AWARDS FEED THE MACHINE

Since 1929 the film industry has seen fit to honor itself with the Academy Award, otherwise known as the Oscar. It is a chance to celebrate the art form and recognize outstanding work in the field. As the years have gone by these awards have multiplied. There are the Golden Globes(added in 1944), the SAG Awards(debuted 1995), the Independent Spirit Awards (1984), and the MTV Movie Awards (also 1984). This is not to mention more laurels given from film festivals, major and minor, across the globe (Cannes, Berlin, Toronto, and little old Sundance in Park City, Utah).
So, is it an honor just to be nominated? Or is it the result of a cadre of PR people, managers, agents, and studio marketing departments all tuned to play a fever-pitched song on the pipe that will attract the longest line of followers? I hope I don’t sound bitter here; I’m not. As an actor I totally believe that it IS an honor to be considered, let alone nominated, let alone win. No, this blog is merely a musing on the business end of show business. These awards feed the machine that is Hollywood and nearly everyone wins.
I was lucky enough to be randomly selected to serve on the Film Nominating Committee for the SAG Awards this past year. As a result I was invited to numerous screenings (many with Q&A sessions following the movie with the talent involved), I also received buckets screener DVDs and a barrage of mail extolling the reviews of certain films.
It was a special experience and one that I took seriously. I went to as many screenings as possible and watched as many DVDs as possible prior to voting for the list of eventual nominees that the rest of the union would finally vote on. I easily saw over 40 films. Some were major studio releases (Argo, Flight, Lincoln, Skyfall, The Hobbit, Les Miserables), some were foreign films (Rust and Bone, Amour, The Intouchables), some I saw well in advance of their wide theatrical releases (Quartet, Zero Dark Thirty, The Impossible, Promised Land, This Is 40) and some small budgeted efforts of merit (Compliance, Smashed, The Paperboy, Killer Joe, Any Day Now). Some movies I really loved (Argo, Flight, Skyfall, Silver Linings Playbook, The Impossible, The Sessions), some I really disliked (This Is 40, Savages, The Paperboy, Friends With Kids, Rust and Bone, The Master) and most fell somewhere in the middle. Even in films that I did not like I found some incredible, brave acting performances (Nicole Kidman, John Cusack, Gina Gershon, Matthew McConaughey, Thomas Haden Church, Marion Cotillard, Philip Seymour Hoffman).
I discovered several things that renewed my faith in the acting profession and inspired me creatively. At a Q&A following Flight Denzel Washington told the story of watching another actor (James Badge Dale) perform his excellent scene as the Gaunt Young Man. Denzel said all he had to do was watch, react, and enjoy the great performance. At another screening Daniel Day-Lewis spoke of finding the character or letting the character find you. He spoke of two souls attached to a rope being pulled toward one another. Hell, I’m not sure what he means, but I know he knows. It was a privilege to hear him sharing his thoughts. I also learned firsthand what a smart, self-effacing, and likeable man Ben Affleck is. Did I mention I think he was robbed by not being nominated for an Academy Award as Best Director?
A special mention here to Ann Dowd, the veteran actress who gave a tremendous performance in Compliance. What a film and role for her! Unfortunately the distributor (Magnolia Films) did not have any money to invest into the awards game, thus depriving Ann Dowd of proper recognition for her work. So, Ms. Dowd decided to use her own money (and some of her friends) to bankroll the effort. Seeing this as a chance that may never come again, the actress grabbed the initiative and spent $13,000 to have the DVD screeners made and mailed, thus giving her significant exposure. However, even with this effort and coverage in The Hollywood Reporter, Ann Dowd came up short. No SAG Award, no Oscar nomination. But I love the fact that she did this! Bravo! She had a great performance and had an obligation to get the most out of it. Artistically, she already did; the final film is that result. But, getting back to the businessof show business, some of us just don’t have that cadre of PR people, managers, agents, and studio marketing departments at our disposal. She still has that obligation to herself to promote her work (and by extension, herself). I’m glad she was fearless enough to do it.
That being said: be forewarned. If I ever have a performance or project worthy of these highest of industry accolades, I will be ready to exploit the situation. Nothing will be off limits: bumper stickers, email blasts, Kickstarter, tacky pens with my name, even clothing for pets.
Now all I need is that worthy performance.
I’m just saying…