Word On The Street Is Oscars 'Whisper Campaigns' Have Begun Leading Oscar contenders are under fire as award season approaches. Journalist Scott Feinberg recently wrote in The Hollywood Reporter about the trash-talking that spreads before the Oscars to take down perceived front-runners. He talks to NPR's Arun Rath about a campaign against Captain Phillips and why such efforts often backfire.
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Word On The Street Is Oscars 'Whisper Campaigns' Have Begun

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Word On The Street Is Oscars 'Whisper Campaigns' Have Begun

Word On The Street Is Oscars 'Whisper Campaigns' Have Begun

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The Oscars are four months away, but Hollywood insiders are already on the attack. Studios spend a ton of money on publicity campaigns to convince voters their contender is this year's "Casablanca." But there are also whisper campaigns to take down the competition. Scott Feinberg recently wrote about it for The Hollywood Reporter. Scott, welcome.

SCOTT FEINBERG: Thank you very much for having me.

RATH: So how does a whisper campaign work? Who whispers? Where do they whisper?

FEINBERG: It's not always clear. You can't always trace them back to their source because part of the art of the whisper campaign is that it is hard to trace. They originate generally from people who want to see other movies do less well than they otherwise would for one reason or another.

RATH: So what would be an example of one from this year?

FEINBERG: One that I would highlight this year has to do with "Captain Phillips," a movie about the captain of the U.S. cargo ship that was hijacked in the Somali straits a few years ago.

RATH: Right.

FEINBERG: And played by Tom Hanks in the movie, he's portrayed as a, really, a kind of a selfless hero.

However, a New York newspaper recently passed along comments from crew members on that ship - without citing specific names - saying that this movie misrepresents what really happened, that in fact Captain Phillips was not so selfless and heroic but put the ship in danger to - that led to the hijacking and has since sort of glorified his role in what happened when it was hijacked.

RATH: These are some examples involving historical inaccuracies. What about other totally different genres of a film? Like, how do you take down something that's a fantasy or science fiction or something else?

FEINBERG: Well, I'll tell you what they're trying with "Gravity," which is, you know, it's obviously science fiction. And the one that happened with "Gravity" is not as malicious at all. I think what happened was Neil deGrasse Tyson, a very respected scientist, saw the movie and felt compelled to send out 20 tweets in the middle of the night - the same night he saw it - that were basically pointing out scientific things that he took issue with in the movie.

And, you know, it kind of went viral, as things do with the Internet. A few days later, he himself went back to Twitter and also posted something on Facebook, saying, look, guys, I never expected this kind of attention. I overall liked the movie, and I could have and should have pointed out the hundreds of things that were accurately portrayed scientifically.

RATH: Is there any evidence that whisper campaigns have ever had an impact on awards?

FEINBERG: I would say that - you know, obviously, we can't say definitively that it caused the movie not to win or the actor. It is actually very interesting when you look at almost every time it's happened, it's been to the movie that was clearly looking like it was going to win the Best Picture Oscar, and it still ends up winning.

So with "The Hurt Locker," supposedly, it was a - an inaccurate depiction of what it's like to be an explosives guy in the military, like the characters in the movie. With "Slumdog Millionaire," supposedly, the filmmakers, who did quite well with the movie, did not properly compensate the young Indian actors. And in each of those cases, the movie still ended up winning the Best Picture Oscar. And so I don't know that it will have a marked impact. It's definitely noticed.

RATH: Scott, I'm just kind of curious. All the effort that's being put into whisper campaigns, on top of the huge amounts that studios spend on traditional promotion to get noticed for their films around award season, is it worth it? Is an Oscar worth that much?

FEINBERG: Not everybody spends huge amounts of money. But at this point, many do, and it gets into the - well into the millions. Yes. Being able to put "Oscar nominee" or "Oscar winner" on your newspaper ad will drive more people to the theater to see it if it's still in theaters, or if it's not, it will lead to greater sales of DVDs. Whether it's worth the amount of money that is spent is very much up for debate, because some years, it just gets out of control. People are - become - as they get closer to the finish line and they can sort of taste it, they pour more and more money into this.

And, you know, sometimes I think it is a matter of ego for a studio chief. They - there's something cool about being the best or being called the best in front of all your peers. And the others have to sort of sit while you get your glory.

RATH: Scott Feinberg is the lead awards analyst at The Hollywood Reporter. Scott, thanks.

FEINBERG: Thank you.

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