Juggling time is an art form during award season.
Managing the full-court press of events related to a film’s opening, combined with pre-Oscar publicity and promotion, can be a logistical nightmare. Overseeing this potential runaway train requires skilled campaigners and scheduling gurus who keep the focus on the big prize: an Academy Award nomation.
When it comes to making choices, such as release date, event and festival participation, and media play, “The fact is everything is about the award,” says ThinkFilm head of distribution Mark Urman, who helped navigate Oscar doc winner “Born Into Brothels” through award season 2004-05, and “Affliction” and “Gods and Monsters” in years past. “No decision was made that wasn’t factored into its effect on the ultimate destiny of the film.”
How do savvy marketers get the most from talent’s time in this ever-evolving horse race? “I target and focus on the things that make sense,” says Warner Independent exec VP of marketing and publicity Laura Kim. “Don’t waste anyone’s time.”
Once a film is singled out, via fest kudos or reviews, the award campaign machine takes over. “It’s human nature and the film business’s nature: Everybody wants to bet on a winning horse,” Urman says.
Timing of a film’s release determines a pic’s profile not only in the marketplace but within the industry. A movie that’s released early in the year has to re-emerge during award season, often without the lead actors to drive publicity. A December release might have Oscar campaign elements already woven into its domestic sell.
“Talent and marketers have to be flexible,” Picturehouse Films Dennis O’Connor says. “It’s important to communicate with talent early on and have a meeting of the minds. They need to tell you how much time they think they can give you. For instance, what’s on the horizon, a snapshot of their work schedule and if they’re going on vacation.”
With the release of “Million Dollar Baby” moved up to take advantage of award season, screenwriter Paul Haggis says his efforts in upping the film’s profile for kudo consideration went hand in glove with the film’s theatrical distribution.
What caught him by surprise was the amount of time required for panels, roundtables and fest appearances, including the Santa Barbara Film Festival. “I didn’t have a publicist and found I had to get one just to arrange things and figure out what was more important or not to go to and try not to insult people,” Haggis says. “I honestly figured if I was lucky enough to get a nomination, that there would be an interview or two and that would be it, I’d go back to work.”
Haggis did indeed continue writing “Flags of Our Fathers,” but contends that he accomplished only about half as much as he normally would.
But the balancing act between work and promotion is increasingly difficult. Oscar season and its coverage continue to grow each year, with at least seven Web sites, including OscarWatch.com and AwardSpeculation.com, devoted to daily updates and predictions.
“The machine just sort of takes over,” says Haggis, whose latest pic, “Crash,” looks to be a serious kudo contender this year. “I was really torn, as a good Canadian boy, that a lot of it reeked of self-promotion. But it’s still your film, it’s your responsibility and it means a lot to the release.”
Needlessly hostile and unseemly promotion has historically turned Oscar voters off. Alternately, many point to Roman Polanski’s win for “The Pianist” as an example of great work standing on its own without in-person campaigning by the filmmaker.
Indie filmmakers who’ve made a film as labor of love tend to be there to support the film. “Scheduling is a lot harder when it’s Nicole Kidman,” Picturehouse’s O’Connor notes, adding, “(As a marketer) you have to pick and choose and the contender has to decide whether they want to have a life or not.”