Oscar Tactic No. 1: Show your hunger.
It might seem obvious, but the best way to win an Oscar is to let people know you want to win an Oscar. “It’s like throwing a birthday party,” explains our first Oscar consultant. “You can’t tell people that you don’t want [any presents] and then be shocked that they don’t give them to you.”
One marketing expert relates an example of a campaign that failed as a result of just such an approach: Julie Christie’s non-campaign for Best Actress in 2006’s Away From Her. “She told us, ‘I’ve never been a campaigner,’” relates this insider. “She kind of disappeared; she went back to Europe — and she lost. Whereas Marion Cotillard [nominated for La Vie En Rose] moved into the Chateau Marmont and let everyone know she wanted it. I remember saying to her, ‘You might want to come back here.’”
This year, two actors who have traditionally eschewed campaigning — Lincoln’s Daniel Day Lewis and Silver Lining Playbook’s Robert De Niro — worked overtime to court Academy membership, for Best Actor and Supporting Actor respectively.
“Supporting Actor this year is interesting,” opines one studio chief. “Harvey practically got De Niro to wash cars on Santa Monica Boulevard.” Adds the first consultant, “De Niro hasn’t done much glad-handing and personal appearances in his career. But this guy, for a supporting role, is everywhere — including that Hollywood International Film Festival. On Goodfellas, he was nowhere to be seen. I remember studio publicists were driven to drink over his nonchalance.”
Notes the head of marketing at another studio without skin in the Best Actor race, “Daniel Day-Lewis is going to win no matter what, but he also campaigned more than he ever has before. He was out here a lot — I’ve never seen him doing it before — probably because it’s such a tough field of competitors, you know?”
The studio chief does, however, warn of the dangers of someone of their pedigree being seen as wanting it too badly. “If it doesn’t work, then that’s bad, because you’ve sold out shaking hands and kissing babies; when Academy members see noneffective glad-handing, people avert their eyes.” Rough town!
Oscar Tactic No. 2: Be a beautiful woman.
Just a year ago, the Los Angeles Times published its own examination of the Academy’s secrecy-enshrouded membership, and the results were quite unlike the broader movie-going public: Oscar voters are nearly 94 percent white and more than three-quarters (77 percent) male, the Times found, with a median age of 62. Members younger than 50 years old make up less than 15 percent of the membership. To put that in technical demographic terms, it means the electorate is filled with dirty old men. “Here’s the sad truth: The more ‘fuckable’ the actress, the more likely the chance to win,” says our first consultant, not a little forlornly, adding, “The academy is all men. Beautiful women get nominated, out of all proportion to the numbers — to the point that some of these winners have never equaled that [nominated] performance again. But look, they’ve done studies. Even babies are more drawn to attractive people. This year, you’ve got an 86-year-old woman and a 6-year-old girl up against Jennifer Lawrence. So who do you think is gonna win?”Again, as with all these tactics, it is hardly foolproof. But it is interesting to note how many attractive actresses took on unglamorous roles, then seriously glammed up for their press rounds, and won. This tactic grabs attention as the actresses seem even more beautiful for the stark contrast.
“When Hilary Swank plays boys — and she’s won two Oscars doing that — her whole campaign is her wearing pretty dresses all the time,” explains our first consultant. “You can go to every event in a gown, and more people want to dress you. Designers come out of the woodwork. Also, when Helen Mirren won for The Queen, she won by campaigning — remember all the talk about how she was ‘actually still a babe’ even though she was over 60?’” No shock that Anne Hathaway has been everywhere, with the hacked-off mop she wore as Fantine the tragic, toothless prostitute, turned into a charming pixie cut.
Oscar Tactic No. 3: Act humble — even if you’re not. (Especially if you’re not.)
Humility — even false humility, given the outsize egos of so many male Academy members — is essential. Says our first consultant, "I was working with an Oscar-nominated actress recently, and she told me she went to the Sorbonne ... I was like, 'Wow! That's a great nugget — we should use that in interviews and press materials,' and she was immediately like, 'Whatever you do, do not tell people I went to the Sorbonne!' And she was right: This is a town that doesn’t appreciate or reward smart women … It probably hurt Sharon Stone’s career immeasurably when she claimed she was in MENSA."
Similarly, one former marketing head thinks that Zero Dark Thirty star Jessica Chastain’s fortunes have ebbed in the Best Actress Oscar odds in favor of Jennifer Lawrence because of a perceived sense of entitlement in Chastain coming from her speech for winning a Golden Globe. The speech was “awful,” says the executive. “Those awards speeches are such opportunities to deliver why you should win an Oscar. Instead, she said, ‘I’ve worked for a really long time. I’ve auditioned and struggled and fought and been on the sidelines for years.’ You’ve worked so hard for this? You haven’t been on the map but for a few years! Jesus, Christopher Plummer waited almost 50 years to win an Oscar! And I think that contributed to her decline.”
This is particularly important when you flub a speech before an audience that has even more overlap with the Academy’s membership, like the BAFTAs. For this reason, Oscar consultants’ eyebrows raised in alarm when the Twittersphere erupted in derision at Anne Hathaway’s botched BAFTA acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actress last week. Even as she professed breathless surprise, her words felt perfectly scripted and memorized, the combination of which (after being a front-runner for so long) made her feel presumptuous about winning. Calling her own film a “theatrical juggernaut” also did little to help her come off as a gracious, modest winner. (If it seems sexist that these “arrogant” and “too-smart” campaign violations are only connected to women, see the voting body cited in Tactic No. 2.)
tl;dr: Have a good PR agent, or have Harvey Weinstein kill people for you.
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