Deadline Hollywood‘s 3rd annual The Contenders, which gives film studios an opportunity to vamp their Oscar films directly to AMPAS and Guild members on November 2nd, has in one week filled all 500 available seats in the newly opened Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts. You could call it a sellout, but it is of course free admission for voters. That is the fastest we’ve had a full house, even though we have 200 more seats available than in past years. We also have more sponsors than ever, including returnees Dell, Paradigm, Rentrak, Screen Engine and IMAX, and newcomers Rolls Royce, Delta Airlines, Simon & Schuster, Final Draft, and the Honolulu Film Office, which is providing coffee shipped direct from Hawaii.
The Contenders was first conceived and implemented by Deadline Editor In Chief Nikki Finke. Event producer Madelyn Hammond tells me that many of this year’s RSVPs are members who’ve worked The Contenders into their annual pre-voting fact-finding process. “One Academy member told me, ‘In one day I learn all about all the potential Oscar contenders. Hearing directly from the people who made them makes this event relevant and important’.”
This year 12 distributors are represented, screening footage and sending panelists who run the gamut from directors, writers, producers and stars to sound editors and composers. Paramount, Disney, Warner Bros, Sony, Universal, and DreamWorks Animation are slated for presentations, as are indies Sony Pictures Classics, The Weinstein Company, Roadside Attractions, Fox Searchlight, Focus Features and CBS Films.
I’ve moderated some of these panels alongside our iron man Pete Hammond, and Dominic Patten. From my own experience, you can’t beat the passion of a guy like Flight scribe John Gatins explaining how he refused to give up when everyone passed time and again on a script for which he was eventually Oscar nominated; or just a fun exchange like the one I had with Warrior star Nick Nolte and writer-director Gavin O’Connor. Based on they way they explained their approaches to key scenes in that underrated film, it became abundantly clear that in their minds at least, Nolte and O’Connor were making spectacularly different films.