Are you kidding?

Did Paramount just officially start the 2014 Oscar campaign even as we are barely getting the Emmys off the ground and theRussell Crowe as Noah Tonys are two months away? Uh, yes. Looks like it. One top studio exec (not from Paramount) forwarded me an email he got yesterday from the Paramount Awards Office that pronounced free admission starting April 15th – two by two for Academy members and a guest- to screenings of Noah at theaters nationwide – but only Monday thru Thursday since most theater owners usually don’t like to give up seats on the weekends, especially to rich and famous movie types.

Related: Can ‘Noah’ And ‘Grand Budapest Hotel’ Overcome Oscar’s Greatest Curse: A March Release Date?

Paramount-Pictures-Logo“Didn’t the awards season just end?” this exasperated exec asked me? Yes, and in fact Academy members are routinely given this courtesy only during awards season, and even then usually at least a couple of weeks after a movie opens. But doing it this early in the year is a rare and highly unusual move. Many exhibitors find the whole practice a hassle, no matter what time of year, but put up with it for the most part albeit with restrictions. It’s true some Academy members have turned up at theaters and think they can flash their card to get into any movie, like it’s an annual pass. It’s not. I know of one member who tried to use their card for a Best Picture hopeful in December but was told they had to pay. They got so upset they threatened never to vote for another film from that studio. Overall though most members know how the game is played.

The Paramount email goes on to list the participating theaters, including AMC and Cinemark across their national chains, AMC-theatreArcLight in Southern California  and smaller outlets targeting voters in Palm Springs, Santa Barbara and Cathedral City along with Bow Tie Cinemas in New York. The letter also specifically mentions the names  of the key creatives in every category it would be eligible right down to a song called “Father Song (Lullaby)” written by Patti Smith, Lenny Kaye and star Russell Crowe. The email notes this offer is specifically available only for showings of Noah (although you could probably sneak into Captain America instead if you are clever about it, Oscar voters). To get the freebie tickets though members are required to present their membership card, a photo ID AND a copy of the email from Paramount. Think of it as a permission slip. All this just for a free movie? It might be easier to just try for the senior discount instead.

noah-posterStudios are now turning to this more direct way of informing Academy members they can use their elite status to get into theaters gratis to see contenders. It used to just be a snipe at the bottom of newspaper ads that carried this information but those ads are becoming more scarce (and more detailed with specific instructions in small very fine print) especially as a film gets deeper into its run  – the most likely time studios decide to hand out free admissions to Oscar voters. But it’s extremely rare in April folks, and it certainly indicates  Paramount is planning to mount an Oscar campaign for their biblical epic which has grossed nearly $250 million worldwide with $85 million of that coming from its domestic run since its March 28th release. It’s also got a decent 77% fresh score from Rotten Tomatoes. As I previously pointed out it’s very difficult for an early-in-the-year release like Noah to gain traction in the major categories. The last March release to gain a Best Picture nomination was Erin Brockovich in 2000. But Paramount has been proving lately that a slow-as-it-goes long distance strategy can work. The studio started a grass roots campaign for Nebraska in July, shortly after its debut in Cannes and kept an excel sheet of every Academy member who attended those numerous screenings which numbered more than 2,500 just from their private showings one studio source told me at the time. Nebraska went on to win six nominations including Best Picture. Of course it’s not the same situation as Noah since that movie wasn’t commercially released until November 15th, right in the heart of awards season.

Any way you cut it April is not the heart of awards season, but don’t tell that to Paramount who apparently just said ‘game on’.