Magazine article Variety

Campaigning for Academy Recognition

Magazine article Variety

Campaigning for Academy Recognition

Article excerpt

IN MAY, ABC News' Lincoln Square Prods. decided against submitting John Ridley's "Let It Fall: 1982-1992" for Primetime Emmy consideration. The reason? The television company hoped that the 140-minute docu, which tackles the 1992 Los Angeles riots, would receive feature film recognition via the Academy Awards. Oscar consultants concluded that a pre-existing Emmy profile could potentially hurt the doc's chances at a little gold man.

ABC's decision to forgo a possible Primetime Emmy in favor of Oscar glory wasn't exactly surprising.

Oscar is the entertainment industry's most esteemed accolade, and AMPAS recognition represents a coveted chance for not only the highest form of industry peer recognition, but also mainstream audience attention - a feat rarely achieved in the nonfiction film world.

"The feature doc business has never been so vibrant and, in part, that's because there is the perception of the possibility of real Academy Award glory down the road in the life of a feature doc," says Passion Pictures' John Battsek, the producer behind Oscar-winning docus "One Day in September" and "Searching for Sugarman." "That's very seductive for financiers and producers alike."

Oscar's allure has made the Primetime Emmys a nice afterthought, a kudofest that re-celebrates Oscar-nominated docus.

Case in point: last year's Oscar-winning docu, ESPN Film's "O.J.: Made in America," nabbed six Primetime Emmy noms and took home two statues. Netflix's "13th," which received an Academy Award nom alongside "O.J.," went on to score nine Primetime Emmy noms and four wins.

In the past decade alone, half of all Academy Award-nominated docs garnered a Primetime, News and Doc or Intl. Emmy nomination. Along with "O.J.: Made in America," Oscar winners including "Citizenfour," "Taxi to the Dark Side" and "Born Into Brothels" can also tout Emmy wins. But Emmys' sheer abundance makes them less desirable than an Academy Award, so despite technically being in the small-screen business, streamers such as Netflix and Amazon, as well as veteran TV distributors including HBO and PBS, put in a great deal of time and money to obtain the hardto- get Oscar.

It's a cutthroat campaign that involves screenings, Q&As, boozy lunches, cocktail hours, billboards, celebrities and plenty of ads. It's also a long race that begins as early as January's Sundance Film Festival and, this awards season, concludes 14 months later. For the docu community, it's a relatively new race that can be demanding, overwhelming and, for some, morally compromising.

While the Academy has been honoring documentaries since 1941, it wasn't until 2001 that an official documentary branch was formed. Prior to that a small, anonymous committee system determined the shortlist and the subsequent five nominees, making a large campaign pre-nomination impractical. After the formation of the doc branch, all members of the branch could vote on the final five nominees. This marked the beginning of the nonfiction feature Oscar campaign.

Marshall Curry was nominated for an Academy Award in 2006 for "Street Fight" and in 2012 for "If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front." He lost to "March of the Penguins" and the football doc "Undefeated," respectively. He remembers money, or lack thereof, being a deciding factor in both campaigns. While he could only afford to buy a small advertisement in the trades, "March of the Penguins" bought cover ads. …

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