How much for an Oscar? The inside behind what it really takes to win


Leonardo DiCaprio begs for an Oscar.

Kat Sarafianos

Oscar snubs are nothing new to film geeks, but that never makes it hurt any less. When a film or actor performs beyond expectations and they don’t even get a nomination at a ceremony meant to honor cinematic achievements, it’s a gut punch for sure.
However, when analyzing the way the Academy nominates and selects films and how studios act during awards season, it’s fair to say not all films are given a fighting chance.
Pretty much every cinephile will agree the Academy Awards, better known as the Oscars, represent the highest possible accolade an artist can receive in Hollywood. Oscar winners receive publicity, are considered for more and better roles and are in the position to demand more money for a role. After her Oscar win for “The Help,” Octavia Spencer said in an interview with the Independent that winning an Oscar, “definitely changed how I’m perceived and the choices that I get to make… [I have a] lot more of a say in what I get to do and I get to chose projects that resonate with me and I have some sort of a bond with.”
But who is the Academy and how are they picking these winners that can boost an actor’s career into superstardom? The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, or just the Academy, is a group of qualified members of the film community with a member base that fluctuates between 6,000 and 6,500 voting members. Membership is by invitation only and extremely selective. So to say the least, it’s a pretty hard club to join.
In terms of an actor or film receiving a nomination, each branch in the Academy has members vote for the awards; for the ‘Actors’ branch, members of that branch vote to nominate the nominees in all four acting awards, while the directors vote for ‘Best Director’ nominees, and so on. The number of votes needed to secure a nomination depends on the size of the voting branch.
After the auditing firm PricewaterhouseCoopers weighs the results from each branch and narrows each category to include only five nominees, all members vote again for the winner across all categories, and the nominee with the most votes wins.
What rouses the most suspicion on whether these Oscar selections are unbiased and objective critiques of the greatest films of the year is the actual campaigning studios perpatrate during awards season.
Film studios try their hardest to influence voters in favor of their films, and the richer a studio, the more money they have to work with. Studios influence voters by increasing select showings for the Academy audience, advertising in publications, billboards and industry websites about the movie and sometimes, they send materials to Academy members directly as ‘gifts’. Studios even hire lobbyists to talk up a film to the press and smear rival films.
But, the most notable tactic studios use to sway Academy members are late release dates. Most people will notice that ‘Oscar-friendly’ films tend to come out late in the year and it’s this strategic releasing that makes the films ‘fresh’ in the Academy voters minds as they are still featured in the popular press when it’s time to cast votes. There’s a reason “The Danish Girl,” “The Revenant,” “Brooklyn,” and other Oscar nominated movie came it within the last three to four months.
[quote]But why would these huge studios spend extra money just to ensure a trophy? Because that trophy brings in much more revenue.[/quote] Ira Kalb, a professor of marketing at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business, has done research into how big the Oscar payoff could be for a victorious film.
When a film is Oscar nominated or has won an Oscar, studios use that achievement in marketing campaigns as a validation stamp to consumers and it increases their desire to see the films and the talent honored. Kalb said it also keeps the movies in theaters longer, boosting box office receipts, and it substantially increases DVD, streaming, download, and cable TV revenues.
A prime example of all this is Leonardo Dicaprio’s Oscar campaign. Alongside the fact “the Revenant,” was released late in the year and the other studio lead actions to hype up the the film’s Oscar worthiness, the studio has done an amazing job of glorifying Dicaprio’s hardships as an actor in this film.
By describing the awful conditions Dicaprio filmed “the revenant,” in and just how far he took his role as a method actor, like eating raw bison liver, the studio humanizes Dicaprio and makes him appealable to the Academy on an emotional level. Granted half of the publicity he receives is free considering his history of Oscar snubs, but it’s more than just his performance in “the Revenant” that got him an Oscar nomination and maybe even a win. Its his image. The idea of a hard working actor trying to catch a break and get recognition for his long film career is one that hits home with fellow artists and people in the film industry who have felt that struggle for recognition.
And it’s not just Leo; when Natalie Portman was nominated for best actress in a drama for “Black Swan,” in 2010, Fox Searchlight Studios put out every interview and statement they could advertising the fact that Portman had trained for months so that she could do mostly all the pointe work and Ballet in the movie herself.
However, controversy arose after her win when her dancing double, Sarah Lane, stated a Fox Searchlight producer had asked her to stop giving interviews until after the Oscars were over. She went on to talk about her own lack of recognition for her dancing in the movie as Portman got the credit and talked about how little dancing Portman actually did. “They were trying to create this façade that [Portman] had become a ballerina in a year and a half,” Lane said in an interview with Wendy Perron. “So I knew they didn’t want to publicize anything about me.”
Now, yes, these films were amazing and completely worthy of their respective nominations. However, it’s important to wonder if the movies got their wins from an objective critique that we assume the Academy gives or from a sentimental, heartfelt image that a studio executive painted about the actors.
And in light of these expensive campaigns and not-so-unbiased nominations, realize that there may actually be a reason why a really exceptional actor or film wasn’t nominated. It’s also important to understand that these campaigns make it harder for underfunded movies and talents to be recognized. In the end, the Academy isn’t the one to determine how great a movie is, that’s a personal choice.