Filmmaker personal appearances are increasingly seen as essential components of any serious nomination campaign, but the jury of artists’ peers remains divided on whether the rounds of cocktail parties, meet-and-greets, and post-screening panels and Q&As have any effect on official ballots.“My vote is not for sale,” proclaims a veteran thesp who watches screeners religiously, disdaining open bars or cocktail weenies that might cloud either his appetite or his judgment. Speaking of vittles: “You hear them talk about the work, and it’s like getting food that’s already been masticated,” says another character actor. “I want to see their performance, but I don’t want them seeing me watch their performance.” But an actors brancher who’s attended two panels this season, at which a helmer or cinematographer of her faves explained how he’d achieved his effects, considers, “Yes, I think some people can be influenced by them.” Variety veep and editorial director Peter Bart, a veteran Academy member, agrees. “When you hear a filmmaker talk intelligently about his movie, it opens your eyes in terms of what you think about it,” he says. “People like to put it down, but I think it’s smart strategy and, in some cases, very helpful.” The decision to take in a special event hinges on a mixture of celebrity, curiosity and personal connection. “I’ll go if it’s a close friend who asks me to come,” a voter states, while a kudos consultant hopes “if there’s a director or an actor you want to see, you’ll come to the screening and create buzz and talk to other people about it. Problem is, one could knock off a couple of screeners in the time it takes to travel and endure festivities, no minor consideration in this year of tightened deadlines, namely the Jan. 3 Oscar nomination vote. One diligent Academy member spreads out and prioritizes the remaining DVDs each week, sighing, “Even if I were to see three a day — which is impossible, it’s usually no more than two — I couldn’t get through them all.” It’s the buzz, she says, which helps her decide what will be No. 1 with a bullet in her queue, or whether to attend face-to-face. Call it buzz or hype, Q&A events do seem to have the word-of-mouth effect consultants hope for. One voter claims the very scheduling of events “can make you think something is building.” After a provocative screening, reports an A-list star, “I call up my friends in the Academy. We don’t say ‘Here’s what we’re going to gang up and vote for this year,’ but we like to talk about what we’ve seen and heard, and what’s coming up.” Such chats doubtless ease “a loneliness to the process,” as one AFI voter calls it. “You jam all these screenings into November and December, and then a few weeks later the whole world is going to see films and talking about them, but you’ve already seen them — you’re done,” the voter says. “Don’t even ask about attending parties or events. I don’t have enough energy for that.” Even getting up that energy can yield meh returns. One voter took time out to attend a “gala screening” of an indie hopeful, hosted by an A-list helmer. “There’s some crackers, a little cheese, two bottles of wine and a dozen-odd people. (The host) doesn’t show, so we watch the movie and go home. … And the cheese wasn’t that great.” Small wonder flacking artists, many of whom themselves cast ballots, are of two minds about pressing the flesh. One admits with a grin that “to have a chance to talk about the movie with people who care enough about it to come out, that’s just really fun.” But another lowers his voice to pull no punches: “Can I tell you the truth? I think it’s disgusting. … It’s all gotten out of hand.” The effort to win hearts and minds isn’t always enviable duty. At a studio-sponsored do, some guy accosted him and leaned in to leer heavy-handedly, “By the way, I’m a voter.” “Like I was supposed to be impressed by that and kiss his ass,” the thesp grimaces and shakes his head.
Are voters under the influence of events? | Kid thesps galvanize elite pics | Scene gems: 20 memorable moments from 2012