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Campaigning for an Oscar with the help of videos

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You pray to God they go see the movie before they vote,” says surprise Best Supporting Actress nominee Diane Ladd, who put on an ”exhausting” Oscar campaign for her no-holds-barred turn in David Lynch’s Wild at Heart. ”No one would take an ad in the trades for Diane Ladd. I had to do it myself.” Although the studios long ago stopped serving lavish meals when screening films for voters, Ladd herself cooked a spaghetti dinner for 20 Academy members, including Esther Williams, Abe Vigoda, and Shelley Winters, with Wild at Heart as dessert. She also wrote voters offering to lend them one of the 20 videocassettes she wheedled out of the film’s video distributor; she thinks 300 people saw her work this way.

When nominations were announced Feb. 13, it became clear that the videocassette — though perhaps not the spaghetti dinner — is now a widely used, highly effective Oscar nomination tool. The Grifters, Dick Tracy, Pretty Woman, and Longtime Companion were sent to voters’ homes, with successful results. Presumed Innocent, The Sheltering Sky, and The Russia House were not sent — and not nominated. The small independent Avenue Pictures used videos to help win a Best Actor nomination for Richard Harris in The Field. ”Without the cassettes,” says CNN entertainment reporter Sandy Kenyon, ”not enough people would have seen the movie.”

As usual, several campaigns appeared aimed mainly at massaging the egos of stars, among them Best Actor candidates Arnold Schwarzenegger (for both Total Recall and Kindergarten Cop) and Macaulay Culkin. Often these ill-fated stabs, such as Columbia’s promotion of Shirley MacLaine as Best Supporting Actress for Postcards From the Edge, are stipulated before the cameras roll. (Shirley came up short.) One exception to the feverish campaigning was the restraint shown by Warner Bros.: The studio decided that placing ads for its highly disappointing Bonfire of the Vanities would have been a prodigality to shame even a Sherman McCoy.

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