Can you buy an Oscar? Until this week, I wasn't sure. Film studios obviously throw cash at awards season, taking out ads in Variety and hosting cocktail bashes in support of fancied movies.
But these lobbying efforts always seemed like small beer; a touch parochial, even. Then I was asked to write, in yesterday's paper, about Precious, a gritty, low-budget independent film that has won countless gongs on the festival circuit and is widely tipped to do a Slumdog Millionaire in 2010. Suddenly, I realised how wrong I'd been.
Nothing is ever accidental about Oscar buzz, I learned, particularly when it involves allegedly humble movies like Precious. Instead, Hollywood studios – in this case Lionsgate – hire highly-paid pros to mastermind bids for awards.
To this end, Precious already boasts two lobbyists: Amanda Lundberg and Lisa Taback, plus the studio’s in house team of experts, running an organised “campaign”. Both come from the higher echelons of PR, where a premier league of a dozen top flacks have, between them, run the campaigns of pretty much every major Oscar-winner for the past decade.
For fees as lofty as $500,000 a month, in the case of an Oscar bid by a major film like The Dark Night, these people (and their staff) devote themselves to courting 6,000-odd members of the Academy, and other guilds.
Sometimes, they're extraordinarily persistent. One Hollywood blogger, read by many voters, tells me that he currently gets telephoned by Lundberg and Taback three times a week. The purpose of all this is to create a "narrative" in which certain films succeed. If all goes according to plan, this year's Oscar race will therefore be full of narratives: it'll pitch the "plucky underdog" Precious against the "joyous, star-studded musical" Nine, and James Cameron's grande oeuvre, Avatar.
Elsewhere, we'll see plaudits for Peter Jackson's "daring departure from epic cinema" The Lovely Bones, up against Tom Ford's "portrait of homosexuality" A Single Man. Pixar's Up will meanwhile be sold as a forward-thinking display of cinema's technical future. There's nothing illegal about this kind of marketing, of course. But sometimes it can feel sinister: even Slumdog, which we all applauded so vigorously, turns out to have owed its "underdog" status to a carefully concocted campaign by a PR called Barry Dale Johnson who carried out exactly the same trick in previous years with Juno and Little Miss Sunshine.
A Bloom bling mystery
Among their alleged crimes, the recently arrested "Burglar Bunch" gang, who preyed on Hollywood celebrities, stand accused of breaking into the actor Orlando Bloom's house and pinching $500,000 of jewellery from his bedroom.
This begs two pertinent questions, which will both, I fear, be overlooked in the forthcoming trial: what was the supposedly manly Bloom, pictured, doing with $500,000 of jewels in his bedroom? And where, on his well-kept body, does he normally wear them?