Finding Oscar in Berlin
How some Hollywood studios are using the winter festival to whip up awards buzz.
When Paramount moved the release of Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island from October 2009 to February 2010, Hollywood gasped. How could the studio push back a Scorsese film to the dog days of winter? But the whispering stopped when the Leonardo DiCaprio film became a box-office hit, grossing $128 million domestically and an even better $166.8 million internationally for a worldwide haul of nearly $295 million.
Paramount's secret weapon? The Berlin International Film Festival, where Shutter Island made its world premiere just days before opening in North America and beginning its rollout in Europe. Although smaller than Cannes or Toronto, Berlin proved it could be every bit as valuable in terms of launching a studio film because of the avalanche of publicity generated by an out-of-competition gala screening.
So impressed was Paramount with the exposure Berlin provided that it upped the ante in 2011: Not only did it use the festival for the international debut of True Grit, but it also relied on Berlin to whip up additional awards buzz for the film during the final days of Oscar voting by Academy members. "It's not unlike Cannes or Toronto. When you have adult fare, you need critical support, and there's critical mass at Berlin," says one Paramount insider.
True Grit did not win for best picture -- it was beaten out by The King's Speech, which also played out of competition at Berlin -- but it did far better internationally than anyone expected, considering Westerns aren't popular overseas. This year, Paramount is taking Young Adult, directed by Jason Reitman and starring Charlize Theron, to Berlin, where it will play out of competition. The film lost out in its bid for Academy Award nominations (Theron was nominated for a Golden Globe), but Paramount locked in Berlin early on as part of the film's awards campaign.
But Oscar will still be present this year. Warner Bros. is taking best picture nominee Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, directed by Stephen Daldry, to Berlin, where it will play out of competition. And The Iron Lady will make festival news when Meryl Streep, nominated for the best actress Oscar, receives an honorary Golden Bear.