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New Rules for Promoting Films for Oscars : Movies: The academy is discouraging studios from sending related materials such as books, brochures, CDs, music videos and clothing to the membership.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is cracking down on some of the more extravagant elements of Oscar promotion campaigns. And not all the major studios are happy about it.

In a memo dated Nov. 4, the academy’s executive administrator, Ric Robertson, spelled out the Board of Governors’ policy: Except for videocassettes of eligible movies, the academy is discouraging the distribution of any other related materials including books, brochures, CDs, music videos and items of clothing to the membership.

Such extras are extraneous to the decision-making process for the nominations and awards, according to the academy’s executive director, Bruce Davis. “Sending out tapes of movies is fine because you’re offering the thing that is to be judged. Anything else risks in some way skewing the process,” he said.

“We will abide by what the other studios do,” said Terry Curtin, MGM/UA’s senior vice president of publicity.

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But that sentiment of solidarity is not unanimous. One studio marketing executive complained that the academy should have sent out the guidelines earlier, before the company had already paid for expensive, glossy mailers for its Oscar-worthy movies. “We have thousands of mailers that are just going to sit in a warehouse,” said the marketing exec.

The academy’s actions are partly in response to complaints from the membership about an overload of “junk mail they were receiving,” said another studio marketer, “and that it wasn’t influencing their votes.”

At first the academy considered banning even videocassettes, the marketer continued, but the membership balked. And Davis agrees that videos afford members the chance to view a movie they may not be able to get out to see.

However, other visual aids, such as music videos or even videos explaining technical effects in a film, cross the line, Davis said. “To cut a completely different visual and send it to members gives them something other than what they should be judging.

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“Of course that doesn’t prevent anyone from doing it,” he continued. “It’s a gentlemen’s agreement. And so far they’ve been gentlemanly about it.”

Gentlemen’s agreement or not, violators risk being penalized for ignoring the guidelines by having a percentage of their tickets to the Academy Awards ceremony and the Governors Ball rescinded. Each studio is allotted 12 tickets, Davis said, plus additional seats for each nominated film.

The new policy was actually established last year in a meeting between the academy and studio marketing heads, but never formalized in writing, resulting in some confusion. After Disney sent out “Lion King” books, the academy deducted two of its seats from last year’s ceremonies.

“We’re thankful the rules are now in writing,” said Teresa Press, senior vice president of marketing at Disney. Now that the rules and penalties have been spelled out, marketing executives intend to send the memo to producers who might demand special mailings that violate the academy’s guidelines.

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“The studios get a lot of pressure from artists and producers to compete with what the other studios are doing,” Davis pointed out. Several studios are releasing films at the end of the year solely for Oscar consideration--movies that will not be ready for viewing earlier and that can easily get lost in the holiday shuffle. To ban mailings that call attention to these films could harm their chances at nominations, argued one studio marketing executive.

The new rules are clearly not engraved in stone. Late Friday, the music branch of the academy met and decided to allow CDs or cassettes of songs and musical scores to be sent out to the membership, or just to music branch members. That’s likely to be the only exception, for as the studio marketer added, “Fortunately, there isn’t a book or T-shirt branch of the academy.”


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