AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
We're going to take a look now at some of the aggressive campaigns currently under way - Oscar campaigns. Award season is upon us, which means Hollywood studios are dropping piles of cash on ad campaigns that could get their stars top prizes at the big award shows this winter. But what makes for a successful campaign? Well, to answer that question, we have Kyle Buchanan. He's the award season columnist for The New York Times. Welcome to the program.
KYLE BUCHANAN: Thanks for having me.
CORNISH: So let's tackle some of the nuts and bolts first. What are the steps in an Oscar campaign?
BUCHANAN: Step one, get your film out there at a fall film festival - like Toronto, Telluride, Venice. Make sure that the press writes about you and considers you an Oscar contender. Step two, you want to find a good release date - not too late in the year when all the movies are out but not too early either because you've got to stick in that Oscar conversation. And then step three is the orgy of promos.
BUCHANAN: Get your stars, your directors on those Hollywood roundtables. You make sure that they go to as many parties and events as they possibly can. You want them shaking hands. You want them kissing babies. And you want them meeting the people who will decide their ultimate fate.
CORNISH: I get the sense you also need some sort of story. This is when you see many a glowing profile that tells about how this person has never won before or should have won in the past or - I don't know, right? There's some kind of like narrative that has to be built to convince the voters, so to speak.
BUCHANAN: It's exactly that. It's the narrative. Spike Lee is in the race this year with "Blackkklansman."
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BLACKKKLANSMAN")
TOPHER GRACE: (As David Duke) Hello.
JOHN DAVID WASHINGTON: (As Ron Stallworth) This is Ron Stallworth calling. Who am I speaking with?
GRACE: (As David Duke) This is David Duke.
WASHINGTON: (As Ron Stallworth) Grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan - that David Duke?
GRACE: (As David Duke) Last time I checked.
BUCHANAN: The narrative here is that somehow Spike Lee has never been nominated for best director Oscar even though he is one of our most famous and influential directors. A lot of the time also, it's about recontextualizing your narrative, especially if you came out earlier in the year. We saw that last year with "Get Out." It was a major phenomenon very early in the year. And to recontextualize it for the awards, they were pushing something quite different than they did earlier in the year. Earlier in the year, it was, this is a horror comedy; it's really smart; it says these salient things about race. At the end of the year for awards, they said, this is the movie of our time; no other Oscar contender reflects what we're going through now more than this.
CORNISH: What doesn't work?
BUCHANAN: What doesn't work is if they just don't like that film. You know, a film can be great on paper. It can seem like an Oscar contender par excellence. But if people don't really respond to it, it won't work. I'll give you an example. Disney, a couple of years ago, they had a movie called "Saving Mr. Banks," with Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson. It was about the writing of Mary Poppins.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SAVING MR. BANKS")
TOM HANKS: (As Walt Disney) Well, Pamela Travers, you can't imagine how excited I am to finally meet you.
EMMA THOMPSON: (As Pamela Travers) Would you mind? My name is Mrs. Travers, Mr. Disney.
HANKS: (As Walt Disney) Oh, Walt - now, you got to call me Walt.
BUCHANAN: It looked on paper like, you know, a can't-fail Oscar contender. And then come Oscar morning, it only got one nomination, and it was for best score. If they don't respond to the movie, even acting like you are a frontrunner isn't going to get you there. This year Disney has "Mary Poppins Returns" - again sort of in the Poppins universe. This one is with Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda. And people really are responding to it. So I expect that Disney is going to have a genuine horse in the race this year.
CORNISH: Who is already going hard this year - just clearly on the campaign trail, so to speak, for an Oscar?
BUCHANAN: The hardest going company in the business is Netflix. Netflix has not really penetrated races outside of best documentary and best documentary (short subject). Last year they got a cinematography nomination for "Mudbound." But this year they have a film Alfonso Cuaron's "Roma," this black-and-white Mexican film, that is having a real emotional impact on voters.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ROMA")
DANIELA DEMESA: (As Sofi) Buenas noches, Cleo.
YALITZA APARICIO: (As Cleo) Buenas noches, Sofi.
BUCHANAN: And they expect that to not only contend for things like best picture and best director but possibly win them. And since Netflix is so deep-pocketed, they are spending money like you wouldn't believe. If a smaller outfit had a movie like "Roma," they might be a little bit more conservative because they would think there's, you know, a cap how well a movie that is an art film - black and white, like I said, foreign language - can do. But Netflix has money to burn. They are spending money. They are putting out billboards, advertisements, events - like they're promoting "Avengers: Infinity War." It's truly crazy and unprecedented.
CORNISH: Kyle Buchanan is the award season columnist for The New York Times. Thanks so much for explaining this to us.
BUCHANAN: Thanks for having me.
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