Cow tale

Campaigning for an Oscar gets quirky with David Lynch's "Inland Empire."

Even with a budget of $3 million -- hardly out of the ordinary for a studio campaign -- it can be hard to garner Oscar attention. But as director David Lynch says, "Necessity is the mother of invention, and $3 million is $2,999,999 more than I have to spend." That is how Lynch and Georgia the cow found themselves standing on Hollywood Boulevard this winter, touting Laura Dern's performance as an unraveling actress in his film "Inland Empire."

Although the 518 Media-distributed film's chances for a best picture nomination are decidedly slim, the movie has been a continuing exercise for Lynch about how far he could step outside the system while still being embraced. Shot over two years with the script being written simultaneously, "Inland Empire" was filmed on a Sony HD camera and then converted to film with a budget that's impossible to calculate since Lynch basically just grabbed his camera, grabbed his leading woman and went for it. As he says wryly, "It came in under $100 million." And when it came time to look for distributors, Lynch decided to look to himself.

"I haven't self-distributed since (1977's) 'Eraserhead,'" Lynch says. "But it's the best option, the common-sense option and the exciting option, so there we go. My films aren't considered summer blockbusters, and the advance I get from distributors is usually the last money I ever see. This holds the possibilities of seeing more, but I also get to be more involved and do the kind of follow-through I haven't done since 'Eraserhead.'" Lynch's one splurge has been in making screening copies available to Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences members, but he insists it's on Dern's behalf.

"The attention is lovely," Dern says, "especially because it was beside the point when we started, and I didn't know if one scene would end up on the editing floor or if the whole thing would just end up on (Lynch's) Web site. But I'm hoping that the movie is celebrated and supported. We have very few people who are willing to be nonconformist, so it's so important to applaud it. The outcome isn't the point -- it's that someone was willing to take the journey, rather than take the money."

When it comes to Lynch's employment of Georgia the cow, Dern just laughs. "I've worked with David since I was 17, and you've got to love him," she says. "It's so sweet and generous that he believes in his actors."

And should she have the chance to thank a bovine in a speech, it's only proof, Dern says, that "when it comes to David, there's always a method to his seeming madness."