Harvey Weinstein back in form to lead the push

Get ready for the return of Awards Season Harvey.

Harvey Weinstein, the man who elevated kudos campaigning into an art form at Miramax, has four prospects this season for the Weinstein Co., the company he and his brother Bob founded in 2005. And the marketing juggernaut for what could be the biggest of them, “Nine,” has just begun.

The company hosted a Gotham junket for Rob Marshall’s star-laden musical at New York’s Waldorf in November and has since flown the musical’s cast to an “Oprah” taping and guild screenings. It plans a splashy Gotham premiere Dec. 15 and a separate London junket.

“When you put that cast together, it’s magic,” says David Glasser, Weinstein president of international.

The company is also pulling out all the stops on screenings for “Inglourious Basterds,” “The Road” and “A Single Man.” Glasser attributes the kudos lineup to the stronger hands-on role both brothers are playing in the marketing of their movies. Harvey, for example, was heavily involved in the decision to bring the “Nine” cast to “Oprah” Nov. 18.

“This year feels more than ever like we’re back to what Harvey and Bob wanted to do — a mix of everything,” Glasser says, referring to the diversity of the company’s awards hopefuls.

The Weinstein Co. says it plans to cut costs elsewhere, such as on “for your consideration” ads and tables sponsored at award-season events.

They’re not the only ones cutting back. Award spending is down — as much as 50% to 60%, veterans say — as studios watch their budgets. But these industryites add that this could change in December, when such pics as “Avatar” and “Invictus” are screened, critics start to weigh in and buzz builds around potential nominees.

If anyone’s going to step up for his films, they say, it will be Harvey Weinstein. Generally speaking, studio execs avoid active campaigning for most films because the political downside is too great: They risk aggravating other filmmakers and embarrassment if their efforts fall short.

Not so Harvey.

“Harvey simply doesn’t care because it’s his company,” one veteran Oscar consultant says.

Last season Paramount topper Brad Grey campaigned heavily for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” but that was more of an anomaly due to his long-standing relationship with star Brad Pitt.

The exec did, however, appear at the Nov. 16 DVD launch party for “Star Trek,” one of the films that could benefit from the expanded number of Oscar picture nomination slots this year. In this case, the studio may feel compelled to campaign for “Star Trek” because it made lots of money — and to keep director J.J. Abrams happy, much the way Warners did with Chris Nolan and his blockbuster “The Dark Knight” last year.

Lionsgate may campaign heavily for “Precious” as it did for “Crash” a few years ago, and Warners will surely back Clint Eastwood on “Invictus,” but usually defers to Eastwood’s wishes.

On the specialty side, Sony Classics and Apparition Films have already begun their cam­paigns on behalf of hopefuls. Sony Classics has already made substantial print buys in the Los Angeles Times’ the Envelope special section, which co-prexy Michael Barker says has the benefit of targeting moviegoers and Academy members.

Sony’s specialty arm is pushing critics’ darling “An Education” and Helen Mirren starrer “The Last Station,” among others.

“There are no clear front-runners yet, and that’s interesting,” Barker says. “Last year at this time everyone knew about ‘Slumdog.’ “

Apparition Films, launched by Bob Berney and Bill Pohlad a few months ago, is campaigning for Jane Campion’s “Bright Star” and Emily Blunt starrer “The Young Victoria.”

“Everyone’s trying to watch the bottom line as much as possible,” says Berney, who ran Warner’s Picturehouse label until it was shuttered. “Studios are going to be very cautious, but at the same time you have to give the films and their stars an opportunity to get out there. And that’s expensive.”

He says his company is spend­ing as much on its campaigns for “Bright Star” and “Young Victoria” as his previous outfits did on “La Vie en rose” and “Monster,” noting he’s accustomed to operating with less money.

“We feel really proud of these films,” he says. “We want to give them a shot.”

The challenge is even greater for microbudget labels such as Oscilloscope Laboratories, which is pushing “The Messenger,” an Iraq War-themed movie starring Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson.

“You have to be strategic and nimble to break through the clutter,” says David Fenkel, who partners with Beastie Boy Adam Yauch on the label.

Oscilloscope, which campaigned for Michelle Williams in “Wendy and Lucy” last season, banks on using awards campaigns to help promote the movie among the consumer press. And consumer press attention, Fenkel says, helps drive further awards coverage. “It’s about raising the profile of the film and creating an identity for the film,” he says.

Economy aside, the biggest question mark this season surrounds the doubling of best picture Oscar nomination slots from five to 10: How will it affect campaigning — and spending?

“You’ve got a year with 10 nominations,” Barker says. “How are people going to react? You don’t know.”

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