Oscar spanks Sony Pictures over ticket scheme. The Academy scolds the studio for trying to make an end run around the ticket lottery at the Oscars' smaller new venue
Will Smith
Credit: Will Smith: Frank Connor

It’s not just studios jockeying for Oscar votes that engage in dubious tactics. So do studios jockeying for Oscar tickets.

This year, with the Academy Awards ceremony taking place in Hollywood’s new Kodak Theatre, there are only 3,100 seats available to Academy members, or about 900 less than for previous Oscar nights at the Shrine Auditorium. Nominees are guaranteed seats, but all other Academy members who want to go must submit their requests to a lottery process, and this year, some 275 members who wanted seats aren’t getting them.

This is tough if you’re a studio like Sony Pictures, which, aside from ”Ali”’s Will Smith and Jon Voight and ”Black Hawk Down”’s Ridley Scott, was all but shut out of nominations and tickets. So on February 12, the day the nominations were announced, Geoffrey Ammer, president of Sony’s Columbia TriStar Marketing Group, sent a memo to 44 of the top people on the Sony lot — directors, producers, and executives — asking them to enter the lottery even if they didn’t plan to go and to sell any tickets they won to the studio.

Not only is such a request against Academy rules — members are asked to sign forms saying they won’t sell or give away their tickets, upon pain of expulsion from the organization — but it also displays a certain amount of chutzpah. Those who apply for tickets must also cut the Academy a check (seats range from $50 in the nosebleed section up in the third mezzanine to $350 in the orchestra), and if their application is accepted, they must go in person to the Academy’s Beverly Hills office the Friday or Saturday before the show to pick up the tickets. (Rejected applicants get their uncashed checks back. Nominees, whose tickets are free, must also accept them in person from Academy couriers.) So the studio was asking A-list directors and producers to enter the lottery, write a check for, say, $700, then go in person to the Academy to get the tickets, risk being banned from all future Oscar events, return to the Sony lot to hand over the tickets, get reimbursed, and then stay home on March 24.

The Academy wasn’t too happy when it found out about Sony’s ploy, alerted by some of the recipients of Ammer’s memo. On March 6, Academy executive director Bruce Davis sent Ammer (and the recipients of his initial request) a scathing memo, a copy of which has been obtained by EW.com. Accusing Ammer of ”suborning” Academy members, Davis wrote, ”It’s very hard, reading your memo, to avoid the interpretation that you are asking people to swear to false statements and transfer their tickets to you, on the studio’s tab.”

In discussing the possible security breach that would come of allowing people other than those who signed for tickets and picked them up in person to use them, Davis practically accused Ammer of colluding with terrorists. ”While we’re confident that it isn’t your intention to pass along the fruits of your memo to Al Qaeda members, the fact is that once a pair of tickets is ‘in play’ it becomes increasingly difficult to determine what becomes of it,” Davis wrote. ”Because of this year’s security concerns, new procedures have been instituted which could make for a very awkward evening for anyone trying to gain admission with someone else’s tickets. The legal term for such an individual, incidentally, is ‘trespasser.”’

Fortunately, Davis wrote, few people (if any) took up Ammer’s request, ”so I don’t anticipate any large-scale purging of your company’s employees from the Academy ranks.” Maybe Sony can take comfort in the thought that it may get a bigger block of tickets next year — all it has to do is release better movies.