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Paying for Gold

As another award season closes, I needed to write a token article about it in some form; this isn’t an “Oh, they bottled Best Picture” article or something similar, but it is an attempt to address the disillusionment we have with the whole idea of awards, and re-define what an award winner is. I am a hypocrite in writing this, but I love award season: from the acceptance speeches, to the anticipation of award winners and the plot twists, the whole thing is just great… but what if I told you that the idea of the best film winning an award based on merit is as fictional as the majority of films nominated? The winners of big awards don’t usually have to depend on who has the largest budget, and while some may consider that quality is shining through in the end, the factor that typically isn’t considered is advertising, which lies outside of a film’s budget. Awards are actually nothing more than having an advertising budget for a very small subsection of the market, and that plays a big part in deciding who the esteemed members of the industry are.

“For Your Consideration:” that phrase that studios use in advertising campaigns coming up to award season has a specific function – to draw votes. And while that may sound all well and good, it extends beyond ads – they look at who is entitled to vote on the awards and sends them gifts – while this may sound like bribery, it isn’t considered bribery in the industry. In instances where the voter base is quite large, the media can play an important role – if you think about it, the actors who dominated the media won Best Actor at the Oscars for the past two years. Casey Affleck had been talked about for months leading up to award ceremonies as the one to beat, and you’ll notice the traction in talk of allegations came very late in award season (likely after voting for such awards had closed). Another case is Leonardo DiCaprio last year, with a consistent narrative of ‘Leo has to win gold this year’ being ever-present. If you think of the last time Leo lost, it was to Matthew McConaughey, who had been hyped up the year he won too. And while the argument will likely be made that they all had the best performances in their respective years, you cannot deny the media presence and discussion they had around them.

I would argue that the Golden Globes are slightly less prestigious than the Academy Awards currently, but the issue with the Golden Globes is that the Hollywood Foreign Press are the only people entitled to vote on these awards. There are only 87 members, so they can be specifically targeted with gifts. It is common knowledge among those in the industry too, and bringing the likes of Denzel Washington to meet those who are voting acts as a ploy to gain votes. There is no prime evidence of a voter admitting to voting a certain way because they received a gift, but looking at the winners and losers raises serious questions – I won’t question the quality of La La Land, for example, but when it comes to the likes of Crash it becomes a bit more difficult to make an argument that it is the best film of that year. Studios can spend up to $10 million on these campaigns to try and gain nominations and awards, as it does boost revenue (there’s a reason La La Land only came out in wide release in January here), so there is an incentive for them to spend on the campaign.

Spending money on an awards campaign doesn’t guarantee success, but if you are relying on the sheer quality of acting or production of a film, that simply isn’t enough. When these snubs occur when nominations are released, there is a good chance that it is down to the studio not spending enough on a campaign, rather than, for instance, the Academy hating Amy Adams. It is a question of ethics and morals, but the industry has kept it hidden unless you go searching. I think it leaves you with the question of how Award shows would be received if the public actually knew what it took to win an award.