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That’s the question that confronted members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which will announce nominations for its 74th Golden Globes on Monday.
As awards-granting groups from the HFPA to the Broadcast Film Critics Association to SAG-AFTRA get down to voting, film companies vie to draw their attention to specific movies by sending out a variety of related books, tchotchkes and other promotional items.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has strict rules forbidding companies from sending anything of value to its members beyond film screeners — and there are even rules that the screeners sent to Academy members for Oscar consideration can bear no testimonials or critics’ quotes. Instead, they can display only the title of the film and the names of the filmmakers associated with it.
Other groups are more lenient, but Focus Features, which is distributing Nocturnal Animals, may have crossed the line by sending each HFPA member two bottles of one of Ford’s signature colognes (one for men, one for women), which can retail for hundreds of dollars at high-end stores like Neiman Marcus.
The HFPA, which has about 90 members, has had a checkered history when it comes to accepting gifts. In one of the most notorious examples, the group nominated Sharon Stone for 1999’s The Muse after USA Films sent each member a Coach watch worth about $400, which Stone herself reportedly paid for. After the press caught wind of the largesse, the HFPA’s leadership ordered members to return the gift — and Stone may have paid a price, since she didn’t go on to win the best comedy actress trophy.
But the HFPA now has a rule in place that forbids its members from accepting gifts with a market value of more than $95. So after the cologne arrived, HFPA president Lorenzo Soria emailed members, telling them that they may keep one bottle but must return the second one to the HFPA, which will then return it to Focus. The organization decided on the keep one/return one policy when it found that the price for which the colognes were being sold on Amazon.com was about $90 per bottle.
Soria confirmed the decision, telling The Hollywood Reporter, “The policy is a little hard to police because you have both retail and discount prices, but we keep an eye on it as much as possible and that was the only clear violation we had this season.” A larger concern of his, he added, is all the packaging that comes with such promotional items. “A lot of trees are being cut down unnecessarily,” he said. “I can also guarantee that nobody knows who sent what. It’s a wasted effort and doesn’t sway our opinions.”
Studio marketers admit that knowing what promotional items run the risk of violating any price limits can sometimes be difficult, since when a distributor buys a gift like, say, several cases of champagne, the wholesale price is lower than what is reflected in the retail price. “It’s a gray area that studios struggle with,” one said.
Other gifts that rival companies have distributed this year haven’t set off similar alarm bells. Lionsgate sent out copies of a Taschen-published coffee-table book, Los Angeles: Portrait of a City, which retails for $69.99 and was wrapped in a semi-transparent cover featuring La La Land’s Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone dancing. Fox Searchlight distributed posters for Jackie inspired by Andy Warhol’s portraits of the late Jacqueline Kennedy, with Natalie Portman in Kennedy’s place. And Roadside/Amazon opted for a poster of Manchester by the Sea signed by writer-director Kenneth Lonergan.
Fox’s Rules Don’t Apply mailer to SAG’s 2,200-member nominating committee contained an LED video screen that plays scenes from the movie. Universal’s Sing sent the roughly 300 members of the BFCA an inflatable toy piano. And Focus also sent members of the HFPA a small wedding cake topped by an interracial couple to remind them of its film Loving, while sending BFCA members a food basket from Virginia, where Richard and Mildred Loving lived.
An HFPA member says of the cake, “I refused that. I can’t come home from a long day at the Four Seasons [attending press junkets and screenings] to find decaying food on my doorstep,” adding, “I can’t even tell you how many bottles of cheap wine I’ve gotten this year. The alcohol tends to come from the foreign films, which send stuff from their country.”
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