How the Indies Courted Oscar

When Oscars are handed out tomorrow night, independent distributors will find out if their smallish films’ campaigns to influence votes paid off in competition with the big studios.

“The most important thing is visibility--giving voters every opportunity to see the film,” says Russell Schwartz, executive vice president of marketing for Miramax, which sent academy members cassettes of “The Grifters” and “Mr. & Mrs. Bridge.”

With the exception of “Wild at Heart,” videos went out on all the nominated non-studio films.


The big bucks, of course, was spent for all those Oscar ads in the industry trade papers. Among the studio nominees, by our count, Paramount’s “The Godfather Part III” was the big purchaser, with 31 full color pages after nominations were announced. Other major spenders: “Ghost” (Paramount), 24 pages; “GoodFellas” (Warners), 19, and “Dances With Wolves” (Orion) and “Dick Tracy” (Disney), both with 16.

By contrast, candidates from the independents each bought 10 pages or less, mostly black-and-white.

One marketing veteran puts the typical cost of a studio Oscar campaign at “well upwards of $1 million.” Meanwhile, an exec at an independent says their campaigns range from $150,000 to $400,000, but he adds that the stakes are worth it. “If you win, you’ll make that back--at least on video.”

Typical of the independents’ battle for attention: Goldwyn mailed out oversize postcards for “Longtime Companion.” Orion, meanwhile, was sending elaborate coffee-table brochures touting “Dances With Wolves.” And Diane Ladd, nominated for best supporting actress for “Wild at Heart,” paid for most of her campaign.

Bruce Davison, “Companion’s” best supporting actor nominee, acknowledges it’s “intimidating” to be competing with studio pictures and stars, but says, “Artistically, it seems the lines are being broken by the smaller films. So you do what you can to get people to see your work.”

Whit Stillman, a best original screenplay nominee for New Line’s “Metropolitan,” admits he was concerned when cassettes were sent out on his $250,000 movie, with the filmmakers splitting the cost with the distributor.

But Stillman’s come to accept the move as an established Oscar race strategy, “the last stage in getting your film known.”