This is where Oscar season gets ugly.
As I wrote earlier today, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences put out a statement in which they said they were “conducting a review of the campaign procedures around this year’s nominees,” but did not mention any specific film or campaign that drove them to deliver this rather vague release. Here it is again:
It is the Academy’s goal to ensure that the Awards competition is conducted in a fair and ethical manner, and we are committed to ensuring an inclusive awards process. We are conducting a review of the campaign procedures around this year’s nominees, to ensure that no guidelines were violated, and to inform us whether changes to the guidelines may be needed in a new era of social media and digital communication. We have confidence in the integrity of our nomination and voting procedures, and support genuine grassroots campaigns for outstanding performances.
I chose not to put words in the Academy’s mouth in our headline (Academy “Conducting Review Of Campaign Procedures” Days After Oscar Noms Revealed), but every other trade did. Maybe they got more hits because of it. Unfortunately some people only read headlines and jump to conclusions.
Here is a sample: Academy Investigates Oscar Campaign Process Related To Andrea Riseborough ‘To Leslie’ Nomination
OR Academy Conducting Review After Andrea Riseborough’s Surprise Oscar Nomination
OR Film Academy “Conducting A Review” Amid Questions About Andrea Riseborough Campaign
OR AMPAS To Review Oscars Campaign Procedures In Wake Of Surprise ‘To Leslie’ Nomination
So though the Academy didn’t say they were doing it for that reason, the click bait headlines tell us what they really meant. And it may well be what they meant, except they didn’t say that, instead likely deciding to put out a release to defuse the situation, to get in front of it and tell the world they are going to look at their campaign guidelines for social media, while reaffirming their support for “grassroots campaigns”. In other words, the Academy doesn’t want a brush fire to roar out of control.
You have to wonder if Riseborough — after basking this week in the glow of what is really a ‘miracle’ nomination for Best Actress for the micro indie To Leslie that made $27,000+ and was barely seen outside of the Academy’s digital viewing portal — if it was really worth it to put her own money into getting the film and performance noticed in the first place.
Ever since Tuesday’s nomination announcement, there have been rumblings that there must have been some irregularities for this campaign to have succeeded, when some others spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and were left out of the running in the end. Show business can be tough, but them’s the breaks.
After seeing this slow-burning controversy gain traction from some columnists, and create whispers among some involved in other campaigns, I can reliably report there may be no there there. As of earlier today at least, extremely reliable sources who know these things said there have been no formal complaints to the Academy at this time about this film’s campaign.
Multiple very reliable sources told me the To Leslie team also followed AMPAS rules for screenings and/or receptions they “controlled,” so if that is indeed the case, this “review” is unlikely to find wrongdoing in the one area some think Riseborough’s campaign may have overstepped. I have heard from at least one rival campaign that “two governors” plan to bring this issue up at Tuesday’s previously planned Board Of Governors meeting. I have also heard, since the AMPAS release went out, the Academy has been “getting calls from members”.
The word-of-mouth aspect of the campaign, with many A-list actors posting lavish praise on social media, some multiple times, some a little too over-enthusiastically (Kate Winslet: “Greatest female performance I have ever seen”) is what is really up for review here. There are no clear rules about it in the AMPAS campaign guidelines. But can you tell Jennifer Aniston not to have five Academy member friends over to her house to watch the movie, and then maybe tell others about it? This is an area not really spelled out in the Academy rules, which are much more specific about how to handle screenings, receptions etc, rules everyone must follow. And from what I have heard, the To Leslie team did, while admittedly not being able to control what others in the AMPAS acting branch may – or may not – have done. One source told me under no circumstances did they ever say something like, “Vote for Andrea Riseborough.” The goal was just to get the film seen, against all odds.
Some columnists are openly wondering where the money came from, how a tiny film like this with a distributor called Momentum Pictures that wasn’t ponying up the cash, could afford to compete? Or what influence Riseborough’s manager Jason Weinberg (who is not an Academy member) might have played?
It seems oddly sad to me that what was simply a campaign to promote seeing a very good performance, with the best intentions behind it, now has some rooting for a scandal to bring it all down, even speculating the nomination could be rescinded.
When I was at the LA Times, I broke the story that Hurt Locker producer Nicolas Chartier had sent along emails to voters imploring them not to vote for Avatar. That was a no-no, and got him banned from attending the Oscar show (he won and quietly collected his Oscar a few weeks later from then-AMPAS President Tom Sherak). In 2014, here at Deadline, I also broke another story about composer and recent Academy Governor Bruce Broughton, who had access to the music branch members emails and phone numbers, contacting his fellow members and instructing them how to vote for his song from the obscure movie Alone Yet Not Alone. It worked, and the song got nominated. But it was short-lived, and after the Deadline story appeared, it didn’t take long for the Academy to rescind the nomination, leaving only four nominees in the category and not filling the fifth slot. Having followed those instances closely and reporting on them, I can say that based on what I know, at least to this point, the case of To Leslie is a completely different situation, one that will probably change some social media campaign rules in the future. But I would guess nothing much more. Maybe we should calm down and let the review take its course.
Like I said, this is where Oscar season gets ugly.
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