Orange BAFTA Awards

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"Slumdog Millionaire" may have taken home the Oscar for best picture and the Orange BAFTA award for best film last year, but don't expect a repeat Sunday, when the Orange British Academy Film Awards are presented in London's Royal Opera House.

That's because the winners of best picture from the U.K. and U.S.' top film awards have only synched up one other time since 2004 -- when "Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" won both prizes.
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The Orange BAFTA film awards are key in the U.K.; they're often labeled, as Stewart Till, CEO of Icon U.K. and former chair of the U.K. Film Council says, "the British Oscars."

"The world pays attention to the BAFTA (the British Academy of Film and Television Arts) results," he adds. "They influence and lead the way."

Just not necessarily to Oscar triumph. While BAFTA and the Academy do overlap voters, the voting system in the U.K. is considerably different than the U.S. Academy's. Most Oscars are picked via a two-step process, but BAFTA uses a three-step system comprised of a "long list" of as many as 12 names per category. This is then reduced to a group of five for the nominations. Voting is compulsory for the more than 6,000 members; each step of the way a voter must visit the Web site and abstain or vote -- or risk losing privileges for the following year.

But it's not just about the steps of the process. With the Oscars, individual branches put forward nominees, and the full body of the Academy chooses the winner. With BAFTA, major categories like best film have winners chosen by the film voting membership; other awards are only voted on by individual "chapters," with a jury sometimes choosing the final winner from the nominations.

And British films get an edge from British voters in the "best film" voting -- even though there's a separate category called "outstanding British film." Cultural bias often means major Hollywood product can't translate.

"The one I always refer to is 'Forrest Gump,' " says David Parfitt, chairman of BAFTA. "It was a huge success in the U.S. and just didn't resonate here. But 90% of the stuff does resonate."

Nevertheless, an Orange BAFTA best film prize has distinct benefits, whether it translates to an Oscar or not. Take boxoffice: "Slumdog" had reigned at the top of the country's boxoffice for the first three weeks of its January release in 2009; the week after it won best film, it returned to the top again, with an 18.3% jump in revenue.

"A win in the middle of a release can rejuvenate (the film); in the back end, it helps with DVD sales," says David Kosse, president of international for Universal.

All this is relatively new. While Orange BAFTA awards have been important in the U.K. since they were first given out in 1949, their influence ratcheted up significantly in 2001, when the ceremony moved to precede the American awards. Since then, the U.K. event has taken on greater overseas significance, underscoring the rise in importance of non-U.S. markets to overall boxoffice success.

Now BAFTA wins are made part and parcel of strategies for marketing, release and Oscar campaigns.

Explains Till, "We've got three films -- 'A Single Man,' 'Precious' and 'The Road' -- that we've absolutely dated to maximize impact in the hopes of BAFTA and Academy nominations. This gives us two bites at the apple."

The whole effect of an Orange BAFTA win may be impossible to assess; boxoffice helps, but it's not the whole picture. Notes Kosse, "(A win) helps. It's difficult to say how much. An Academy Award, everyone can say that means something -- but our world has become much more complex. The financial benefit is difficult to monetize, but it's great for the filmmakers and the people who are involved in killing themselves making these movies. It's just a great moment of recognition, whoever it comes from."
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