Isn’t May a little early to launch an Oscar campaign? Not anymore. These days, it seems old rules don’t apply. On Tuesday evening, Universal marketing turned its “Get Out” DVD launch party into an ad-hoc awards event, inviting awards journalists to its Wisteria Lane backlot to celebrate Jordan Peele’s horror comedy about suburbia gone very wrong.
At $174 million to date (and an expected $50 million bonus rolling out overseas), “Get Out” is Blumhouse horror producer Jason Blum’s highest-grossing film (and his second Oscar contender, after “Whiplash”). And no one is more surprised to be in the awards conversation than breakout writer-director Peele, who is developing seven more original ideas for his new Universal first-look deal. Chances are, he’ll get more than $4.5 million to make them.
Being in any awards race is “a little surreal to me,” Peele told me. “I have a hard time accepting that’s part of the conversation. But I love this movie so much. The craziest stunt was getting it made, and getting a wide release — that’s the hardest thing to get.” The day Peele arrived on set was exhilarating, he said. “It felt like I was the captain of a pirate ship on the precipice of a grand adventure. Conditions were harsh, but I got this loyal crew.”
He knows that a $4.5 million February horror release featuring “Girls” star Allison Williams and unknown Daniel Kaluuya is not made to order for an Oscar campaign. But Universal can afford to make a push for its breakout director with hopes that critics will come through for the movie at year’s end. (The movie’s at 99% on Rotten Tomatoes.)
Critics take “Get Out” seriously, because Peele, having laid the groundwork for the movie in multiple sketches on Comedy Central’s “Key & Peele” that pulled humor out of racism, leaned into his inspirations, horror classics that brought Grand Guignol wit to their dark themes: “Rosemary’s Baby,” “The Stepford Wives,” and “Scream.”
If Universal can position “Get Out” as a crossover movie with deeper thoughts on its mind, Peele has a shot at earning support from the Writers Guild and year-end critics groups as a writer and a director. While the overall Academy tends to be a tad myopic and snobby about horror fare, the writers and directors do like to champion emerging talent, from Orson Welles (“Citizen Kane”) and John Singleton (“Boyz N the Hood”) to Benh Zeitlin (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”), even when the movie gets raunchy.
Writers have nominated comedies “The Hangover,” “Bridesmaids,” and of course the exception to prove all rules, 1991’s horror flick “The Silence of the Lambs,” which nabbed five Oscars including Best Picture, Director Jonathan Demme, Screenplay Ted Tally, Actor Anthony Hopkins and Actress Jodie Foster.
“Get Out” may not nail that sweet spot. But it could get partway there.
Also disrupting the usual order of awards campaigning is mighty streaming site Netflix, which now boasts the biggest programming budget in the industry. Four years after earning its first Emmy nomination for its first original series, “House of Cards,” this week Netflix invited all TV Academy voters and a wide swath of media to attend a series of Emmy events at FYSee — a month-long, 24,000 square-foot installation in Beverly Hills, across the street from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Amazon created a similar space last year, albeit one that was much less ambitious. However, Netflix threw serious cash at the lavishly appointed site, which will host all its Emmy events, which includes a “Stranger Things” set complete with moving walls and bicycles, wardrobe displays from “The Crown” and “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” and yes, a literal “House of Cards.” With so many TV series vying for attention from Emmy voters, luring them to focus on a single show is half the battle.
The next night, the first episode of “House of Cards” Season 5 premiered at the Academy, complete with a Q&A with star Kevin Spacey (doing his usual impressions) and content czar Ted Sarandos, who masterminded the strategy of competing with Hollywood for top-quality original content, streamed all at once, for online binging only.
On Sunday evening, Netflix brought in a bevy of stars to the FYSee unveiling, from veteran producer Norman Lear (“One Day at a Time”) and talk-show star Chelsea Handler to the cast of “Stranger Things,” as well as Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling, who are writing the next season of their strangely watchable series “The OA.” Also still writing and eager to get back to his laptop was Cheo Hodari Coker (“Marvel’s Luke Cage”).
As the Netflix talent wandered around the vast space lifting prop refrigerators and posing for pictures, “The Orange is the New Black” gang led the way to the raucous dance floor and “The Get Down” icon Grandmaster Flash. Their hosts, Netflix content VP Cindy Holland and chief lieutenant Matthew Thunell, joined them. Now that Netflix has moved into their spanking new offices at Sunset Bronson Studios, they have plenty of reasons to celebrate, as their studio rivals struggle to keep up.
Whether or not the Netflix FYSee house pays off with a slew of Emmy wins, Netflix can well afford to put its best foot forward.
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