In Hollywood, awards season has become fixed on the calendar, starting with the late summer and early fall festivals in Venice, Toronto and Telluride and running through to the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve.
But despite the kudos industry’s focus on autumn, there are good films and performances that are seen and acknowledged the other eight months of the year. They all have unique challenges as they battle for attention with the late bloomers.
Among this year’s crop of awards movies and perfs looking to buck the seasonal odds are a pair of Fox Searchlight releases — the March-debuting “Win Win” and May’s “The Tree of Life” — as well as the latest Woody Allen pic, “Midnight in Paris,” which first hit theaters over the summer. There’s also “The Help,” which was released in August and has been receiving tons of positive awards buzz.
All of these films come from directors and performers with plenty of awards pedigree. “Win Win” lead Paul Giamatti has a previous supporting actor nomination, as does writer-director Tom McCarthy. Allen, of course, has a bountiful number of noms and wins to his credit, and “Tree of Life” boasts heavyweights such as Brad Pitt, Sean Penn and writer-director Terrence Malick. All three films played at major festivals — Sundance for “Win Win” and Cannes for “Tree of Life” and “Midnight.”
In the case of “Midnight,” Sony Pictures Classics decided an early release was better for the film’s awards chances for a number of reasons.
“We thought we would face less of a challenge to be considered for awards if we opened early,” explains co-prexy Michael Barker. “At the end of the year, there are so many films being considered for awards that your film is fighting for attention, fighting to be seen. If you’re not in the top 12 or 15 or even the top 10, it’s too difficult to be seen.”
Instead of fighting for a fall slot, “Midnight” was intentionally opened opposite “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.”
“Often that really works for films to be considered for awards,” Barker says. “It becomes something to be compared against.”
The approach deviated significantly from the release pattern for Allen’s previous film, last year’s “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger.” That film also played at Cannes, but Sony Pictures Classics took the more conventional approach and released it in September. With “Midnight,” however, the studio saw a chance to make a good early impression that could last into the fall awards season, a premise strengthened by the solid reaction to the film and its impressive $55 million in box office receipts.
“There are pictures where it makes sense not to open in such a competitive time period,” says Barker. “The notice you’ll get earlier will stay in people’s minds over time.”
Robert Marich, author of “Marketing to Moviegoers,” says awards marketing is all about momentum and always difficult to predict. While most box office release strategies are based around the idea of making the most money, awards are an area where the usual logic does not always apply.
“Studios have deep pockets. They are the 900-lb. gorilla in the room,” he says. “They will do things for non-economic reasons.”
Sony Pictures Classics’ strategy is to keep “Midnight” in theaters as long as possible, send out DVDs and host screenings with the cast and producers and wage a moderate ad campaign.
“This is not the movie you do a lot of overkill on ads,” says Barker. “You have to trust in the movie in a way.”
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