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In bid for Oscar votes, awards campaigns stay old school

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - In the increasingly globalized entertainment industry, there's a quaint old media practice used by studios to woo the whimsical souls of Oscar voters - all 6,100 of them.
/ Source: Reuters

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - In the increasingly globalized entertainment industry, there's a quaint old media practice used by studios to woo the whimsical souls of Oscar voters - all 6,100 of them.

Forget Twitter or Facebook, the place to play is local television, newspapers and radio, and part of the game is getting the final word or viewing with Academy members before voting ends on Tuesday.

"The number of people voting is pretty small," said Jonathan Taplin, an Oscar voter and producer of Martin Scorsese's 1973 film "Mean Streets." "If you can influence 100 people that might make the difference."

Best picture favorites "Birdman" and "Boyhood" each have had extensive advertising campaigns in the New York Times and Los Angeles Times. Those newspapers represent two cities with a significant amount of Academy members, who mostly comprise movie actors, producers, directors and executives.

On the western part of Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, a hub of the film industry, it is not uncommon to see billboards touting Oscar contenders, like "The Imitation Game," which has eight nominations, including best picture.

"It's like dropping leaflets from the sky," said Glenn Whipp, the film awards expert at the Los Angeles Times.

"It's hard to imagine, given how pervasive it is, that any Academy member cannot be aware of these movies," Whipp added.

The campaigns target a fairly homogenous group. A 2012 investigation by the Los Angeles Times showed members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are 94 percent white and 77 percent male with a median age of 62. The Academy does not reveal the demographic breakdown.

Hollywood studios covet the prestige the Feb. 22 Academy Awards can bestow on a film as well as the commercial bump a movie may find, whether winning or in pre-Oscar advertising.


For independent film "Boyhood," a best picture favorite, its distributor IFC Films launched an awards push in the summer in part to reach audiences early and outside of crowded and expensive fall-winter awards season.

"The key aspect for us has always been getting the movie seen by audiences," said IFC Films president Jonathan Sehring, "because when the movie is seen by audiences, it really touches so many people in so many different ways. That's been the strength of the film from the outset."

For some films in down-ballot categories like documentaries and animated features, it's about enticing voters to watch, particularly when 15 different films earn nominations for acting and best picture awards.

"The ultimate goal is to engage the 6,000-plus voters to simply watch our movie," said a Hollywood awards consultant who was not authorized to speak publicly. "They can't vote for it if they haven't seen it."

The top two contenders in animated feature, DreamWorks' Golden Globe-winner "How to Train Your Dragon 2" and Disney's "Big Hero 6" have featured prominently on Los Angeles radio, turning it into a hotly contested race.

Oscar campaigns aren't cheap, with marketing costs running in the millions of dollars. That includes expenses such as mailing thousands of screener DVDs to voters and guild members, like directors and writers, who have their own awards.

But for best picture nominees this year, it's more about getting the last word before votes are cast.

The visually unconventional "Birdman" plays on its ambitious nature with taglines "Risk. Above all." and "Truth. Above All." in print ads. Coming-of-age tale "Boyhood" bids for votes with the slogans "One family's life" and "Everyone's story."

"They've really tried to hone the universality of the film," Whipp said of the "Boyhood" campaign. "They're tapping into what the movie's strengths are with voters."

(Additional reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Jill Serjeant and Lisa Lambert)