Oscar Campaigning 101: 5 Ways Contenders Are Getting Attention

Take a page from Harvey Weinstein's playbook and pick a fight, or stage an all-star concert a la "Inside Llewyn Davis" -- with no clear frontrunner this season, no stone is going unturned.

This story first appeared in the Dec 6. issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

In a perfect world, a movie would speak for itself. Oscar voters would screen a film, leave the theater, go home and eventually cast their votes. But that's not the way award seasons work these days, especially this year, when there is no clear frontrunner. In order to make sure their movies get sampled, and to ensure they leave behind a good impression, awards consultants have spent the past few weeks in a frenzy of activity, staging all types of events -- from cocktail meet-and-greets to postscreening Q-and-As -- so that producers, directors, actors and below-the-line talent can talk up their accomplishments. Academy members won't begin to vote until Dec. 27, but they already are getting an earful. (Under Academy regulations, there are nearly no restrictions on promotional activities before nominations are announced.) The jockeying for attention has reached new heights as the campaigners hew to the following "rules."

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1. Start a fight

It's the "Harvey Principle," named, of course, after Harvey Weinstein, who has proved time and again that he knows how to stoke a controversy for maximum media splash. Earlier this year, he made sure everyone knew The Butler was coming -- and the name of its director -- when he battled with Warner Bros. and the MPAA's title registry over the movie's moniker before finally agreeing to dub it Lee Daniels' The Butler. More recently, he took on the MPAA's ratings board when Philomena was given an R. He successfully got that designation changed to a PG-13 despite the film featuring the F-word more than once. Others, besides Weinstein, have fallen into squabbles of their own, including the very public spats that have been going on between Blue Is the Warmest Color director Abdellatif Kechiche and stars Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux, with Seydoux saying that, during filming, "I was feeling like a prostitute." Yikes! But now everyone has heard of the IFC movie.

2. Round up those testimonials

No one needs the subject of a based-on-a-true-story movie sniping from the sidelines that a film isn't accurate. So, to vouch for the authenticity of their work, filmmakers have been trotting out actual civilians. Formula One racing champion Niki Lauda showed up at the Toronto Film Festival premiere of Rush, where he posed with Daniel Bruhl, who plays him in the film; a bunch of Capt. Richard Phillips' crew and rescuers were on hand for the world premiere of Captain Phillips at the New York Film Festival; Philomena Lee made the rounds with the folks who told her story in Philomena; and Marcus Luttrell, the war hero subject of Lone Survivor, attended its AFI Fest screening -- making those events far more emotional than they otherwise might have been.

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3. Sing for your supper

How do you get jaded voters to show up for yet another event? Promise them a show. So far, one of the season's biggest hits was a Mary Poppins sing-along that the movie's co-composer Richard Sherman led at the Beverly Hills Hotel to promote Saving Mr. Banks -- even Sean Penn got into the spirit. Oscar Isaac sang several of his songs from Inside Llewyn Davis at a supper concert at Santa Monica's Buffalo Club, where Steve Martin joined in on banjo. (An East Coast concert preceded it by a few weeks.) Pharrell Williams dropped by a Despicable Me 2 party to showcase a couple of his tunes. And singers profiled in the documentary 20 Feet From Stardom have performed everywhere from the Academy's Outdoor Screening Series to the AARP's film festival.

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4. Infiltrate the Governors Awards

When the Governors Awards was established five years ago, the event allowed the Academy to shine a spotlight on its honorary Oscar winners without the time strictures imposed by the Oscar broadcast. And this year, the spotlight shone on Angelina Jolie, Angela Lansbury, Martin and, in absentia, costume designer Piero Tosi. But having all those Academy members in one room also serves as a magnet. And so the studios all made sure they had seats for their Oscar hopefuls, who then proceeded to spend much of the cocktails-and-dinner portion of the evening working the room. Such contenders as Captain Phillips' Tom Hanks, Banks' Emma Thompson and The Book Thief's Geoffrey Rush even got an extra measure of the limelight by taking the stage to speak on behalf of the honorees.

5. Get to the point fast -- and make them laugh

A lot of the campaigning is disguised so that it won't look like a craven play for votes. But that's exactly what makes A24's ads touting James Franco's performance as a drug dealer in Spring Breakers so refreshing. Speaking in his character's own lingo, they simply demand, "Consider this shit!"