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How do Oscar campaigns work? Here are five strategies used in Hollywood

Reza Mardian
Reza Mardian

Film enthusiast

Jakarta  /  Sat, December 21, 2019  /  04:04 pm
How do Oscar campaigns work? Here are five strategies used in Hollywood

Award season: Oscars statuettes stand on display during a preview in Hollywood. (AFP/Valerie Macon)

Director Garin Nugroho won eight Citra trophies at the Indonesian Film Festival this year with Memories of My Body, including in the prestigious Best Picture and Best Directing categories. The film, however, was overlooked by the Academy Awards in the International Feature Film category. With no nomination at the Golden Globe Awards nor at the Critics Choice Awards, Indonesia's official submission failed to make the shortlist for the 92nd Academy Awards. To this day there has been no mention of Garin Nugroho or Memories of My Body in conversations among film critics and Oscarologists. 

This raises the questions of how an Oscar campaign usually works and what common strategy could be prepared for the next submission. 

The simple answer is getting the film constantly talked about, be it organically or politically. In doing so, there are several campaign strategies that filmmakers could consider before submitting their films for the Oscars. These strategies perhaps could also be used as the indicator by the Oscars Submission Selection Committee in Indonesia, led by renowned actress Christine Hakim, in determining what films they should pick to represent the country.

Below are some of the common strategies that are often used in Hollywood and by several foreign filmmakers for the Oscar campaign. 

1. Film festivals

It is accepted that certain film festivals have the power to create an Oscar buzz. Among the numerous festivals around the world, Cannes, Venice, Toronto International Film Festival, Sundance and Telluride are probably some major international festivals where filmmakers need to showcase their work. Festivals offer the spotlight filmmakers need to create their own Oscar buzz. Kore-Eda's Shoplifters and Nadine Labaki's Capernaum are two films that gained recognition at Cannes in 2018. Within festivals, there will be press, film critics and members of the Academy who will determine which film should be the center of the conversation. 

2. Prominent filmmakers

As unfair as it sounds, well-known names can determine whether or not critics and press want to view and review a film. One of the many reasons why people wanted to watch Parasite and Roma was because they were helmed by the renowned Bong Joon-Ho and Alfonso Cuaron. It sure took years for them to be recognized as prominent directors, and the premise of Parasite and Roma might not prompt anyone to watch. As they are directed by famous names, people tend to have a certain fascination.  

3. United States distributors

Even though the Academy is opening slots for more international voters, most of the members are based in the United States. This is why having a US distributor is important. 

Not everyone has the privilege to watch films at festivals. Critics groups have the power to influence Oscar voters to see and vote for certain films. Making the films more accessible to more people is one of the most strategic plans we could think of. Roma was able to soar as Netflix acquired it and spent a huge budget on media coverage. In retrospect, almost every nominee in the International Feature Film category at the Oscars was distributed in the US. Sebastian Lelio's A Fantastic Woman was distributed by Sony Pictures Classic and this year's frontrunner's Parasite is distributed by NEON. 

Every year, the Academy receives almost 100 international submissions. It is necessary to sustain the buzz until the finish line. 

4. Sustain the conversation

Netflix may have enough money to keep Cuaron and his stars in the center of the conversation on multiple platforms and media. Indonesia lacked financing from the government and the executive producers of Memories of My Body were probably the only source of funding. But sometimes these four strategies are not enough because there is one undetermined factor that can change every year.  

5. Relevant issues

Relevancy of social and political contexts play a big role in the movie industry. When the #MeToo movement started to garner attention, Sebastian Lelio's A Fantastic Woman managed to create conversations among voters about gender-based discrimination. A similar thing happened when Donald Trump won the American presidential election in 2016. Having Iran as one of the nominees in the international film category urged the Academy members to vote on the basis of the urgency of the context. 

With these strategies, it is understandable why our submissions to the Oscars are often overlooked. It is possible that we haven't come up with the most effective campaign strategy. Having said that, Joko Anwar's Impetigore and Yosep Anggie Noen's The Science of Fictions might be the two most promising films to be submitted to the 2021 Academy Award. Both films have gained recognition at international festivals such as Sundance and Locarno, and both highlight relevant and important issues. (wng)


The writer is a film enthusiast and a self-proclaimed campaigner for Indonesia’s international feature film submission to the Oscars. He is an alumnus of the inaugural graduating class of the Period Film Criticism course and attended the 2019 Festival Film Dokumenter as a film critic.   

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.