The A List: H’wood’s cluster of certified kudos pros

Studios tap into expertise of award mavens

In a business obsessed with targeted marketing, award consultants may have the most targeted jobs.

They are an elite group hired by a studio to give advice on films with kudos potential, and to help potential nominees clear their hurdles.

Misleadingly, they are often referred to as “Oscar consultants.”

Oscar is certainly the Holy Grail of awards, but these people have to be experts on all film prizes: Members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. are not the same as the panel of judges for the American Film Institute awards, and then there are critics groups, guild awards, BAFTAs … and countless more.

Last week’s strong signal that Oscar will jump back to February means award consultants will be among many players put to a stiffer test. Each film will have a narrower window for campaigning — and late-year releases will need particularly careful handling. (Last year, four of the five best picture nominees came out after Thanksgiving.)

The consultants all know one another and frequently speak to one another. Though they’re rivals, their kinship is halfway between a cabal and a group-therapy session.

Each campaign is different, but they have a lot of things in common.

All of them need to set up screenings, arrange for mailing of screening cassettes and oversee travel plans of contenders. In some cases, they give input into ad campaigns. In all cases, they give advice on a film’s strengths, and which voting group should be targeted for that campaign. Their input of these experts is invaluable, and the job sounds glamorous.

It isn’t.

Consultants are paid a retainer by a studio (usually in the mid-five-figure range), and the studio execs therefore call the shots. The consultants get blamed when the campaign doesn’t result in a win, or when anything negative about the film or the company surfaces in the press.

Peter Falk still tells a story of his supporting-actor loss in 1960. Moments after the envelope

But when the nominee does win, the consultant can’t really share in the glory: It is, after all, the campaign of the studio and its execs.

But in truth, consultants don’t want the glory. Their job is to put the client, not themselves, in the spotlight. (Many of the consultants pleaded with Variety not to do this report, for fear that they would seem to be self-promoters. And they were horrified at the notion of providing a photo of themselves.)

But, in Variety, as in the Bible, the meek shall be rewarded.

Despite their protests, the following is a list of kudos pros. Some, it should be stressed, are well-established figures of consequence; others are much newer to the game. Also, for some, consulting is a sideline and for others it is nearly 100% of their raison d’etre.

Disclaimers aside, the envelopes please …

Tony Angellotti

In any discussion of awards consultants, someone will inevitably invoke the name of Angellotti. His fans and rivals agree he’s good at what he does, and his resume is impressive. He’s worked on campaigns for such films as “Pulp Fiction,” “Goodfellas,” “The English Patient,” “Shakespeare in Love,” “The Cider House Rules,” “Erin Brockovich” and “A Beautiful Mind.”

Gail Brounstein

Longtime studio publicist formerly at USA Films and Orion. When ex-USA exec Russell Schwartz headed to New Line, he brought her in to help guide “Lord of the Rings” and “I Am Sam,” the minimajor’s biggest Oscar nom haul.

Ronni Chasen

The PR maven who once worked for legendary showman Samuel Arkoff maintains an ample roster of clients, including many composers, and she has a major hand in their awards campaigns. This year, both Howard Shore (musical score, “The Lord of the Rings”) and Randy Newman (song, “If I Didn’t Have You” from “Monsters, Inc.”) landed in the winner’s circle.

Donna Daniels

New York-based consultant with Miramax training had a role in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Lord of the Rings,” “Traffic” and Ellen Burstyn’s nom for unrated “Requiem for a Dream.”

Bruce Feldman

A former studio PR exec whose Uptown Group agency has been part of the DreamWorks award effort for the past few years. He also sits on the Acad’s foreign-language committee.

David Horowitz

In the past, he’s worked on Miramax campaigns, such as “In the Bedroom” and “Iris” this past season. He’s working for Paramount this year. Horowitz is known in Oscar circles for his handicap sheets, in which he rates awards contenders as likely, possibilities or dark horses.

Melody Korenbrot & Ziggy Kozlowski

The Block Korenbrot duo have often championed documentaries. And among recent accomplishments was a smash campaign for Sony Pictures Classics’ “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”

Marc Ludavico

In “A Clockwork Orange,” the Ludovico Treatment was the method of making an open-eyed Malcolm MacDowell averse to ultra-violence. In the film biz, the Ludavico Treatment entails all the trade advertising for Miramax, IFC, and pretty much anything else on the East Coast.

Dale Olson

Now in his fourth decade as a Hollywood publicist, Olson is an awards consultant for DreamWorks. His run of nearly 200 Oscar campaigns began long before the days of DVD. In fact, Olson insists he had to persuade many early clients to take out ads.

Susan Pile

A onetime confidante of Andy Warhol, this film veteran has a firm grasp of industry history and a wealth of big-picture ideas. She also draws on staff experience at MGM, Columbia and Paramount.

Fredell Pogodin

Known as a champion of foreign-lingo fare and tastemaking screenings, the indie avatar has given assists to the likes of “Amores Perros” and “Son of the Bride.”

Michele Robertson

Former Fox Searchlight publicist whose MRC (aka Michele Robertson Co.) worked on such films as Fox Searchlight’s “The Full Monty” and “Boys Don’t Cry,” and USA Films’ “Traffic” and “Gosford Park.”

Judi Schwam

A longtime vet of Columbia, Schwam has been consulting for Warner Bros. for several years. She’s known for her quick efficiency, understanding of the marketplace –and her deadpan wit.

Lisa Tayback

Formerly a special events specialist at Miramax, has also worked at Disney, where she handled “Royal Tenenbaums” and “Pearl Harbor.”

Nancy Willen

As senior veepee at DDA, she worked on PR for the releases of “Affliction,” “Breaking the Waves” and “Secrets & Lies” — as well as their Oscar campaigns. Now as topper of Acme Public Relations, she’s heading into her fourth year with DreamWorks, where she helped with “American Beauty,” “Gladiator” and “Shrek.” Another forte is docus.

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