Oscar Lobbying On The Other Campaign Trail

The 2012 Academy Awards are fast approaching, but behind all the glitz and glamor of Hollywood there is furious lobbying going on for that golden statuette. Robert Siegel talks with Christy Grosz, the awards editor at Variety, about the ins and outs of Oscar campaigning.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

You know its Oscar campaign season when Brad Pitt and George Clooney and Meryl Streep all appear on NPR programs some weeks after their Oscar-nominated movies were released. Some films that haven't been in theaters for months suddenly re-appear, with prime-time trailers touting their nominations.

And in Los Angeles and New York, there's no end to the free screenings for Academy members, rare face-time with the stars and filmmakers, and the gaudy, full-page ads in The Times - both of them - and the trade magazines. Call it the Oscar-industrial complex.

Joining us now is Christy Grosz, the awards editor for Variety to talk about this.

And first of all, Christy, when do the polls close and who has the vote here?

CHRISTY GROSZ: The polls close next Tuesday, February 21st, and ballots need to be completed and in the hands of the Academy's accounting firm - Price, Waterhouse, Coopers - by 5 P.M. that day. But the people who vote on the Academy Awards, it's about a group of a little bit less than 6,000 entertainment professionals. It's an invitation-only group of people. They're all people who work now or have worked in the business, across all different disciplines; whether it's sound mixing, acting, directing, screenwriting - those types of disciplines.

SIEGEL: And I take that the very fact that Variety has a job like yours, being the awards editor, proves that this is an institution. This is a big deal.

GROSZ: Yeah, it is a big deal. And I think that the Academy goes out of its way every year to acknowledge and accept the fact that campaigning is going to go on but to make sure that it happens in a way that maintains the integrity of the award. That's why every year you see rule changes and tweaking of what you can and can't do throughout the season to promote your film to Academy members.

SIEGEL: This time last year, Best Supporting Actress nominee Melissa Leo caused a stir by taking out her own ads in the Hollywood trade magazines, one of her in a faux fur coat standing beside a swimming pool. The ads were panned, but she won. Is it assumed that she might have turned some votes with that?

GROSZ: You know, it's funny because there are examples of that nearly every year since the Academy Awards began. I mean, Mary Pickford famously had Academy members to PickFair, her lovely house in Bel Air for tea to convince them that they should vote for her for Best Actress for "Coquette," so it's kind of funny.

But I think that it just depends. You can't say for certain that that kind of thing really changes people's minds. I mean, there is sort of an adage about how you can make people see movies, but you can't make them like them and you can't make them vote for them.

SIEGEL: I understand, though, that the Academy did some campaign reform this year. The rules are a little bit different?

GROSZ: They are a little bit different and, for instance, one of the other things that happened last year was Julia Roberts hosted a private screening for "Biutiful," the Javier Bardem foreign language film. And the film, at that time, hadn't really gotten a lot of momentum going in the awards circuit.

And, you know, she was in the press saying that she was so enthusiastic about this performance and he ultimately ended up getting an Academy Award nomination for the performance. So even though what she was doing at the time - there was nothing at all that was against the rules in what she was doing and it was really, you know, out of love for her costar's performance that she did the screening, but it also led to the Academy saying that no Academy members can host a screening and they can't endorse a performance in order to sway voters, basically.

SIEGEL: I gather Harvey Weinstein is considered the father of the modern Oscar campaign. Fair enough?

GROSZ: I think that's definitely a fair assessment. Yes.

SIEGEL: What are his great successes?

GROSZ: Well, I mean, just look at last year with "The King's Speech." You know, I think that he knows that it's not done until the ballots are in Price Waterhouse Cooper's hands. And, for that reason, he's able to ignore the criticism. He's able to come up with creative ways to promote his films. He's able to stay on message throughout any leg of a campaign. And, last year, with "King's Speech," that film - it hadn't swept all the precursor awards the way that the "Social Network" had.

So, you know, even though it didn't get all those awards, he was able to keep it top of mind for voters and take it to a Best Picture win.

SIEGEL: Christy Grosz, thank you very much for talking with us today.

GROSZ: Thank you.

SIEGEL: Christy Grosz is the awards editor for Variety.

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