THB #106: 3 Days To Oscar (7 to Oscar Issac)
I am in one of those moments when I am finding myself sucking in information rather than feeling like parsing it out.
I don’t listen to a lot of podcasts. I listened to both The Ankler and The Puck today. Ankler had on Bruce Vilanch, which was entertaining and brought a new nickname for Richard Rushfield… “The Disaster Queen.” I don’t know if Rich cares for it… but it was funny and came with the backhanded compliment that Vilanch reads him.
Pucker Matt Belloni had on Mark Harris, with whom I have been much more in sync with about Academy matters lately than in the heat of the early fights over how The Academy would approach inclusion. I think a key issue is creating a show that can be mostly reproduced over a number of years, which builds audience interest. Vilanch talked about it a bit. You can’t keep selling a new show every year. It’s not a movie. It’s a TV show. Consistency is king. Honestly, if well-liked Oscar-winners JK Simmons and Alison Janney hosted for 3 years straight, the show might find its sea legs and have time to focus on the movies instead of who is the host this year and will they shock us in the monologue.
I think Matt needs to spend 8 weeks on a movie set, eating with the crew, and getting his feet settled into the realities of this business that aren’t about agents talking about which new 6-figure watch they just bought. He is obviously smart, but almost every opinion he foments sounds like it was overheard in the bar of the restricted (no artists) country club 3 drinks after the 18th hole.
The thing about Hollywood, which Vilanch is which so deeply steeped and Belloni cannot seem to accept, is that it’s not just art… and it’s not just commerce. It is the mixture that wins the day. Always. Even in Marvel movies, which have been more successful than most other IP because Kevin Feige understands that audiences want what is expected, but they also want what is unexpected. Feige has taken major risks with behind-the-camera talent… but he has also found a way to give them a lot of consistent Marvel support that keeps them on a track, but allows their voice to be heard.
Another item that I was chewing on today was the announcement that Uber has made a deal with some cab companies in New York for yellow cabs to become hybrid cabs/Ubers.
I was just writing a couple days ago, “Netflix isn’t even as much a game-changer as Uber, which didn’t invent the idea of transportation, but did launch a different way to think of short-distance travel.”
So now I may have to rethink that comment, as NY city taxis are now adjusting to that different way of seeing short-distance travel. Or are they? What they are doing is adding another arrow to their quiver. Hail a cab… use an app to order a cab. Do both! That is the best of both worlds, not only for the consumer, but for the cab companies that just have to give up on the idea that the world hasn’t changed beyond recognition.
That last part “world has changed,” is what people who don’t believe in theatrical keep saying. And it has. And theaters have changed, whether you notice or not.
But the key to me is… just because things have changed doesn’t mean you have to kill one model to see the other come into the light. Do both. As Woody “Yeah, I’m still quoting him” Allen wrote and said, “it doubles your chances for a date on Saturday night.” Make your theatrical money and then make your value proposition in streaming. This is not a complex idea. It is a sane idea, however.
We will hear conversations about cultural impact more and more as we continue into streaming. If you release 7 shows and 1 of the shows is seen by 50 million people on paid streaming and the other 6 are seen by less than 7 million each, how ya doin’?
What comes first, the marketing budget or the audience awareness?
I don’t know how much Apple spent on presents to guild members this season. I know of at least 3 groups that received Apple items worth $100 - $300 from Apple, unmarked with any movie advertising. How much of this went out? Again… I don’t know. But there are many who think Apple spent as much as Netflix did on any one movie to promote CODA. As I wrote the other day, The Academy isn’t really paying attention. So if everyone is sending out toys, why penalize any one movie for doing so?
This is where I reiterate a couple of my points from Tuesday’s column.
1. An overlooked problem for The Academy in embracing streaming-first movies is that they are not putting money into the all-public marketing efforts that normal theatrical releases do. You know how movies make deals with companies to perhaps have some placement in a film, but mostly committing to $25 million - $50 million in what are awareness advertising for whatever movie?
Historically, that is part of the symbiotic relationship between Oscar movies and the Oscar show. A $50 million domestic media spend for a movie release is also, in a long-view way, advertising Oscar if the film ends up nominated. It’s not just about seeing the movie or how many people see it. It’s about awareness.
The logic is unavoidable. They invite actors on Oscar to present because they are popular, not because they are (necessarily) the greatest talent. The value of a wide release theatrical movie to the Oscar show itself is that familiarity is a draw to the wider audience. It’s not fans of the movie watching the show.
For the record, the flawed thinking that Zendaya and Tom hosting Oscar would draw a significantly bigger audience doesn’t take into account shows like the MTV Movie Awards (now MTV Movie & TV Awards), which offer much more surprising talent moments with many of the very biggest stars but are seen by a very small audience.
Also flawed thinking… “the kids” are not watching any TV on a schedule… except rare events, like Euphoria, which has an insta-watercooler power. But even those numbers are nowhere close to Oscar numbers. If you bring talent or trailers or whatever onto Oscar or any other show, most of the viewership might be within 24 hours, but it will not be 20somethings sitting at home watching Oscar for 3 hours to see the new Shazam! 2 trailer. The second it appears on TV, not only would the studio place it online, but if they didn’t, it would be pirated and on YouTube in less than 5 minutes. And “the kids” would watch it there.
2. None of this just happens. Why isn’t Spider-Man x3 nominated? Because they didn’t move quickly enough, relied laughably on the trades to make their case, didn’t put the movie on the Academy streaming service so members could watch it over the holidays and impress their kids and grandkids with their access.
Someone suggested yesterday that the Academy website has some security issues. I don’t know the details. But the argument was that this delayed Sony. Okay. I’m not complaining. I’m just saying, if you want to be in the game, it doesn’t just come to you because you have mega-grosses. None of the big IP movies that have been nominated in the last decade just sat on their pile of cash and waited to be nominated.
3. The Academy has to pick the high tower or the outhouse. The middle is not a winning place to be. What is the difference between The Oscars and all the other award shows that cannot come close to its numbers, even with the drop off?
It’s a highfalutin’, low cut gown wearing, boring tuxedo repeating, human experience of people getting awards at the highest level of their profession, whether we look down our nose at it or not.
No one is tuning in to see cool musicians jam. That is another show. They aren’t tuning in for “Best Kiss.” Different show. They aren’t watching the Oscars to “get it over with” or there wouldn’t be a 90 MINUTE ABC pre-show with other pre-shows starting 9 hours before showtime. (Note: Take 30 minutes out of the notoriously bad network pre-show and you can get in your 8 excised categories, f-ers.)
Stephanie Zacharek gets it. In her Time column this week, she includes this: “The Oscar show has fallen prey to our false notion that we can control everything, when in reality the event is an organic entity that its creators can only partly work out in advance. Packer is right about one thing: you shouldn’t aim for boring. But that’s different from allowing boring to happen, and for being open to the beauty that boring can bring.”
Or as Charles Smalls wrote in this lyric from The Wiz…
“You're standing strong and tall
You're the bravest of them all
If on courage you must call
Then just keep on tryin'
And tryin', and tryin'
You're a lion
In your own way, be a lion
Come on, be a lion”