The consequences of what's come to be known as the "Lockergate" scandal took a dramatic turn today when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences ruled to deny entry to the 82nd Oscars to nominated producer Nicolas Chartier.
Chartier, along with Kathryn Bigelow, Mark Boal and Greg Shaprio, produced Best Picture nominee "The Hurt Locker" and were considered a frontrunner until a startling turn of events last week. As the Academy noted in a release, "Chartier had recently disseminated an email to certain Academy voters and other film industry figures in which he solicited votes for his own picture and disparaged one of the other contending films. Academy rules prohibit 'casting a negative or derogatory light on a competing film.' The executive committee of the Academy’s Producers Branch, at a special session late Monday, ruled that the ethical lapse merited the revocation of Chartier’s invitation to the Awards."
The film Chartier dissed was, of course, "Avatar" and he even sent E-mails suggesting friends and members place it No. 10 on their ranked ballot to make sure it couldn't overtake "Locker" in a "weighted" win. Ironically, the executive committee is the same branch that approved Chartier's inclusion in the process making an exception to the traditional three-producer rule for Best Picture nominees. The committee decided not to rescind Chartier's nomination. If "Hurt Locker" is able to win Best Picture on Sunday, he'll receive his statue at some point after the ceremonies. Summit Entertainment nor the other filmmakers associated with the picture will penalized by the Academy.
The Academy made the announcement only hours before voting closed to Academy members at 5 PM PT on Tuesday, March 2.
This has cast a dark shadow over what had become an intriguing David vs. Goliath match up between "Locker" and James Cameron's "Avatar" for the top prize. "Locker" has won almost every year-end honor and guild award, but "Avatar" is seen by many as a game-changer in Hollywood history (and not just because it's become the highest grossing picture of all time). If "Locker" loses, many will blame the scandal which broke with almost a week left in voting for pushing "Avatar" over the top. If "Locker" can still win the big prize, Summit, Bigelow, Boal and Shapiro will breathe a huge sigh of relief it all worked out. As for Chartier? That's a much more interesting story.
A film financier and former sales agent who was slowly making the transition to legitimate film producer ("Locker" was his first full credit), the French-born Chartier is currently a partner along with Dean Devlin ("Independence Day") in Voltage Pictures. To say winning Best Picture at this yearly stage in career could have set him for life is not hyperbole. The cache of a Best Picture statue would have helped with financing of independent features -- and perhaps even legitimate financial institution investment -- for quite some time. Now? He may still have interested investors, but will talent, agents and effective distribution companies want to work with him? Devlin has a long track record in the industry, but Chartier will be a black cloud that people will discuss for years. His name has quickly become notorious with what many in town view as the negative aspects of Oscar campaigning.
There have been some who have speculated at Chartier's defense that he was completely unaware of Academy rules and only doing whatever he could to help his "underdog" picture. However, for someone who has been around long enough to have worked on the sales side for previous Best Picture winner "Crash," he had to have some idea what he was doing, but was so overzealous in his desire to win it blew up in his face.
Now, like most of America, he can watch the show from home. And hope for the best.
For the latest Oscar and Entertainment news, follow Gregory Ellwood on Twitter @HitFixGregory.