Awards Season Launch: The Best Picture Race

With the exception of a few campaigns for such animated hits as “Beauty and the Beast” and Pixar toons “Up” and “Toy Story 3,” over the years, Disney hasn’t been much of a competitor when it comes to the Oscar race for best picture.

But that’s changed for the Mouse House’s marketing team ever since DreamWorks started unspooling its live-action pics through the Touchstone label in 2011, starting with “I Am Number Four.”

When the five-year deal with DreamWorks was announced in 2009, Disney chief Robert Iger said, “This is an opportunity to improve our profitability by wisely using some extra capacity in our system. DreamWorks has a great creative and commercial track record.”

But little did Iger realize that DreamWorks also meant Disney would be spending considerable coin to court Academy voters.

Last year, Disney helped DreamWorks make a big push for “The Help” with an effort that rewarded the companies with lead actress and supporting actress noms for Viola Davis, Jessica Chastain and Octavia Spencer (who won), as well as the coveted best picture nom.

Another pricey campaign landed Steven Spielberg’s “War Horse” six nominations, including best picture.

Disney’s broadened its participation in the Oscar race in recent years “is in large part because of DreamWorks,” says one Disney exec. “It is only natural that when you start marketing and distributing films from a studio like DreamWorks with an incredible awards history that this comes with the turf.”

While the studio is still figuring out which categories to go after for Marvel Studios’ “The Avengers,” Disney is once again working closely with DreamWorks execs on another historical epic from Spielberg: “Lincoln,” which bows Nov. 9.

In September, Disney and DreamWorks kicked off the film’s run for Oscar — and its official marketing campaign — by debuting the first trailer for the film through a Google+ Hangout, which had the helmer and Joseph Gordon-Levitt participate in a live chat about the pic. Disney has produced Google+ Hangouts for “The Avengers” and “The Muppets,” as well.

Since then, “Lincoln” premiered at the New York Film Festival earlier this month and is set to close the AFI Film Fest in early November.

Tapping into the presidential theme a TV spot was unveiled during the second presidential debate, which had more than 60 million viewers tune in, and was featured in a 14-minute profile on Spielberg during “60 Minutes” — heralded as the helmer’s first interview. Episode’s ratings were up 75% that week.

“I’ve always wanted to tell a story about Lincoln. I saw a paternal father figure, someone who was completely, stubbornly committed to his ideals, his vision,” he told Lesley Stahl in the segment. “I think the film is very relevant for today.”

Now Disney and DreamWorks hope the biopic’s also relevant for Academy’s voters.

Award Season Launch: The Best Picture Race
Oscar’s dating game means business | New rules tweak song, foreign, vfx categories | Inside H’wood tales flatter Acad voters | The Weinstein Co has more in store | ‘Lincoln’ on ticket for Disney | Mature themes offer robust alternative to four-quad fare
Award Season Calendar 2012 – 2013: November – December | January – February

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