Days To Go
It’s been quite a week.
I started this week’s 20 Weeks column a few days ago. Back then, the story was about how the two frontrunners in the race are movies that I have been embedded with – for lack of a better term – from their first public screenings, so I will be happy whichever way it goes... and indeed, even in the case of many of the upset possibilities.
Yesterday, the column idea morphed into a bit of anger at the media for going buck wild, trying to start a fire here at the tail end of the voting period with very little real ammunition. And as has become the ugly standard in entertainment media, one weak story can start a firestorm of idiocy, as the “look at me” specialists feel a lack of attention requires further falsely-nuclear offerings to draw fear and page views.
Today, as Summit forced Nicolas Chartier into hiding, cancelling an interview I set up weeks ago which was delayed by Chartier’s trip to the Berlin Festival (where he first found money for The Hurt Locker), and sent out its various media manipulators to spin the minor story, the column became, for me, about a studio flexing its ability to control the allegedly truth-seeking media… at least for a weekend and a couple of days, as The Academy has graciously decided to stay out of the Chartier story and not make any ruling about his possible punishment until the day after polls close.
To recount… I went from writing about the most peaceful, civil, sane Oscar season in my decade-long career of closely covering these races to absolute and unrelenting rage about the ridiculous behavior of the media, Summit (standing alone in this particular misguided thinking because of the circumstance of whom they are in business with), and even The Academy, for reasons I will indicate forthwith.
Of course, time tends to lessen rage.
And so, after a breath, I will recount rather than throw bombs.
My first interest in Nic Chartier came from Mark Boal’s Oscar reaction press release in which he singled out Chartier for appreciation. And the truth is, in every conversation about the funding of the movie and in every interview, Boal has been clearly grateful to Chartier for being the one person/company that wanted to make this movie.
And once the movie was funded, this first-time producer, became a pain in the ass according to just about everyone involved. A volatile, demanding, sometime disruptive personality. After jumping into the project because he wanted to be in business with Kathryn Bigelow, her cut was too long, too slow, etc… which may have distracted, but was overruled by the fact that she had final cut. Thank God.
And Summit is no happier with the guy than Boal & Bigelow.
However… he did earn his place at the table by getting the money. And in a season that has been rather calm, setting Nic Chartier off by letting him get excluded from the Oscar nomination was seen as an extremely dangerous choice. Better to have him on the team, hopefully malleable, rather than to have him angry and ranting.
Still, when I made a request to shoot and interview with the guy after the nominations were announced three weeks ago, he was contacted, no one objected, and the date was set for his post-Berlin return to LA… the day of this writing… February 26.
And today… no dice.
Summit was not prepared to take a chance on Chartier making a bad situation worse.
However, at the same time, Pete Hammond, not exactly the hardest-edged journalist we know, was posting even more e-mail notes, this time ones sent to individuals, that allegedly infringed on Academy rules. So why no rush to plug up the leak… to mea cupla this to silence… to Hugh Grant it?
Well, this is where the clever publicists and the pliant media come in. One of the town’s early Nikki Whisperers, Paul Pflug, does corporate for Summit, and he pulled Nikki Finke out of his pocket, put her on his lap, and yanked her string. Yesterday, she claimed, “I'll show how this is but the tip of the iceberg. I have a complete wrap-up on why this was the worst Oscar campaign season for media manipulation I can remember. And I'll be naming names.”
Of course, she knows nothing and has no actual contact with the Oscar season, other than to threaten executives to give her gossip – or to trade not running nasty slander in payment for future gossip - late in the game after others have mined the news.
I would tell you more about Tom Sherak’s Academy president brief career as a Nikki Whisperer, but the only relevant thing in that is that The Academy, which ends up being represented from many different and not-necessarily synced angles, does not have clean hands in the gossip-ication of the season either.
Like I said before, this was not a nasty season. Not by comparison to any of the decade of seasons I have closely covered. And the most obvious "media manipulation" remains hers.
To wit, yesterday, Finke pooh-poohed the Chartier story. And today, she told the story that Summit told her to tell. “I do think, however, that the Los Angeles Times should have explained in its posting that there was no other mass mailing to Oscar voters by Chartier. It makes a difference. Because can you imagine if Hollywood's private correspondence about the Oscar pics were monitored by the Academy Awards rules police?”
Uh… how does she know this is true? Answer: she doesn’t.
But more importantly, the very same "Academy Awards rules police" she mocked the day before for not having any fangs still had no fangs... only Summit was still scared to death that they might. As is obvious to anyone who has been paying attention, The Academy, for all the grandeur, pretty much let's people do what people do - gossip, personal glad handing, cocktails - and only gets involved when public explosions happen.
Back at the LA Times, Pete Hammond was, indeed, posting the story about more e-mails. Why? Because the first non-story got so much attention.
And of course, there was the downright idiotic story yesterday that couldn’t come close to making up its mind whether The Hurt Locker was a documentary or abusive to soldiers because it made them seem too heroic. Are you kidding me?!?!
Of course, the Oscar Monkeys – which ST VanArsdale, who is about as interested in Oscar as Kevin Spacey is in Penthouse, has somehow joined the ranks of – turned this into some Harvey Weinstein conspiracy… which is a load of excrement of an epic size. This media obsession with Harvey and Oscar is the only obsession that grossly outweighs Harvey’s own obsession with Oscar.
Why was this stupid story – which has already been done elsewhere… months ago – done now? Because there was a Truman National Security Project screening of the film on Wednesday. Why were there a group of stories about Inglourious Basterds and A Serious Man and the relationship of those films to Jews done? Because Weinstein started pushing the Jewish angle by doing screenings and discussions for rabbis and Jewish groups. This is not brain surgery. People are looking for stories and stunts in which nominated films participate create stories.
And let’s be crystal clear now… an aging story about Tarantino buying the last revival house in Los Angeles is not negative campaigning. It’s positive campaigning. That piece – while perhaps a bad editorial choice by the LA Times – should not be put in the same sentence as the few truly negative (though minor) things going on this season.
Meanwhile, in a happily pale reflection of Nikki, Anne Thompson at IndieWIRE was offering the tale of 42 West with no facts … except for the word of 42 West. “Despite the whisper campaign against 42 West (which had done much to push Hurt Locker toward the winner’s circle), Chartier did indeed act alone.”
I ’m not saying that she’s wrong. I am saying that she doesn’t have any way at all of knowing the truth of the situation.
And 42 West as a victim! Wow. That's a great story. Yeah, they get accused of being more mighty manipulators than they are. If it was 1963, someone would accuse them of killing Kennedy to turn the tide against Dr. Strangelove and back to My Fair Lady. But victim? As much as Avatar is a victim. One day of the fourth weekend of Avatar at the domestic box office alone outgrossed the entire worldwide theatrical life of The Hurt Locker. Let's be real. Nic Chartier's e-mails may have been obnoxious, but if Avatar's Oscar story hasn't been told well enough to win, getting caught in the Goliath tale for the last month is at fault, not "Crazy Nic" or "Hard Chargin' Harv."
Wrapping up … Chartier a problem… Summit scared of him dropping another shoe… 42 West not interested in being accused of being behind the e-mails… Bigelow & Boal feeling helpless and exposed even though they did nothing wrong at all.
For the media, desperation to find any story that anyone cares about this late in a rather boring season … overhype of the Chartier story followed by excessive willingness to swallow what they are told when pressed hard by the flacks... and at the same time, dragging the usual suspects in front of the firing squad with absolutely no proof of any kind. In other words, failure to use judgment going either direction.
And if you have read me more than once, you know that nothing pisses me off more than hypocrisy. I am no fan of bad behavior and I won ’t be an apologist for it, but real people with real reputations are being spotlighted and smeared in all of this… people who did nothing wrong… people who are doing business as usual… spending millions to manipulate this race, this year just as every year before, as the Academy looks the other way.
If some of us in the media want to get hard about the season, great. Do some serious reporting. There is plenty to expose. And someone may care. Of course, most will not, as in the end, The Academy is a Country Club with a theater instead of a gold course.
And oh, the irony that all this screaming is going on over some e-mails in pursuit of a little gold statue when the movie in the center of it is about real men who put their lives on the line to protect our nation daily.
And so … the pleasure of this week has turned to irritation… at publicists… and studios… at journalists… at myself for forgetting how petty all of these concerns really are.
I have, as I have all season, had the opportunity to spend time with some of the people who are nominated, but more important, have contributed mightily to the best work in commercial cinema this year. From Jon Landau, who very civilly discussed this Chartier mess from a hotel room in upstate New York, to composers Horner, Desplat, and Giacchino, to cinematographer Barry Ackroyd, to Robert Kenner, who made Food, Inc. And those are just the Oscar nominees from this week’s shoots. They are what's important. Their work is what we are celebrating.
I am a lucky man.
Everyone associated with The Hurt Locker and Avatar and all the other nominees … lucky and talented people.
We in media have been partners with the savvy publicists and executives in the commoditizing of the awards season. And this doesn ’t often bring out the best in us… any of us.
In the end, wild card or not, I will not get the chance to hear Nic Chartier ’s perspective on putting together one of the great films of 2010. And that’s a shame too.
But in 10 days, all of this will be history. And most of us can go back to worrying about Robert Pattinson ’s sex life. Proud times.
Best Picture | Director
Actor | Supporting Actor
Actress | Supporting Actress
December 30, 2009
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