Written by Sarah

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The first step in an Oscar campaign also happens to be the legal one. The “For Your Consideration” is the level playing field in Oscar campaigning; it’s the one aspect in which all films are equal. Everyone is allowed to run a For Your Consideration and the costs of doing so are relatively low, compared to mounting a full-fledged media effort complete with press tour and parties. Major releases situated with large studios, or at least those flush with cash (Summit Entertainment isn’t large but courtesy of all that convenient Twilight money they’ve been able to aggressively campaign Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer this year, and it also allowed them to push The Hurt Locker despite its sub-$20 million box office last year), frequently spend ten, fifteen, even twenty million dollars on Oscar campaigns.

Obviously not everyone can afford to spend that much, but anyone can mail out For Your Consideration cards. When sending out the press release announcing the DVD/Blu-Ray release of Jackass 3D this March, Paramount included a For Your Consideration card for eleven Oscar categories. It’s not like Paramount dropped a lot of money on what basically amounts to a joke. The internet and viral marketing has made For Your Consideration even more accessible to smaller outfits—I love Roadside Attraction’s sleek, simple interface for their three indie contenders Winter’s Bone, Biutiful and I Love You Philip Morris. Take a look at the Winter’s Bone page —poster, access to trailer, list of eligible categories, and best of all, as Roadside Attraction is seeking a Best Adapted Screenplay, there’s a downloadable script.

Another key component of For Your Consideration is the full-page print ad (this is Alice in Wonderland’s full-page ad for Academy/Guild screenings—note the plug for Best Picture at the bottom). The full-page ad has traditionally been the sign of big spending—“Did you see so-and-so’s full-page ad in ‘Variety’?”—but the last few years has seen the rise of the internet ad. Cheaper and more egalitarian, internet ads are taking some of the shine off the full-page ads. Who really reads newspapers these days anyway? I get mine delivered to my Blackberry. Check out the ads on Deadline.com’s most recent post (as of midnight CST displaying The Social Network), or these on Variety (True Grit across the top of the page and Winter’s Bone on the sidebar).

Some studios can afford to throw their money around and in a highly competitive year. The big guns are firing on all cylinders. Warner Brothers wins the award for “simultaneously most awesome and expensive” For Your Consideration for their efforts on behalf of Christopher Nolan’s Inception script. The studio had a copy of the screenplay delivered to members of the Academy’s writing branch and media in a metal briefcase like Cobb’s team used in the movie. And the best cards this year belong to Pixar and Toy Story 3 for cleverly matching images from the movie with titles of past Oscar winners.

Where For Your Consideration goes wrong, though, is in personal promotion. Individuals can’t promote their own projects. The end around to the AMPAS regulations regarding Oscar campaigning—which make no sense—is third party participation. The filmmakers themselves can’t issue For Your Consideration materials; it has to be done by the studio/distributor or a marketing company. Winter’s Bone, for example, was produced by Anonymous Content and Winter’s Bone Productions and US distribution was handled by Roadside Attraction. So Roadside is in charge of the campaign, because they didn’t actually make the movie. But then you have Inception, a Warner Brothers picture being campaigned by Warner Brothers. The end around? Legendary Pictures and Nolan’s own Syncopy are taking the producing credit while Warner Brothers is the “presenter”.

Still with me? Put it this way—Buried screenwriter Chris Sparling stepped in it in late December when he himself sent out a letter extolling the virtues of his own script, including quotes from reviews and awards previously won, both no-no’s in the Academy’s book. A similar move by Hurt Locker producer Nicholas Chartier last year resulted in Chartier being banned from attending the Oscars when he sent out an email asking members to vote for his film. The key to For Your Consideration is: let someone else do it. Even if it’s just the guy who sits one cubicle over.

Next week: Screenings, Parties and Premieres