Hollywood, July 3: The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, casting itself as tough-guy enforcer in the Oscar campaign wars, on Wednesday flashed a weapon it’s kept under wraps till now: the possibility of kicking a film out of competition if its marketers go too far.
In its strongest bid yet to rein in the excesses of recent Oscar campaigns, the Academy also put its voting members on notice that anyone who undermines the “letter or spirit” of the rules could be suspended or expelled from the Academy.
The stern warnings grow out of the organisation’s annual review of the past Oscar season, in which an outcry erupted over a controversial ad taken out on behalf of Gangs of New York director Martin Scorsese.
On Wednesday, the Academy responded to that furore — in which it was revealed that a Miramax publicist had drafted the ad language under the name of former Academy president and Oscar-winning director Robert Wise — by announcing a new policy in the rule book, forbidding “any form of advertising that includes quotes or comments by Academy members”.
“I think everybody agrees, including the studio heads themselves, the money being spent this year to advertise directly to Academy voters was just getting out of hand and creating an impression that Academy members can be bought or influenced and that would be a disaster for everybody,” said Academy President Frank Pierson.
“I don’t think any of us believe Academy voters vote anything but their conscience,” he continued, “but there has been so much media exposure about these (Oscar) ads and the controversy (attached to them) that it could begin to erode public confidence and it could tarnish the honour of the award.”
Until now, the biggest deterrent in the fight against unseemly campaigning was to deny offenders sought-after tickets to the glitzy, televised Academy Awards ceremony.
“The only penalty we had was the withholding of seats at the theatre or the Governor’s Ball,” said Richard Kahn, a past Academy president who chaired the committee that developed the new rules.
“It was not a very strong stick to hold over anyone’s head. It was symbolic more than anything else.”
That view was echoed by a top studio marketing executive.