Do's and Don'ts If You're after That Oscar; You Thought the Academy Rewards Only Talent? Right. the PR Campaign Is as Important as the Movie Itself

Article excerpt

Byline: Sean Smith

Of course the Oscars are about celebrating the best film work of the year, but it's not all Armani and air kisses. The race for the gold is a lot like the race for the White House: winning requires strategy, stamina and a sixth sense for appealing to voters. So as the nominees charm the press and press the flesh in the final weeks before the Academy Awards on Feb. 25, NEWSWEEK asked some of the smartest Hollywood campaign managers (several anonymous because they want to eat lunch in this town again) to break down the rules of engagement.

1 Sell Your Story: Are you the new kid in a star turn or the veteran actor in a tour de force? Is this your comeback? Are you a symbol? Academy members consider more than just the acting. "Did Halle Berry really give a better performance in 'Monster's Ball' than Sissy Spacek did in 'In the Bedroom'?" says one strategist who has crafted successful Oscar campaigns. "No. But Halle [as the first black woman to win a best-actress Oscar] was a better story."

2 Don't Peak Too Early: The key to winning is managing the pace of your campaign. "I don't need to be in first place on Oct. 1," says one publicist. "I don't even need to be in first place on Oscar night. I need to be in first place the week-end that voters get their ballots." That would be right about now. Most Academy members had their ballots by Feb. 4, and although the polls don't close until Feb. 20, it's assumed that most members vote in the first week. The best strategists time their clients' appeal to peak at this exact moment. Hilary Swank's campaigns for "Boys Don't Cry" and "Million Dollar Baby" had an advantage because her films were released late in the year, so in February she felt like a fresh contender.

3 Shyness Is for Losers: One of the biggest mistakes is thinking that campaigning is beneath an actor's dignity. Glad-handing matters. There are exceptions: Sean Penn never campaigned and still won. Judi Dench seldom works a room. But there are far more examples of actors who won, in part, because they showed the Academy how much they prized it. Adrien Brody stunned everyone (including himself) when he beat out Jack Nicholson, Nicolas Cage, Michael Caine and Daniel Day-Lewis for best actor. But Brody had worked tirelessly to promote "The Pianist," and had probably met every member of the Academy before Oscar night. …