But that does not mean studios have toned down the campaigns
around their films and nominees. In fact, Oscar watchers believe
this awards season has been the most feverishly contested in
"I feel that this year is more exhausting than ever," said Tim
Gray, the awards editor at trade publication Variety, noting the
number of high-quality films among the best picture nominees.
"It is more intense partly because there are more movies in
contention. But in every race, there are very few shoo-ins, and
so people are seeing an opportunity," he added.
This year, nine films will compete for the best picture Oscar,
which will be handed out on March 2 by the Academy of Motion
Picture Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles. Oscar voting ends on
Although, slavery drama "12 Years a Slave" and outer space
thriller "Gravity" appear to be the favorites for the top prize,
winning the statuette could come down to a handful of votes,
"I think it works on the supposition, 'Leave no stone
unturned,'" he said, noting how stars and directors have been
attending screenings and question-and-answer sessions, sometimes
more than one per day, to reach some 6,000 Oscar voters.
An emphasis on voter outreach could play a bigger role this
year, when "12 Years a Slave" and "Gravity" tied for the top
award from the Producers Guild of America last month out of
thousands of votes. The award is one of the top predictors of
And in the acting races, some old-school tactics appear to be
paying off. Last week, best actor hopeful Leonardo DiCaprio sat
with media for interviews about "The Wolf of Wall Street," also
a best picture nominee, went on late night TV and did an online
question-and-answer session billed as a "career Q&A." His
chances to win his first Oscar seem to have grown.
"American Hustle" director David O. Russell took the time to
appear on local morning television in Los Angeles, perhaps in a
bid to catch the eyes of the mostly L.A.-based Academy members
as they sat down with their oatmeal and coffee.
Studios have also placed promotional spots on the National
Public Radio affiliate in Santa Monica, California, which
reaches the west side of Los Angeles traditionally populated by
the entertainment crowd, said Jonathan Taplin, an Academy
"It couldn't be a more hyper-local target than that," said
Taplin, a communications professor at the University of Southern
California and producer of Martin Scorsese's breakthrough 1973
film "Mean Streets."
"That's probably a very smart place to catch Academy voters," he
[to top of second column]
It all appears to be above the fray, unlike last year when
studios actively torpedoed their competitors with
behind-the-scenes mudslinging that ultimately took "Zero Dark
Thirty" out of its early front-runner status.
But sometimes a studio's own promotional choice can raise
A campaign by "12 Years a Slave" studio, Fox Searchlight
Pictures, promoting the film with the tagline "It's Time" could
rub some Academy members the wrong way with its ambiguous
message, awards watchers said.
"It's a really bold campaign statement because you don't want to
come across as trying to shame Academy members into voting for
your movie," said Glenn Whipp, the film awards expert at the Los
Angeles Times, "but at the same time, a little prodding toward
the idea of rewarding this movie that looks at history in a way
that no other movie has isn't such a bad thing."
Fox Searchlight said that tagline was meant to have multiple
meanings, including encouraging audiences to learn about the
life of Solomon Northup, whose 19th-century memoir formed the
basis of the drama.
"It's time to see the film, it's time for our culture to know who
Solomon Northup is and, finally, it's time for our country to
reconcile our past and its impact on our lives today," said Michelle
Hooper, executive vice president of marketing at Fox Searchlight.
One of the challenges of running a successful Oscar campaign comes
down to demonstrating to Oscar voters that they will be casting
their ballot for actors, directors and studios with the desire to
win, said Tony Angellotti, a veteran awards consultant who works for
Disney's Pixar and Universal Pictures.
"People tend not to vote for those people who appear indifferent to
this very prestigious award," he said. "Oftentimes, we see the
winners being those who participated in the process."
(Editing by Mary Milliken and Jan
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