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Rules of the (Oscar) game: new guidelines restrain, and challenge, award contenders. (The countdown: the insider's guide to the awards season).

Ever wonder why there are so many rules in life? Try campaigning for an Oscar.

With the award season upon us, marketers and filmmakers have embarked on an annual odyssey of getting their best product in front of the people who really count: the 6,000 voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.

But sometimes Oscar seekers campaign a bit too zealously. That produces another annual tradition -- the Academy's hard look at the excesses of the just-wrapped award season, which inevitably nets a new set of rules. For anyone vying for the big prizes, it's vital to stay abreast of them.

The first page of the rule book for the upcoming 74th Academy Awards sets the tone: "Though the crude solicitations that occasionally surfaced in earlier years seem to be a thing of the past, we would ask each individual Academy member to be on guard against inappropriate attempts to influence your vote, and to register your displeasure with anyone who might make such an attempt."

Crime and punishment

Academy officials themselves do more than register displeasure. Generally, punishment for violations means forfeiting some tickets to the Academy Awards presentation. That fate befell Sony Pictures Classics last year after it sent DVD copies of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" to AMPAS members who had received a video of the same picture, a tactic that had been prohibited in the rulebook for the first time.

DreamWorks, which in its brief history has won a combined 16 Oscars for "Saving Private Ryan," "American Beauty," "Gladiator" and "Almost Famous," crossed the line last year. It put an image of an Oscar statuette in print ads for "Gladiator" and gave up four tickets as penance.

Some of the studio's moves on behalf of "Gladiator" were even more audacious. To launch its DVD a year ago, the studio's homevideo division hired the Academy's Samuel Goldwyn Theater for a reception, screening and Q&A with director Ridley Scott. Afterward, each attendee received a copy of the DVD.

"It was a very clever thing to do," says one award consultant. "I mean, look where they held the thing. At the Academy. Of all the theaters in town. Hello?"

In its new guidelines, the Academy stipulates that screenings for its members "should not be accompanied by receptions, buffets or other refreshments, nor should such screenings feature the live participation of the film's artists before or after the screening."

This year, the Academy insists on what it calls further simplification of graphic design on videos and DVDs that are sent to voters. The boxes must be in solid colors -- black or white, ideally -- with the studio logo and movie title as the type. No photos or review quotes may be printed on the package.

Previously, that rule could be ignored if the video or DVD was already in commercial release. In that case, the same packaging, complete with laudatory reviews, could be mailed to voters.

"We've now addressed that inconsistency," says Ric Robertson, the Academy's executive administrator.

In an effort to make it easier for smaller films to compete for attention with the big guys, mailing of videos and DVDs this year was permitted to begin Nov. 1, two weeks earlier than last year. However, members still may not be sent both a video and DVD of the same motion picture.

This year, in a nod to the Internet age, email campaigning has made it into the guidelines: It's restricted. Any email sent to Academy members must adhere to the same strictures that apply to regular mail: It may include information about screenings but "may not extol the merits of a film or achievement, nor should it refer to other awards, past or present."

The new guidelines also prohibit letters or emails that mention Web sites set up by studios to promote certain films, or that feature links to those sites.

"We definitely try to limit the hyperbole," Robertson says.

The Academy even regulates the quality of paper that can be sent with mailings: Heavy paper or card stock is verboten. And if you're sending a screenplay to members of the writers branch (during the nominating period only, please), the Academy recommends "a double-sided format." Save a tree while you're at it.

Generally, campaigners try to stay within the Academy's boundaries.

"When you have an important work, you want to make sure that everyone sees it," says consultant Bruce Feldman, who is working on the award campaign for Steven Spielberg's "A.I. Artificial Intelligence" "You just have to be diligent."

Most campaigners appreciate the Academy's persnicketiness.

"They are careful to let the studios know of any important changes, so it's important to pay attention to the documents you get in the mail from them," says Janet Hill, senior veep for publicity at Miramax Films, which is gearing up for what she calls an all-category push for "The Shipping News," due for release Christmas Day.

Others grumble about the Academy's schoolmarmish ways, but they go along because no one in town wants to incur the org's wrath. And everyone appears eager to disassociate themselves from the kind of derision that once rained down on the questionable standards of the Golden Globes and the organization that awards them, the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn.

Chantal Dinnage, managing director of the HFPA, says campaigners should not try to duplicate Sharon Stone's trick of a couple of years back when she gave $295 Coach watches to HFPA members to pump up her chances in "The Muse." The watches were returned, although members were allowed to keep $35 cell phones sent by Fine Line Features to promote "Simpatico."

"You can't give expensive presents," Dinnage says. "They'd be returned."
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Comment:Rules of the (Oscar) game: new guidelines restrain, and challenge, award contenders. (The countdown: the insider's guide to the awards season).
Author:Madigan, Nick
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 3, 2001
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Next Article:Kudocasts don't get the joke. (The countdown: the insider's guide to the awards season).

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