It's Oscar time here.
Though nominations for Academy Awards will not be announced until Feb. 6, the race for the statuettes -- and the box-office gold they often bring -- has been under way since late October. That's five months before the March 25 awards ceremony.
These days, the pages of Daily Variety and the Hollywood Reporter -- the "trades," as they are known -- are filled with advertisements emblazoned with the words, "For Your Consideration," as members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are urged to "consider" particular films, artists and craftsmen for particular awards.
Some of the ads echo the collective thoughts of critics across the country. There have been ads for Sally Field in "Places in the Heart," for Albert Finney in "Under the Volcano," for F. Murray Abraham in "Amadeus." Other plugs have been not so predictable: Clint Eastwood suggested as a Best Actor nominee for "Tightrope"; Bud Cort's work as the voice of a computer, in "Electric Dreams," suggested for Best Supporting Actor.
Technical (nonacting) categories also are being emphasized. The title song "Purple Rain" has been mentioned as a possible contender for Best Original Song. Orion plans to remind Academy members of the special effects of "The Terminator."
Ballots for nominations go out to Academy members on Jan. 12 and the ads will continue through most of this month. But these Oscar bids are costly. A full-page black-and-white ad runs $1,200 in Daily Variety, and $1,193 in the Hollywood Reporter. Color and special artwork increase the expense; thus, a single page in Daily Variety can cost more than $3,500.
Offsetting the high cost of Oscar campaigns is the fact that nominations can result in increased ticket sales. A Best Picture nomination can bring in an additional $2 million to $5 million; winning the award can mean increased box office of anywhere from $5 million to $30 million.
As a result, Hollywood movie studios roll out the big money to woo Oscar. Charles O. Glenn, executive vice president in charge of advertising, publicity and promotion for Orion Pictures, says that more than $119,000 will be spent on the campaign for "Amadeus" before the announcement of nominations. A similiar sum is going toward the studio's prenomination campaign for "The Cotton Club."
How do Oscar campaigns get their start? According to Glenn, they're triggered by industry reactions at initial screenings of new films. Said Glenn, "Afterward, you look to see if your positive feelings for a film are corroborated by others, including the critics. You also assess your competition."
The studios and film companies also make their films readily available to those Academy members who want to see them. Ads emphasizing special screening schedules abound in the trades, and advertisements in daily newspapers in Los Angeles and New York City -- where the majority of Academy members are based -- include invitations for free entrance to regular theatrical screenings. Once the Academy members have seen the year's touted films, the Oscar-oriented campaigns can conceivably take effect.
Whether an Oscar can be bought is a nagging issue that annually creeps into the awards race. While there is no evidence to suggest that ads actually influence an Academy member's votes, there is little doubt that a campaign can influence someone to remember a film or performance that might otherwise be overlooked. As Glenn noted, "Academy members are inundated with movies throughout the year. We have to constantly refresh their memories."
Especially when it comes to films released early in the film year. For that reason, Warner Bros. is reminding Academy members of Ralph Richardson's performance in the spring release, "Greystoke." Orion is doing the same for Anthony Hopkins' work in "The Bounty," also released in spring.
According to Bob Dingilian, vice president of the domestic distribution and marketing group for Columbia Pictures, the process of deciding which films and artists are worthy of Oscar consideration is a collaborative one. "A film's director and producer make suggestions, along with the studio's executives," he said, adding, "Each film is judged on its own merits. And box office isn't one of them. Grosses do not determine a movie's worth at Academy Award time."
Indeed, many so-called "prestige" pictures manage only modest ticket sales -- often due to careful release patterns (limiting theatrical markets) -- before snaring Oscar nominations. With an Oscar in tow, a little-seen movie suddenly has mass appeal. The weekend after winning the Best Picture Oscar for 1982, receipts for "Gandhi" jumped 43 percent. Ticket sales for "Chariots of Fire" climbed 100 percent from what they had been a week earlier, one night after winning the Best Picture Oscar for 1981. After being named Best Picture of 1978, "The Deer Hunter" earned an additional $30 million.
The awards presentations preceding Oscar can also affect a film's chances, come Academy Award time. "Amadeus' " sweep in the annual voting of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association was not lost on Orion. By the same token, Columbia will remind voters that "A Passage to India" was named Best Picture by the New York Film Critics' Circle.
The same group named Steve Martin Best Actor for his work in "All of Me." Because comedy is seldom recognized with awards, the honor caught industry wags off guard. Universal Pictures also must have been surprised, since trade ads for the film had been emphasizing Lily Tomlin's work for consideration as Best Supporting Actress. While it remains to be seen if Universal will shift its campaign gears, the unexpected "All of Me" win signifies the only rule of thumb about Oscar. Above all, it is unpredictable. CAPTION: Picture 1, F. Murray Abraham in "Amadeus." Picture 2, Sally Field in "Places in the Heart"; Picture 3, Clint Eastwood in "Tightrope. Photos (c) Copyright 1984 by Paul Zaentz Co., Tri-Star Pictures and Warner Bros. Inc.