Friday, February 26, 2010

Did "The Hurt Locker" producer hurt his movie's chance at the Oscars?

Pete Hammond of obtained an email sent by one of the credited producers of the Oscar frontrunner "The Hurt Locker" slamming "Avatar" in favor of his own movie. A firestorm has erupted over this and some Oscar-watchers are now hastily changing their predictions. The Best Picture race has gotten interesting again...

Here's Pete's article (plus the link):

With just one week to go before ballots close for the 82nd Annual Academy Awards (they are due at PriceWaterhouseCoopers by 5 p.m. March 2), campaigners are pulling out all the stops trying to position their movie as the one with the gravitas that befits a best picture winner.
In addition to the usual trade and newspaper ads, TV spots and billboards, at least one "Hurt Locker" nominee apparently feels the best way may be hand-to-hand combat via e-mail. The Academy may frown at this direct attempt to contact its members, but "Hurt Locker" co-producer Nicholas Chartier, who through his Voltage Pictures was the film's key financing wizard, is making pleas to friends and friends of friends to get out the vote for "Hurt Locker" like it was some sort of political grass-roots campaign. His pitch isn't so much about the quality of the film, but rather its independent nature versus that movie with the blue people that cost so much to make. He doesn't mention "Avatar" by name. He doesn't have to. Here is the text of his e-mail, which went out to select industry-ites on Friday. (Spelling and grammatical errors were in the original text sent to me by a producer who received this):

From: "Nicolas Chartier" Date: Fri, 19 Feb 2010

I hope all is well with you. I just wanted to write you and say I hope you liked Hurt Locker and if you did and want us to win, please tell (name deleted) and your friends who vote for the Oscars, tell actors, directors, crew members, art directors, special effects people, if everyone tells one or two of their friends, we will win and not a $500M film, we need independent movies to win like the movies you and I do, so if you believe The Hurt Locker is the best movie of 2010, help us!

I'm sure you know plenty of people you've worked with who are academy members whethere a publicist, a writer, a sound engineer, please take 5 minutes and contact them. Please call one or two persons, everything will help!

best regards,

Nicolas Chartier Voltage Pictures

Chartier's "Hurt Locker" bio says he has spent much of his career involved in the sales and international distribution of a range of films including "Van Wilder," "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," "Crash" and the Olsen twins' TV movies. Most of them were indie projects like "Hurt Locker," and he clearly feels the passion to get his message translated into hard votes for the indie success of awards season. But considering the current solid front-running status of "Hurt Locker," it smacks a little more of desperation or panic than the air of confidence you might expect from a contender that's had a very savvy and successful campaign to date.

Meanwhile, Fox has completely retooled its trade, billboard, TV and consumer newspaper approach to emphasize that "Avatar" is not your father's kind of popcorn picture. Successive Variety covers late last week emphasized lengthy review quotes including Joe Morgenstern's Wall Street Journal review: "Special effects have been abolished in effect, since the whole thing is so special." Or The Times' Kenneth Turan, who was quoted in part as saying "... it's an anti-technology film that touts the healing powers of nature." James Cameron now proudly repeats the lists of environmental organizations that have endorsed the film and participated in a Natural Resources Defense Council fundraiser on the Fox lot Monday night.

Of course, when the film opened, the mind-blowing nature of the whole 3-D experience and technical innovation was the major part of the sell, not the "green" message.

"Inglourious Basterds" was sold as an entertaining, shoot 'em up Nazi war movie when it came out in August. Message, what message? Now that's played a little differently in an Oscar campaign that has stamped out whispers of anti-Semitism and pointedly referenced support from Jewish groups, Rabbis Marvin Heir and Abraham Cooper and the Museum Of Tolerance. Current ads also show art "inspired" by the movie that is being auctioned off to help Haitian earthquake relief with the line: "The movie that reminds you why you love movies has inspired others to create and give back." And YOU thought it was just a good ol' "guys-on-a-mission" flick, as its director Quentin Tarantino likes to say.

And Chartier's personal approach aside, "Hurt Locker" has been busy beefing up it's antiwar credentials after criticism in some quarters that it didn't have a point of view.

When it was released in late June, any movie with a connection to the Iraq war was considered box office poison. Distributor Summit Entertainment ran far from positioning the movie as anything but an exciting, nail-biting war thriller. Diffusing criticism that the film doesn't take a position, director Kathryn Bigelow often makes a point of saying in interviews that she believes war is futile and hopes her movie will open a path for peace. Writer Mark Boal always accepts awards now by calling his movie "an unpopular story about an unpopular war." On Wednesday evening at the Arclight movie theater, Bigelow and Boal are scheduled to further their Oscar season activism by joining in a panel with veteran Air Force and Army officers for the Truman National Security Project program loftily titled "From the Front Lines to the Silver Screen: How 'The Hurt Locker' Brings Home the Human Cost of the Iraq War and the Stark Reality of 21st Century Combat."

Trying pitching that kind of publicity-op at the original marketing meeting.

Selling your movie to Academy voters is a lot different that selling it to the public. The latter's all about making money. The former's about making room for Oscars.

May the best message win.

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