzberg: Both adapted and the regular categories.
London: And what do we have here?
Hertzberg: You’ve got music. You’ve got the soundtracks, and you’ve got the best songs.
London: Ok, so here we've got Skyfall, Best Original Score. Skyfall, Best Original Song. Lincoln. So they send you all of this as well?
Hertzberg : Correct.
London: And then you listen to it?
London: And then? You vote?
Hertzberg: You vote.
London: As a voting member since 1993, Hertzberg has been around the Oscar block a time or two, and is not easily influenced.
Hertzberg: Doesn't affect me in the slightest. You know, there's a very limited number of, uh, people who actually, you know, vote in the Academy. And I go see the movie. I prefer to see it in the theater. And, you know, I'll make my decision based pretty much on the film itself as opposed to any advertising for the film.
London: Isn't that the way it's supposed to be? Voting on, say, the best picture, because of the merits of the film. “Nope,” says L.A. Times film writer John Horn.
Horn: Obviously in a perfect world, the best movie wins the best picture Oscar, but I think that's a little bit fanciful. And to go back to the political analogy, you know, was Mitt Romney the best Republican candidate? I think there are a lot of people who would argue that he wasn't. Was he the most electable? Who knows? But it's not always about the best movie or the best candidate.
London: Maybe this year, the best campaign, which breaks down like this. Full page color ad: $54,000. Thirty-minute movie infomericial: more than $100,000. Winning Oscar gold: priceless.