HAMMOND: PR Firms Race To Be First With Oscar Screeners

The intrigue of the season is already beginning and it’s barely September. Late last week while in Telluride, I got a call from a strategist at 42West saying that the film they are handling for Summit Entertainment, A Better Life, would become the first screener of the year to be sent to Academy members with the plan (at that point still to be confirmed) to send it out on Tuesday, the day after Labor Day. Then, over the weekend, Academy members — including some of those same 42 PR strategists — got an obscure movie from Roadside Attractions called The Music Never Stopped, and rival firm PMK*BNC has claimed that is the first screener to be received this year. OK, let’s call this one a draw: The latter film was indeed the first screener to go out, while A Better Life, which Summit and 42West mailed today, is the first to go out from a movie that has any chance in hell of getting a nomination.

I was with reps from Roadside Attractions all weekend and they never mentioned The Music Never Stopped. No wonder: Small cash-strapped indies are not gonna spend big bucks campaigning a movie that was barely a blip in theaters in March and grossed less than $300,000, as is the case with this one. Its barely fresh 62% rating among top critics at Rotten Tomatoes is no cause for celebration either, not for a dark horse with long shot awards potential (in this case a hoped-for, tilting-at-windmills nod for lead actor J.K. Simmons — good luck). Roadside is spending its campaign bucks primarily on Glenn Close’s Albert Nobbs, which got an enthusiastic response over the weekend in Telluride and now heads to Toronto.

As for A Better Life, which opened June 24 and hits DVD on Oct. 18, Summit has high hopes for success, particularly for lead actor Demian Bichir. He is a superstar in Mexico, a co-star on Showtime’s Weeds and won rave notices in this film for his portrayal of an illegal immigrant trying to stay in America with his teenage son. Summit opened the film on the same weekend it opened The Hurt Locker two years ago and hope that’s a good-luck date, at least Academy-wise. The distributor has already done several guild screenings including SAG and plans more along with a sizable awards-season advertising campaign. The film and Bichir’s performance were recently nominated for ALMA Awards. Although the film’s gross to date is less than $2 million, a source with Summit told me that getting the screener out this early should mean many more voters will have a chance to see it before the glut  begins in earnest. And with summer over, Summit is thinking voters may be more interested in seeing a serious drama than they were when it was first released in June.

In fact, last year the first screener of the season, Sony Pictures Classics’ underdog Animal Kingdom, wasn’t received until Sept. 30, so campaigners are apparently feeling the itch this year. Perhaps both Summit and Roadside are encouraged by the fact that that first screener last year eventually produced a long-shot Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for Jacki Weaver despite only a $1 million gross for the film in the U.S.

It pays to be an early bird.

    1. Exactly, it’s a pointless pissing contest to strive to being the “first” to send out screeners. Who cares? It’s a popularity contest anyway, in which sometimes the best and most deserving win.

      It’s not as though the films were not previously available in the theater. I make a point to see films on screen, in a theater, the way they were meant to be seen.

  1. The Music Never Stopped should open , there’s a lot of ” humanity ” in this touching story relationship about father and son and good film making is about ” humanity “. Also this year the Oscars should stay far away from promoting politics, people will turn their tv off if Obama’s face comes on again! The PR firm from 42west should. Promote her ” political agenda for illegal immigration reform ” else where. If the Oscars start first screening with any subjects relating to politics and not film making, they will piss people off….people have different view points, it’s best to keep it to only ” film making ” , after all it’s what Hollywood is…making movies….don’t alienate your viewers. Don’t blend in politics in the show, keep the process ” pure ” to just ” movies ” and nothing else!

    1. Do you actually see any of these movies, or do you just assess them based on Rotten Tomatoes and box office gross? If the latter is true, you’re a soulless old hack contributing to the demise of Hollywood. If not, I apologize. But, please let us know which is true.

    2. Not interested in seeing Obama either, but the rest of this is typical of the attitude sending the industry (and country?) down the tubes – chickensh*titis. Yes indeed, just keep turning out brainless
      schlock we’ve all seen a gazilion times. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz… I’ll read a book or surf the web like everybody else. Don’t kid yourself. Hollywood’s various golden era films actually had something to say. At least the ones that folks still watch.

  2. Demian is wonderful in this terrific movie. He totally rocks every movie he does. I am surprised that Chris Weitz is not getting best director mention. love the movie, hope it gets attention

  3. They should have had the kid in The Music Never Stops turn into a zombie and end up rocking out on stage with the Dead.

  4. Slam it all you want, Pete, but The Music Never Stopped was easily one of the best films i’ve seen this year, and JK Simmons was wonderful in it, as was Lou Taylor Pucci.

    A Better Life is also an excellent film, but Bichir would be better off being nominated for the hilarious Irish film The Runway, which to my knowledge has yet to find an american distributor. Too bad, because it’s a terrific performance.

    Too many times great performances in little movies get lost in the shuffle. I’d love to see Simmons get nominated, but it won’t happen, just as Ben Mendelsohn deserved a Best Actor nom for Animal Kingdom last year and got totally ignored, even though his chilling role in that film was far better than almost everything else nominated in the Best Actor catagory last year. I was happy to see Jacki Weaver get her just due last year, maybe someone will pull that off again…after all, it’s an honor to be even nominated…a win is just icing on the cake…

  5. Demian rocked! he was sooo good in the movie. and yes i agree chris weitz should also be nominated. best movie of the year.

  6. does the order really matter? a good movie is a good movie. A better life was great, but i think the voters would agree no matter when they got the DVD. music never stopped, people never cared…

  7. demian was amazing! he should be nominated.. hope people watch that DVD! i know a lot of people who can relate to that story and the director did a great job.

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