I’ve always believed that Hollywood’s most sought-after awards, the Oscars, were bestowed upon the most deserving artists and films year after year. That the people who vote on the Academy Awards were looking at each film and performance with a completely open-minded approach and that the best film/actor/actress, etc. wins based on merit.
Boy, was I wrong.
The truth is that movie studios pour tons of money into what is known as “For Your Consideration” campaigns – marketing campaigns geared directly toward the very people that vote on the Academy Awards. And while the studios don’t necessarily bribe these voters, they do attempt to influence them (and win their votes) in a variety of ways. That includes giving them goodies such as free iPads along with screeners of the films (they don’t have to actually pay to watch movies like the rest of us peasants), throwing fancy parties where voters can meet celebrities, tickets to concerts, or even trips to Las Vegas.
In total, Hollywood spends more than $100 million on lobbying during awards season every year. Roughly 7,000 people vote on the Academy Awards. Veteran actress Susan Sarandon said that, these days, it’s impossible to get an Oscar nomination unless someone buys it for you.
The studios also mount massive ad campaigns that plaster movies and movie stars that might be Oscar-worthy all over Los Angeles in magazines and billboards. A front-page ad in the Hollywood Reporter reportedly costs $72,000. The price tag for a studio to attempt to win an Oscar can be as high as a whopping $10 million.
As the old adage goes, you need to spend money to make money.
Even though the studios are dishing out big bucks for marketing, studies show that the return is quite impressive. In fact, a best-picture nomination can earn a studio an extra $20 million at the box office. An Oscar win can mean as much as $35 million and higher.
Bottom line: being nominated for an Oscar is good for business, even if a movie was initially a financial flop.
And stars have to get involved in the lobbying too, showing up at screenings, participating in Q&As, and sitting on various couches on the talk-show circuit. An Oscar win for an individual means a huge jump in prestige, status…and money. Even notoriously press-shy celebrities will join the Oscar circus if they think it’ll mean a big win. Casey Affleck campaigned hard in 2017 for his eventual Best Actor Oscar for Manchester by the Sea.
That same year, Viola Davis ran the media and public relations gauntlet in order to gain favor for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar that she eventually won for Fences. Before the Oscars, one Hollywood manager commented on how Davis would attend any event that might win her some points. The manager said, “Viola really wants it. She’s going to the opening of a car door.”
So even though good and great films have to stand on their own with critics, if a studio wants to win the biggest prize, they have to campaign and spend mountains of cash to try to sway people to vote for their film. In the end, the illusion of the Oscars being a true talent contest is just another broken dream along the streets of Hollywood.