'Hurt Locker' Producer In Hot Water Over E-Mail

The Academy Awards are just days away and the lobbying for Oscars has reached a frenetic pace. John Horn, who covers the movie industry for The Los Angeles Times, discusses why a co-producer of the Oscar-nominated Hurt Locker is in hot water with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Our next story is yet another example of why it's always good to think twice before hitting the send button. A co-producer of the film "The Hurt Locker" is in hot water with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for sending out an email plea urging industry insiders to vote for his film instead of a $500 million movie, that's an obvious reference to contender "Avatar."

The Academy has forced producer Nicolas Chartier to issue an apology, and he's been banned from attending this weekend's Oscar ceremony. The ham-handed email campaign added to a recent spate of negative press involving "The Hurt Locker" in the final lead-up to today's due date for Oscar ballots.

For more on this and other pre-Oscar maneuvers, we turn to John Horn. He's a staff writer who covers the movie industry for the Los Angeles Times.

Welcome to the program.

Mr. JOHN HORN (Staff Writer, Los Angeles Times): Thank you for having me.

NORRIS: Let's start with that email. Tell me a little bit more about it. What was it that this producer was asking people to do?

Mr. HORN: Well, what he was asking them to do was basically vote against another movie, and the Academy has very specific rules of how you campaign. You can tout your own film's credentials, you can recommend it to other people, you can say vote for us in this category, but you can't mention another film in comparison.

NORRIS: Now, this producer, Nicolas Chartier, will face some sort of sanction, possibly, from the Academy. Could they even pull the film from contention since this an obvious violation of their rules?

Mr. HORN: I don't think that will happen, and that would be even beyond a nuclear option. I think the penalties are possible, that they could maybe never invite him to join the Academy.

Typically, people who are nominated are invited, and certainly winners are, and this film, I think, has a very good chance of winning the Best Picture prize.

I think he has been reprimanded by the Academy, by the film's distributors, and he even sent out an apologetic email saying he was ignorant of the rules and that he was, quote, "plain stupid."

NORRIS: Now, this comes at a time when several news stories have questioned the authenticity of "Hurt Locker." One critic said it was "Point Break" in Baghdad, comparing it to that high-testosterone surfer flick. Curious how this happens, though. The charges that the producers of "Slumdog Millionaire" might have exploited children, for instance, surfaced shortly before the Oscars in a previous year. Does that kind of thing happen, though, where there's a certain amount of trash-talking or efforts to taint another film and therefore influence the voting Academy?

Mr. HORN: It certainly does happen. Whether or not it actually influences news articles is a different conversation. The makers of "Hurt Locker" the makers of other films are suggesting that somehow Harvey Weinstein is behind all of this. Harvey Weinstein is the distributor of "Inglourious Basterds," which, with "Avatar," is another contender for the Best Picture prize. And they think that he somehow is engineering these stories.

In fact, one blog that was critical of the L.A. Times piece said that Harvey Weinstein should have had an additional reporting credit on our piece. The suggestion that Harvey Weinstein or any producer can influence how a newspaper like the Los Angeles Times is going to cover the news is preposterous.

So, yes, people are spinning all the time, but I like to think that newspapers, especially the L.A. Times, are beyond spinning and that we're going to report what people are talking about, not just Oscar publicists and strategists and the producers of competing films.

NORRIS: Are there certain things that the nominees can do, the actors and actresses and directors and producers to try to move fate in their direction?

Mr. HORN: It's like the old Woody Allen joke. You show up. You go to events, you go to screenings, you appear gracious. You go to the nominee's lunch. You smile. You're positive. You look like you're enjoying the whole thing.

You can't really it's not like campaigning in the old-fashioned political sense. You can't or at least you're not supposed to call your friends up and say vote for me, but you can make yourself look like a worthy candidate.

NORRIS: I'm thinking as you're talking about this of Sandra Bullock, who really has seemed to be everywhere right now.

Mr. HORN: She has been everywhere, but then you could take a look at somebody like Mo'Nique from "Precious," who has really not been out there and is very likely going to win the Supporting Actress award. So it's you know, different people have different tolerances or interests, and also there's so much there are so many intangibles.

You know, Sandy Bullock is in a very close race, I suspect, with Meryl Streep, and the question is: Is Sandy Bullock, even though she's never done, like a lot of quality films, is she somebody who the town loves and they're going to reward the fact that she's a nice person? Or has it become Meryl Streep's award because she's such a great actress, has this body of work? So there are all these intangibles that go into any kind of voters' decision.

NORRIS: Or will this split the vote and someone run right up the center?

Mr. HORN: Some people think that maybe Carey Mulligan could win for "An Education." I mean, stranger things have happened. I think in that category and certainly in the Best Picture race, it's if we knew what the votes were, and unfortunately we don't, there could be, you know, a dozen or fewer votes separating the winner from the second place finisher.

NORRIS: John Horn, thank you so much for talking to us.

Mr. HORN: A pleasure, thank you.

NORRIS: That's John Horn with the Los Angeles Times.

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