The Deadline Team of Nikki Finke, Pete Hammond, and Mike Fleming have spent recent days interviewing the studio moguls to gauge their perspective on this very close Oscar race:
DEADLINE: What was it like at Warner Bros when they announced the nominations? Was it funereal?
ROBINOV: I think we were all disappointed for Chris, more than Chris was for Chris. Chris doesn’t take any of this personally. At least in my experience of him, he’s very sanguine about the whole thing. I just felt very sorry for him because I thought that he deserved it and I know Barry Meyer and Alan Horn and everybody else at the studio felt the same way. Plus, we all had a tremendous amount of pride in the film. You become very protective of it, very parental in a way.
DEADLINE: How do you explain this snub — again?
ROBINOV: He’s never really had, and his movies never really had, the critical support that some of these other films have had. As you go through a lot of the nominations, frankly, it’s just confusing. All of them are good movies and all of them are well directed, but none of them faced the challenges that Chris faced. In some ways it’s similar to what Jim Cameron did with Titanic, and what Jim did with Avatar, they both involved a lot of technological challenges. As for story, Inception is complex and multi-layered. What the actors have to do to keep you in that movie and help you follow that movie, Chris talked a little bit about it last night when he did his acceptance speech at the DGA as one of the nominees. He said that their performances kind of go unnoticed behind the spectacle. It’s really their performances that ground the spectacle and take you through the story. For whatever reason, that’s not translating. I really don’t have an explanation for it. I really don’t understand it.
DEADLINE: This year it seems to me that the Academy didn’t take into account technical achievement as well as story. Many movies that had both were not nominated or considered frontrunners. You could even go back to last year’s Avatar loss.
ROBINOV: At least Jim got a directorial nomination for what he did on Avatar. For whatever reason, the voters are not connecting with the effort it takes to mount this kind of production, and the complexity of the level at which it was executed is not being recognized. I’m not saying the other movies are not deserving of their recognition. But certainly Chris should be in that.
DEADLINE: Part of it might be that Academy members are not seeing these movies in theaters where you get the full incredible experience.
ROBINOV: That may be true. I go to see movies in theaters. I don’t have a screening room. And all the Academy movies that were nominated that were potential contenders, I went to see in the theaters. So I think it’s a much different experience in the theater. I think as an Academy member you have a responsibility to really engage in the process. Part of engaging in that process and part of evaluating that process is being in a theater, with an audience, watching it play. For people who can’t see it in the theater for whatever reason, I think it’s good that they get to see it however they see it. But the other thing I would say is, these other movies also play smaller on those screens. If you look at something like The King’s Speech or Black Swan, those movies also get smaller in the process. I don’t know that Inception suffers any more in that process than any other film in that respect.
DEADLINE: Explain to voters why they need to give Inception another look.
ROBINOV: I would say that from a studio point of view — and to a large degree they are supported by the studio system — you have to acknowledge what a risky film this was, given the price and the complexity of it. And we’ve certainly been rewarded commercially for the risk. It’s shocking that people in the industry don’t understand the technical, directorial challenges associated with executing this type of film. To juggle all those pieces in the way that Chris does, I don’t understand how they can overlook that. I like the other movies that are nominated. I have no rap against those movies. I’ve seen them all, and I think they were well-directed, and the performances were all really great. But I think if you ask David Fincher to compare Inception in terms of the complication to The King’s Speech or The Social Network, I think he’d acknowledge that the challenges are much, much greater with an Inception type film than in keeping the audience engaged with a talking-head movie basically like The King’s Speech. True, they don’t have action to fall back on. They don’t have visual effects. So that’s challenging. But Chris has another level of complication in his filmmaking in the same way that James Cameron does, and he certainly deserves to be acknowledged for that. That is the best version of what I can say – I don’t understand it.
DEADLINE: How do you campaign for an Oscar for a movie like this, or any movie?
ROBINOV: I think that there’s a combination of things. With Inception, it came out in July. We didn’t have the benefit of riding that publicity wave that came out for movies in current release. So we had some catch-up to do. It’s possible that we should have started the campaign at a higher level. Not just the campaign itself, because we did start that fairly early. But start it at a higher level with more spent. It also takes a lot of the participants involved, and that’s a timing issue, for them to be out there in front of the movie. Chris is prepping Batman and producing Superman, Leo’s getting ready for Hoover. Everybody is collectively off doing other things. It makes it harder to have a complete campaign.
DEADLINE: And yet here was the most anticipated movie of the summer…
ROBINOV: I think the movie came out early for sure, and I don’t think that helped us. If you are going to be completely honest about it, there have been movies that came out earlier, like Gladiator which I think came out in May, and it won Best Picture. To be really honest, I probably personally overestimated the critical and the Academy support just based on the box office and the response of the media at the time. I took for granted that there would be an understanding, given that the Academy are industry people, of the level of skill that it took to execute the movie to the level that Chris executed it.
DEADLINE: Is it because he’s not yet a member of the club?
ROBINOV: He’s clearly a member of the director’s club, and they are a big part of the people who vote. He’s been very successfully commercial. He’s young and just turned 40. Maybe given the level of success in his body of work, they don’t feel it’s his time. I don’t know.
DEADLINE: I know it took Spielberg forever. I know it took Scorsese forever.
ROBINOV: It doesn’t seem right. It just doesn’t. What Chris did was just a harder needle to thread, and Chris did it. There is an age factor to the Academy, and my understanding is that they skew older. I don’t think Inception plays as well to an older audience as it does to a younger audience. I just don’t think it does. The King’s Speech is very much like The Queen. Aside from the fact that they are English characters, and some English actors, it’s the same scale film. I would say that, and again it doesn’t diminish it as a film, but The Social Network could have been a play. There is no version of Inception that could have been a play. It is pure cinema. It does challenge the audience in a way that I think the other films don’t. It challenges you to use your attention. It challenges you to think. It calls for you to be very present in the movie. The other movies tend to pull you in emotionally, they are very successful in that way, but they don’t demand anything of you.
DEADLINE: What are you going to do during this Phase II to campaign for Inception?
ROBINOV: Obviously, we are going to be as aggressive as possible.