For a few hours the past two weeks, at busy Hollywood, CA intersections, director David Lynch sat on a folding chair flanked by a live cow and a banner hyping Laura Dern's performance in his new film, "Inland Empire". Nearby, a week ago, filmmaker Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu dropped by the plush Arclight Cinemas for a Q & A and booksigning alongside a screening of his new movie, "Babel." Just as politicians wrapped up baby-kissing and gladhanding earlier this month, campaigning on both coasts was kicked up a notch. It's awards season in L.A. and New York, time for specialty and indie marketers to find ways for their would-be nominees to press the flesh, in the hopes that journalists and colleagues will remember them when any number of nominations, critics prizes, and year-end top ten lists are unveiled. Of course, the holy grail is an Oscar nod.
Awards season is a big business in the movie industry with ad dollars bolstering the budgets of numerous print and online publications. Some half a dozen blogs and websites track the ups and downs of the emerging race, while large ads hype films and performances in the Hollywood trade papers. Even indieWIRE has an Awards Watch section to collect its kudo coverage during a period that can span nearly six months. Awards season is such an institution for smaller movies these days that it is even the subject of a Christopher Guest film. The master movie satirist and his regular cast of actors send up awards buzz in "For Your Consideration," which opened this weekend in U.S. theaters
While nominations and eventual awards can boost the egos of those in the spotlight, they can also have a significant impact on a film's box office performance. "An Oscar nomination and/or the award itself can transform a film entirely," explained Mark Urman, head of theatrical distribution at ThinkFilm. "Whether that occurs before during or after a theatrical run -- and you can use the Oscar to launch, extend, or revive a film; you can vastly increase its ancillary and foreign value. Because everyone writes about the race, reports on it, and then watches the show itself, every nominee automatically gets a profile that is global. Last I hear, that's as big as it gets."
Urman and ThinkFilm are hoping to have a couple of horses in the Oscar race this year. Ryan Gosling, star of Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden's first feature "Half Nelson, is among a roster of contenders seen as a potential candidates for a best actor nomination. He was named a contender for a nomination by The Guru's o' Gold, a weekly Movie City News feature that handicaps the latest Oscar races.
Sony Pictures Classics knows just how a nominated performance can boost a film. Last year, Phil Morrison's "Junebug" rode a wave of attention from Sundance to Cannes and then all the way to Oscar night when its co-star Amy Adams was singled out with a best supporting actress Oscar nomination and a win in the same category at the Independent Spirit Awards. The film earned nearly $2.7 million in U.S. theaters. This year the company is backing Pedro Almodovar's "Volver," particularly the lead performance of Penelope Cruz, who is widely considered a shoo-in for a best actress Oscar nomination. Watch for Sony Classics to support the film in a number of other categories, as well.
Another accomplishment that may gain traction is the work of Guillermo Del Toro, for his work on "Pan's Labyrinth." The film is already a contender, along with the aforementioned "Volver," in the race for a best foreign-language film nomination. Picturehouse's "Pan's Labryinth" will vie for a nomination in the original screenplay category. Both "Volver" and "Half Nelson" are also seen as potential candidates for a writing recognition this year.
Awards recognition can bring box office dollars, but such acclaim can often come at a hefty price. A recent Filmmaker Magazine article about indie films and the Oscars, by Variety's Sharon Swart, explored the delicate dance that often takes place. Swart quotes Picturehouse's Bob Berney as saying that the campaign for an Oscar nomination can cost a company $700,000 to $1 million. So indies typically need to be creative with their tactics, as David Lynch proved with his stunt that gained a lot of attention from blogs. Among their goals are to gain the attention of what New York Times awards season observer David Carr calls, "the Manhattan mentionocracy." Or, in his words from a recent article on awards season, "a heaving mass of critics, reporters, film geeks and gossip columnists." All are being courted to give films, filmmakers, and actors some attention during this key period when colleagues and critics are picking the best of the year.
Nominations for films from indie and specialty companies will most likely come in other Oscar categories as well. Last week, insiders were buzzing about AMPAS' release of its short list of films up for an Oscar nomination in the best documentary category. Was it really that long ago back at the True/False Film Festival in March, just a week after the last Oscars, when a group of filmmakers sat around a casual dinner comparing notes about how to qualify their films for the coveted trophy. Now some of them are vying for one of five spots in the ultimate race.
Indie films will certainly be in the spotlight next week when Film Independent's Independent Spirit Awards are announced Tuesday, November 28th in Los Angeles, followed by the Independent Feature Project's Gotham Awards event the following day in New York City. Not more than a week later critics groups will begin naming their favorite films of the year, followed by an array of ten best lists and nominations from organizations and societies.
Back in Hollywood last week, the reason for the "For Your Consideration" banner touting Laura Dern for best actress made sense given the importance of awards season in the business, but the cow? When asked by passersby about the animal, Lynch simply responded that milk comes from cows and while making "Inland Empire" he ate a lot of cheese.