×

Scrappy indies aspire to level playing field

Eye on the Oscars: Best Picture Preview

Dating back beyond the mid-’80s, when independently distributed films began to establish a toe-hold in the Oscar race, the best pic category has increasingly taken on a David vs. Goliath scenario. While “Little Miss Sunshine,” “Juno” and “Winter’s Bone” proved that low- and even micro-budget indies could go toe-to-toe with studio heavyweights, the challenge has always been getting exposure at a time when Academy voters are being deluged with awards hopefuls.

“One of the first things we learned is that the best way to get into the Academy is for the Academy to see your movie,” says Sony Pictures Classics co-prexy Tom Bernard. “That is the most difficult part: Getting it on the radar, and keeping it on screens for a long time.”

Before DVD screeners, Bernard remembers sending out VHS tapes of the French film “Camille Claudel” in 1989. Now, he says, knowing when to send out an Academy screener — so it doesn’t get lost among the dozens of other DVDs — “is like choosing a release date.”

“And then you have to create some awareness to get that Academy member to put that DVD in,” adds Bernard, whether that’s through media or festival buzz.

This year, SPC is pushing Austrian auteur Michael Haneke’s “Amour” as a contender. “We’re promoting it as a best picture movie in the same way we promoted ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,’ ” Bernard says. “It won in Cannes, the Academy members are aware of the film. I think it will be seen.”

Howard Cohen, co-prexy of Roadside Attractions, which released dark-horse best pic nominee “Winter’s Bone” in 2010, agrees that creating awareness is most important, particularly for indies that don’t have the tubthumping budgets of Hollywood films.

“When you do a smaller movie, you don’t have mass marketing dollars, so you need reviewers and critics on board,” echoes David Glasser, COO of the Weinstein Co. “I absolutely think this is key.”

Award-season campaigners note that word-of-mouth is a significant driver for indie titles. “It’s all about getting the film in front of people,” says one publicist, “doing festivals, doing Q&As — you have to be everywhere.”

Indies, in essence, can be the “passion vote” for members. And if a critical mass of voters can get behind a little film, its modest origins can help intensify its Oscar chances, as may be the case for a couple of films that made a splash at Sundance in January: “The Sessions” and “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”

“There’s always something exciting about discovering something new and being part of that groundswell of support,” says “Beasts” executive producer Paul Mezey. “I think it’s a participatory thing, and for audiences who feel that sense of discovery, they are going to be passionate about ‘their’ film, and participate in it in a stronger way.”

Eye on the Oscars: Best Picture Preview
Art finds surprising home | Scrappy indies aspire to level playing field | Dramas ripped from headlines | Popcorn epics’ battle for top prize |

Award Season Calendar 2012 – 2013: November – December | January – February

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Benjamin Wallfisch - scoring session, Abbey

    Composer Benjamin Wallfisch Signs With Gorfaine/Schwartz Agency

    Composer Benjamin Wallfisch has signed with the Gorfaine/Schwartz Agency (GSA) for worldwide representation, in partnership with London-based agency COOL Music Ltd. A top composer, whose scoring credits include “It Chapter Two,” Shazam!” Hellboy,” “Hidden Figures” and “Hostile Planet,” among others, Wallfisch has worked on over 75 feature films and is a member of the BAFTA [...]

  • The Moneychanger

    Toronto Film Review: ‘The Moneychanger’

    Uruguayan auteur Federico Veiroj (“The Apostate,” “Belmonte”) broadens his usual intimate dramatic scope to diminishing returns for his fifth feature, “The Moneychanger,” . Adapted from a novella by compatriot Juan Enrique Gruber, the period (mid-1950s to mid-1970s) tale centers on the eponymous character, an amoral currency exchanger, who winds up laundering some of the dirtiest [...]

  • Send Me to the Clouds

    Film Review: ‘Send Me to the Clouds’

    The social and economic pressures felt by China’s “leftover women” — referring to those older than 26 and unmarried — are examined in “Send Me to the Clouds,” a rewarding dramedy about a 30-ish journalist seeking financial reward and sexual fulfillment after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Bold by mainland standards for presenting a positive [...]

  • Jamie Bell Without Remorse

    Jamie Bell Joins Michael B. Jordan in 'Without Remorse' Adaptation (EXCLUSIVE)

    Jamie Bell is in final negotiations to join Michael B. Jordan in Paramount’s adaptation of the Tom Clancy novel “Without Remorse.” Stefano Sollima, who most recently helmed “Sicario: Day of the Soldado,” is directing from a script by “Sicaro” screenwriter Taylor Sheridan. As previously announced, Jordan is starring as operations officer John Clark, also known [...]

  • Elizabeth McGovern, Laura Carmichael, Jim Carter,

    'Downton Abbey' Movie Sequel? Producers Tease That They Have 'Some Ideas'

    “Downton Abbey” holds the record as the most-nominated international show at the Emmy Awards with 69 nominations and 15 wins — and now, it stands a chance to nab an Oscar. More than three years after the beloved series signed off the air following six critically-acclaimed seasons, “Downton Abbey” is making its big-screen debut. “It [...]

  • Todd Phillips Joaquin Phoenix Joker Movie

    What's Woker Than 'Joker'? Film Critics Made Everything Political at Fall Festivals

    “Is it just me, or is it getting crazier out there?” asks Joaquin Phoenix, playing a deranged incel version of the DC supervillain in “Joker,” the unconventional comic book movie that’s sucked up much of the air from the fall festival circuit. Like an aggro caricature of the “involuntary celibates” who troll message boards online, [...]

  • Running Against the Wind

    Young Africans' Dreams Are Focus of Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda Oscar Picks

    Films about young Africans trying to fulfill their dreams in the face of war, poverty, tradition and other forms of adversity have been submitted for Oscar consideration by three East African nations. The selections by Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda to compete in the international feature film category reflect the relative youth of filmmaking in the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content