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’s Nikki Finke: How would you characterize this Oscar season?
TOM ROTHMAN: I think it’s been a really good season, actually. Between Black Swan and 127 Hours we’re doing great. So I feel actually pretty ecstatic about it. But we’ll see what happens. If I have a disappointment, I would say it’s one that’s common and consistent in almost every awards season in the modern era. That often times in the technical category, some of the master craftsmanship in a lot of big, commercial pictures tends to be overlooked, even though it’s the highest level of work — the editorial work, the cinematography, the sound in particular. It’s as if it’s not fashionable, that commerciality is inconsistent with the craft. But I would say this season is a really good representation of a number of high quality films. And I happen to be a person who still very much wishes that there were only five slots for Best Picture.
DEADLINE: I agree.
ROTHMAN: I regret that change. Because I believe that, in the orgy of self-congratulations that is the Hollywood awards system, when everything else in our world is common, what made the Academy Award nomination for Best Picture so special was exactly how rare and exactly how hard it was. Was it unfair? Was it brutal? Yes. You know I still to this day am pissed off that Cast Away didn’t get a nomination. OK, guess what: it didn’t make the final five. Unbelievable. But what that does is that means when you make it, it’s special and it’s rare and it’s fabulous, right? And that’s what it had. That’s what made it different than everything else. That extrapolated it from everything else having 10 or 20 different awards…
DEADLINE: And now that there’re 10 slots….
ROTHMAN: Given that fact, it’ll work out well for us this time because the Fox family has two films. So I would be arguing against my own interests. But having said that, I think that the good news this year is that there’s a really good range of really interesting, quality pictures. And the thing that I find very gratifying about this Academy Award season is all of us who are generically referred to as ‘Hollywood,’ as if it is a monolith, which you know that it is not, well, it’s said that Hollywood makes terrible pictures, and Hollywood only makes crap — guess what. No, it doesn’t. It actually makes some great pictures, and look at them all. We make great, in my opinion, mainstream, commercial pictures like Unstoppable, which got a ‘90’ on Rotten Tomatoes. Nobody in the world makes an exciting character-driven action picture better than that. And Hollywood has got great ground-breaking movies like Inception, like The Social Network, at the same time it’s got True Grit. I mean, that’s a film that is about as traditional a genre as you can get, right?
DEADLINE: And this Oscar season was incredibly competitive among family fare.
ROTHMAN: And, by the way, I’m sorry but you can wait a long time in life until you see a movie as good as Toy Story 3. So my point is, that what I find gratifying about this season is I think it’s revelatory. So take a movie like Black Swan, which is making $100 million dollars, and so this is why I’m asking you, is it an art film or is it a commercial genre film? Well, I’ll tell you the answer to that: it’s both. But I also go back to a picture which hasn’t done as much at the box office that I think it deserves, which is 127 Hours. And I don’t want to take anything for granted, but I believe this picture is going to get some new recognition.
DEADLINE: How much does it pain you that voters don’t want to see a man cut off his own arm?
ROTHMAN: I had the idea for the ‘I kept my eyes open for 127 Hours’ campaign. I said, ‘Let’s make it a challenge’. Come on, man-up or woman-up, because the truth of the matter is when you see the movie it’s not worse than Jackass in a lot of places. And the other thing is, come on, half the movies I see I’ve got to close my eyes for a few seconds. But I actually don’t consider that it’s the Academy members’ ‘job’ to do that. I consider that’s our job, and I’ll tell you why: because the Academy members reflect a certain part of the audience. I think it’s our job to excite and to interest those people, and to make the films compelling enough. And I think over the years the Academy has often recognized films that didn’t have appeal at the box office. But I do think it’s important that those guys can see the films they’re voting on.
DEADLINE: And see them on a big screen.
ROTHMAN: Yes, see them on a big screen. I do think that we’ve hoisted ourselves on our own petard by making screeners the norm. But, at the end of the day, however you’re going to see it, wherever you’re going to see it, I’m of the belief that it’s really ultimately great emotion of any kind, whether it’s the scares of Black Swan or triumph in 127 Hours or perseverance in The King’s Speech, that matters.
DEADLINE: Do you think last year Academy voters got the full impact of Avatar by seeing it on 2D screeners on their 2D televisions? Some people think that’s why it didn’t win.
ROTHMAN: I actually don’t think that’s true. The good news about Avatar was that it was the largest box office in the history of the movies by a substantial margin, and the truth of the matter is that made it a natural target. People saw that movie as it was meant to be seen — on the big screen. So I don’t think it hurt the picture. And, by the way, the movie was great in 2D, too, because it wasn’t just the technical stuff that was great, it was the story. So I don’t think that’s right.
DEADLINE: Should the Academy have a special 3D category soon?
ROTHMAN: Not now, I don’t know, someday maybe.
DEADLINE: Was it your strategy to time the wider distribution of Black Swan to awards season?
ROTHMAN: We had a plan with that movie, a very disciplined plan, and we stuck to that plan, which was the movie was hot in September and we held that power. Who was it that said, ‘Don’t fire ‘til you see the whites of their eyes?’. And believe me the temptation was there. We knew how great the picture was. Was there a temptation not to open that movie in four or five cities but to blast it out there in one weekend? Big temptation. But we stuck to the plan and built a rollout that used the momentum of the movie to push itself, because Darren Aronofsky made an exceptional movie. So, yes, in that case the awards season was all part of it.
DEADLINE: Every awards season we have what I call ‘badmouthing,’ where one frontrunner gets badmouthed by rivals. Avatar got badmouthed and The Hurt Locker got badmouthed last year, and before that A Beautiful Mind, and before that Saving Private Ryan. Why does this happen?
ROTHMAN: You’re not going to like my answer and probably won’t print it.
DEADLINE: I’ll print it.
ROTHMAN: Because people like you need something to write about. I don’t think it happens…
DEADLINE: You don’t think it happens?
ROTHMAN: Nope. I think it’s incredibly overblown and irrelevant. We have a situation now where there is a blog for every lamp post in Hollywood. There are as many blogs as there are traffic lights. They want to write about something and get noticed for something, so that’s it. It bleeds and bleeds. I don’t myself believe it’s prevalent. We’ve never engaged in it, and I don’t think the vast, vast majority of people engage in it. You may call me Pollyanna but I honestly, truly believe that it doesn’t happen.
DEADLINE: Trust me, it happens. So the way Fox has run its awards, you have Twentieth Century Fox with the big commercial movies, and then you have Fox Searchlight with the specialty films, and, of course, other divisions, so big Fox can always be guaranteed to have one or two movies in the mix for Oscar.
ROTHMAN: For every studio, you’re prevalent in some years and not in others. This company has won 11 Best Pictures over its history. It’s won countless Best Actor/Actress awards that come from any and all divisions. And I will tell you what the basic philosophy is, which is, it is our job to successfully program exciting, original pictures for all audiences.