Somewhere this weekend executives at Summit Entertainment and their Academy Awards consultants are sweeping the floor of all the hair they pulled out after a week of bizarre and possibly game-changing events in the Best Picture race. In one of the stupidest moves ever, Nicolas Charier, one of the officially accredited producers of "The Hurt Locker," sent out E-mails to friends and their acquaintances (ie, friend of friends) in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences urging them to vote for his picture. It might sound silly, but that's a blatant violation of Academy rules.
Originally reported by The Envelope's Pete Hammond on Tuesday, the E-mails didn't sell the quality of the critically acclaimed thriller, but pushed the "independent" nature of "Locker" against a "$500 million" competitor. Chartier didn't name "Avatar," but his campaign tone ("Please call one or two persons, everything will help!") did not suit well with the Academy. By Thursday, the Academy had made Chartier send an apology to every member he'd contacted originally which included -- get this -- producers and filmmakers who worked on the other competing Best Picture nominees. Chartier was seemingly unaware of his bad taste and breach of Academy rules and it is expected that either Chartier or Summit Entertainment will be penalized because of his actions. In the past, punishment in these types of matters has been confined to the allotment of tickets to the nominee (the golden egg to all involved). In this case that would constitute Summit Entertainment, the filmmakers and "Hurt Locker" producers. The Academy have made it clear they won't comment on the situation or any reprimand until after the voting period closes on Tuesday, March 2 at 5 PM PT.
But, wait. It got worse.
It appears Chartier sent out even more E-mails telling people how to rank their votes in order of preferential treatment. Specifically, he noted that members put even if they are going to vote for "Locker," they should put "Avatar" as low as possible (say, No. 10 out of 10) because "we" need the win. How the Academy will deal with these additional E-mails, which Chartier finally admitted to a shocked Summit Entertainment on Friday, will also remain unclear until next week. However, at this point it wouldn't be surprising if Chartier is denied entry to the big show. And, obviously, if "Locker" wins that would me he wouldn't get to appear on stage to accept the Oscar with his fellow producers including director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal. And considering how this story has spread across town like wildfire, even if he is in the theater, he may want to avoid stepping up on stage if "Locker" wins. It might get a very ugly reaction from the audience.
The critical question is whether this drama will truly affect Academy member votes. The Academy does not release what percentage of voters tend to send in their ballots early or late in the process and anecdotally it seems to depend on the year. With members already complaining about how difficult it is to understand the Academy's instructions on how to vote for the new ten Best Picture system (next year they might send a video), you could deduct many have not submitted yet. Therefore, this negative press could have a huge impact on "Locker's" chances.
Complicating matters is the fact 20th Century Fox has launched a major media campaign buying national television spots that hype up the critical accolades and once in a lifetime achievement of "Avatar." These are absolutely aimed at Academy voters and while the buy has no doubt cost millions of dollars, it's a drop in the bucket when you've made $2.46 billion worldwide (and counting).
These events have only increased the drama for a race that was too close to call even before the news of the E-mails spread across town. Could Chartier's mistake scuttle his own film's chances of beating James Cameron's blockbuster? We'll all find out on Sunday, March 7, but no matter what the outcome it's a sad footnote to what had been a memorable underdog campaign for Summit, Bigelow and "Locker" this awards season.
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