Big studios behind swag-fueled Oscar push

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 23, 2013 at 1:19 pm •  Published: February 23, 2013
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Before that it was Fox Searchlight's "Slumdog Millionaire" and before that "No Country for Old Men" by Paramount Vantage — both smaller arms of major studios that have smaller marketing budgets than their larger siblings.

This year, the majors are back in the game in a big way. In addition to Warner's "Argo" and Disney's "Lincoln," Sony Pictures is behind "Zero Dark Thirty," 20th Century Fox is backing "Life of Pi" and Universal is the force behind "Les Miserables."

While The Weinstein Co.'s "Silver Linings Playbook" is earning boffo business above $100 million in ticket sales following co-chairman Harvey Weinstein's familiar script of making the most of awards season, it appears that this year, the majors have studied up.

"Nobody ever did it besides Harvey, and now everybody's done it this year," said David Poland of MovieCityNews.com, which means more intense campaigning because there's more money to spend.

One look at the release pattern of "Zero Dark Thirty" and it's clear that Sony didn't want to repeat what happened to "The Hurt Locker," another Katherine Bigelow-directed war film that despite its best picture win, made just $19 million in theaters worldwide. Part of the problem with "Hurt" was that it came out in June and was all but gone from theaters by the time the Oscar nominations rolled around.

Instead, "ZDT" showed in just a handful of theaters in December to qualify for the 2012 Oscars, but burst onto 3,000 theaters the day after the nominations in January, capturing the top spot at the box office that weekend.

"We designed our release campaign to take advantage of key dates in the awards season," said Sony Pictures spokesman Steve Elzer. "With approximately $90 million in box office to date, the film has been a huge critical and commercial success and no matter how we do at the Oscar ceremony on Sunday, we couldn't be more pleased with the film's performance."

Starting small and then going wide after the nominations is the "Playbook" that The Weinstein Co. has followed for years, although company co-chairman Harvey Weinstein denies the pattern.

"There is no playbook, there is no campaigning," Weinstein said. "I have always said the most important thing is to get people to see the films and everything else is mostly fluff."

Even films at the tail end of their box-office run are pumping up the volume. "Argo," which came out in October, was heavily advertised by Warner Bros. ahead of the DVD release this Tuesday. The studio began selling digital downloads two weeks ahead of that. Fox followed a similar strategy for "Life of Pi."

"Because these films are so strong, all the companies are buying (ads)," said Michael Parker, co-president of Sony Pictures Classics, whose film "Amour" is also up for best picture.

Critic Anne Thompson of Indiewire said this year's extravagance is due to the fact that big studios have high hopes for their films. Amid her swag pile are "Wreck-It Ralph" plastic fists, a toy bow and arrow from "Brave," and a printed page of the John Williams score from "Lincoln."

"The factors here are a) the studios involved and b) big hit movies that had extra money," she said. "And the fact you have a close race between two big studio movies. They have reason to believe they have a chance to win."