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Campaign trail survival

Vets of kudoscasts & fests offer advice to rookies

Award season is a stressful time for filmmakers, actors and anyone else involved in the kudo campaign trail. Newbies make mistakes on the red carpet — often involving apparel choices — but even experienced hands goof up (again, apparel choices are often involved).

But the last decade has seen an escalation of media following and chronicling of award season events, seriously upping the ante for those involved in a kudos campaign. Variety asked some award trail vets to share advice with newcomers to Awards Season U.

First, there’s time management. How important is it to be prompt?

“The Constant Gardener” helmer Fernando Meirelles was nominated for an Academy Award for “City of God” in 2004, but didn’t expect a Portuguese-language film to score. The Brazilian native was so laid-back on Oscar night, he and fellow nominees from the film ran late and decided to stand in the shorter of two lines to get into the Kodak Theater, the one lacking a red carpet and flashbulbs.

“This was actually a pity,” Meirelles says. “When we realized we were in the wrong place, we tried to go back, but the security people said no. My wife was so well dressed. She was really beautiful, and we don’t have a single photo.”

Then there’s whether to stress about the possibility of a win.

“Some nominees, they’re really nervous,” Meirelles says. “I read that Ralph

Fiennes might be nominated this year (for Meirelles’ ‘The Constant Gardener’), and I asked him about his experiences as a nominee. He said the second time was for ‘The English Patient’ and he knew he wasn’t going to get it, so it was fun. But the first time, for ‘Schindler’s List,’ everybody was telling him he was going to get the award. …He said it was the most terrible experience, because he was nervous.”

Screenwriter Paul Haggis, Oscar-nominated last year for “Million Dollar Baby,” tries not to fixate on possible outcome.

“It’s an awards show,” Haggis says. “It has nothing to do with how good the film actually is or how much work you put into it.”

Some indulge in pre-show relaxation rituals.

“(At home), I fold and refold my clothes more than a few times,” actress Ziyi Zhang explains. “(And once there, I) always locate the ladies’ room because it’s one of the few places you can really relax. Nobody is going to be looking at you if you lock the door.”

Haggis relaxes by keeping the mood family-focused.

“I went (last year) with my wife and dad,” Haggis says. “We took my son in the car and dropped him off at his friend’s house. We just made it a lot of fun for the family.You’ve made it that far — just celebrate that.”

“It’s such a long day of getting ready,” three-time Oscar nom Joan Allen says. “I usually try to stay at Shutters on the Beach (in Santa Monica) and make sure I’m looking out at the ocean while all the hair and makeup stuff is happening for five hours before you get in the car.”

The Oscar-nommed co-writer of “Monster’s Ball,” Milo Addica, says he has a different strategy. “Certainly drugs help a little bit. It is nice to be a little subdued. The big thing is to relax, try to enjoy it and remember one thing: It’s a show. It’s not reality; it’s fun time. Reality’s when you go home and you’re talking about what happened with your partner and opening the refrigerator.”

Oscar-nominated British actress Brenda Blethyn, who won a Golden Globe for “Secrets and Lies” in 1997, meditates pre-show on the making of the film. (She always assumes she won’t win.)

“I just (like to) remember how great it was to be doing the job in the first place, how nice it was to have gotten the job,” Blethyn says. “We make the films to play the role and for people who’ve been working all day, who buy a ticket at the box office for an evening’s entertainment.”

Can we learn from Christine Lahti’s mistimed trip to the ladies’ room at the Golden Globes?

“My best advice is to make sure you go to the bathroom before it’s time for them to call your award,” says Marc Norman, Oscar-winning “Shakespeare in Love” screenwriter. “They only let you leave during the commercials. It freaks out the TV crews. … If you’re not there, they really have a cow.”

Then there are the little things that can almost ruin a night. Like pantyhose.

Allen says feel free to skip them; whatever you do, don’t buy a fancy pair.

“The first time I went to the Oscars (for “Nixon” in 1996), I bought a pair of very, very, very expensive Fogal stockings,” Allen explains. “I happened to be wearing this crinoline underneath a very full dress. When I got home from the parties that night my stockings were completely shredded from all the starch in the crinoline.”

Can you expect many “human” moments, or is the vibe stiff?

“I think Tom Cruise stepped on one of my dresses,” Allen says. “He was in front of me and he apologized profusely, so that’s a pretty human thing.”

Sometimes it pays to peek at the seating chart.

“At the WGA we all knew who was going to win — Akiva Goldsman (‘A Beautiful Mind’) and Julian Fellowes (‘Gosford Park’) — because their pictures were on the Written By magazines, which were all placed on our chairs. And they were seated near the podium,” Norman says

But keeping up your energy during a four- or five-hour night takes some advance planning.

“Take a couple of Power Bars in your tuxedo or (handbag),” Norman says, “just in case because you’re going to have no control over what happens to you. So, it’s like a survival kit. You have to realize, when you’re up for an award, you’re a cog in this huge merchandising machine.”

Then there’s the upperclassmen. How should you approach these stars?

“Make sure you have chewing gum,” Zhang says. “You can offer a piece to introduce yourself to some of the bigger celebs.”

Norman and Addica recommend the pre-show nominees lunch. It’s early enough that no one is terribly tense yet. Attendees pose for a group photo and receive a sweatshirt that reads “Academy Award Nominee.”

Then there’s basic composition. It’s a thorny issue for show producers — who like it short and sweet — and the winners, who may have prepared speeches but know the most memorable award moments are spontaneous.

“You can practice; it feels a little silly,” Addica says. “They send you a little hourglass — I’m not teasing. They mail it to you with a note that says to be brave and thank who you really want to thank. There’s nothing more boring than hearing you thank every agent and lawyer.”

“I made the mistake of not preparing and sort of rambled,” Norman says. “Although I don’t think people pay a lot of attention to what screenwriters say anyway — so I don’t think I made a historic fool of myself. … But I didn’t really think about whom I wanted to thank, which is the only reason for going up there. Everybody likes to hear their name mentioned on TV, and I left some people out, and I feel badly.”

Is it really enough just to be nominated?

“Half the time, most of the people think you have won anyway,” Blethyn says. “I’ve been on chat shows in the U.S. when they think I won. I have to correct them!”

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