Stop Buggering Oscar | Deadline Hollywood | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly

Stop Buggering Oscar 

A five-point plan for intervention — no one gets arrested

Thursday, Nov 27 2003

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No. 2: This Ain’t Palm Beach County

Rumors swirl every year about Oscar voting irregularities. These range from unsubstantiated scandals about down-on-their-luck Academy members selling their votes to the highest bidding studio or just handing over their unmarked ballots to certain studios in exchange for promises of employment, to tawdry tales about assistants voting for the boss, or kids marking up Dad’s ballot, or worse. It’s not enough to concern yourselves with how many cocktails are drunk or canapés eaten at formal screenings; forget the cosmopolitans and colossal shrimp and focus on the cheaters. The Academy should stop letting its members fill out the ballots so informally. Instead, it should set up polling centers around the country and overseas so it can confirm each voter’s identity and ensure that each voter fills out his or her ballot. Members unable to go to the polls two years in a row don’t deserve the privilege of voting status.

No. 3: Where’s McCain-Feingold When We Need It?

Every year, it’s the same complaint by the movie and media elite: too much money is spent on Oscar campaigns. And just as in politics, the case can be made that the money perverts the election process. But the counterargument follows that there’s no way to control what studios, production companies, distributors and sometimes even the talent themselves spend to push their product or performance for an Academy Award. On the one hand, there’s the free-speech, free-market dilemma. On the other, it’s said to be impossible to distinguish between spending on Oscar vs. spending to promote the movie’s general release.

Given the money murkiness, one solution is for the Academy to place a specific cap on campaign spending. The key lies in the monitoring of the registered trademarks and copyrights owned by the governing body for words and phrases like “Oscar,” “Academy Awards,” “Oscar Night” and the statuette itself. On the simplest level, say Warner’s buys a full-page ad in The New York Times for Harry Potter Gums His Food in the Retirement Home. If anywhere in that ad the registered trademarks and/or copyrighted property belonging to the Academy are mentioned or pictured, then the media buy counts as Oscar campaigning. If not, it’s general publicity. Those Academy-hired accountants could keep track of the spending per film. This differentiation could include network TV, cable, radio, newspaper, magazine and Internet advertising as well as media kits, books and all the other ancillary crap that pours out of Hollywood only to end up in landfills or on eBay.

CUT TO: Andie MacDowell in sex, lies, and videotape worrying about “what happens to all the garbage.”

No. 4: Mo’ Hype, Mo’ Problems

The nanosecond that the final Academy Award envelope is opened and the best picture announced, the jockeying for next year’s Oscars officially begins. After all, key ad placement for the Hollywood trade papers is booked practically the day after. By summer, strategies are at full throttle. In fall, weeks of argument take place among film company executives, producers, agents, managers, lawyers and publicists about whether Seann William Scott should be nominated in which categories for American Pie: The Fourth Divorce. On and on, ad nauseam.

It is understandable, then, that Oscar campaign teams are bigger than Liberian armies, consisting not just of in-house publicity machines but outside public relations and marketing consultants or agencies ranging from one-man offices to worldwide combines.

Depending on who won and who lost last time out, the best and brightest of these promoters-for-hire are put under contract within days of the Academy’s telecast. Some are young and hungry go-getters who attack Oscar with the same no-holds-barred manner that wild animals go after fresh meat. Others are geriatric flacks who can’t see a film all the way through without catnapping, and who are employed merely because they’re contemporaries of the Academy’s voting geezers.

In recent years, whenever a studio has been accused of an Oscar campaigning sin — like badmouthing someone else’s picture, floating a false rumor or claiming Mark Wahlberg can act — the first response has been deny, deny, deny. Then it’s blame, blame, blame. The culprit is usually an outside independent contractor demonstrating what is described as “overzealousness.” As a result, the studios’ paid outside agitators promulgate a vicious cycle of dirty tricks, while the executives keep their hands clean. AMPAS should decree that each moviemaker is responsible for everybody on a film’s payroll. The studio will be penalized even if the wrongdoing is performed by an outside independent contractor. If this sounds like a sneaky way to start limiting the use of outside publicists and marketers in Oscar campaigns, it is.

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