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The Money Behind Awards Season

By Kelson Howerton
On February 27, 2018

Nominations do not come cheap—film companies spend millions of dollars conducting campaigns.
Photo Courtesy of  International Business Times

With the Emmys and Golden Globes already in the books and the 90th Academy Awards coming on March 4, awards season is well underway. As all of Hollywood gathers to celebrate this year’s best entertainment offerings, millions of viewers tune in to see if their favorite film or television series will get praised or snubbed. With a series of awards with much acclaim behind them, naturally, an astronomical amount of money is spent behind the scenes, and naturally, it is a great draw for film and television studios to aim high. 

Regardless of the award, a nomination is a universal net gain: more publicity, more credibility, and ultimately, more money. According to research firm IBISWorld, Oscar nominations alone are enough to drum up a ton of buzz at the box office in what has been coined the “Oscar bump.” Eight of the nine 2017 best picture nominees still in theaters gained a 13.3 percent increase in box office earnings the week the nominations were announced. Winning an Oscar nets even better rewards, as IBISWorld reports that between 2008 and 2012, best picture winners earned $13.8 million more than non-winners.

While a nomination from the Oscars or another award show is a boon for any studio, these nominations do not come cheap, as film and television companies spend millions of dollars conducting their infamous “for your consideration” campaigns to secure a nomination. According to Cara Buckley of The New York Times, such campaigns for best picture nominees cost an estimated $10 million. 

Award season may not mean much here in West Virginia, but for those living in Los Angeles, this time of year means being subject to the legion of “for your consideration” ads scattered across the city on billboards, busses, and on posters plastered on every corner.  In 2013, Netflix began placing political-style lawn signs to garner exposure for its original series “House of Cards” and “Arrested Development” in the wealthier neighborhoods of known academy voters, a trend that has taken off since then. 

These are just some of the simpler tactics studios use to campaign for votes. On the more extravagant end of the spectrum, studios set up exclusive pre-release screenings, lavish parties and similar press events in which voters can meet acting and directorial talent that worked on the award contender, giving voters a personal connection to the product they may be voting for in a few months. When voters go home, they are greeted with dozens of packages in the mail containing free copies of movies and television shows in showy boxes likely labeled with “for your consideration.” 
While award shows such as the Oscars keep a tighter leash on what companies can do to influence voters, companies still push the limits, and even find ways to work around the rules – anything in the name of getting voters to watch their product and remember it come voting season. 

Now-shunned film executive Harvey Weinstein’s company Miramax is one of the most notorious for the lengths it takes to drum up support – elaborate parties with celebrity guests, smear campaigns, and misleading ads all common tactics. According to New York, Miramax spent an estimated $5 million in 1998 to secure “Shakespeare in Love’s” upset win for best picture over Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan.” 

However, academies do have lines not to be crossed. In 1999, Hollywood Foreign Press Association president Helmut Voss asked its 82 members to return the gold Coach watches sent to them by actress Sharon Stone, who was hoping for a Golden Globe nomination for her film “The Muse.”  

From campaign to showtime, the entertainment industry’s beloved award shows sadly revolve around money, not talent. While this does not mean that quality directors, actors, writers, producers, artists and other talent do not get their much-deserved acclaim for their projects, it does mean that if you want to get your name in the hat, you must hustle your way to the top first. 

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