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Campaigning the Golden Man

Posted on February 12, 2016, at 1:12 p.m.
by Drew Pendleton.

When the Oscars are broadcast every winter, they signal more than just the end of a year in film. They also signal the end of months of campaigning, the end of a calendar stuffed with events, screenings and parties hosted by distribution companies to get their film on the screens and in the minds of Oscar voters. Some actors, however, are battling their previous status as TV stars to have their names called on nomination morning. While they may not always succeed, many times it’s their re-branding campaigns that stand out the most.

These “affairs,” as the Los Angeles Times called them in 2015, are a lesson in public relations strategy and networking. Awards campaigns are, for better or for worse, just as much about politics and strategy as they are about the movies themselves, and the Oscars are no different. If an actor can make the right moves and make the right friends, campaigns can take shape and turn small-screen icons into big-screen awards contenders.

Take Jennifer Aniston, for example. In 2014, the “Friends” star – known for her turn as Rachel Green on the NBC sitcom’s ten-season run – starred and produced in “Cake,” a darkly comic indie drama in which she plays a woman coping with physical and emotional trauma after a personal tragedy. Following its premiere at the Toronto Film Festival, Aniston’s performance received acclaim, but not without commentary on her newfound Oscar contender status. As Deadline’s review began, “Jennifer Aniston – Oscar contender? You better believe it.”


Naturally, a campaign formed. Aniston’s camp worked the circuit, throwing a barrage of events, screenings and Q&A sessions complete with appearances from the actress herself. The campaign even began sending cupcakes to critics as a promotional tool to build buzz for the film and Aniston’s performance. After earning Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild nominations, the buzz rose to the point where she became a contender for the Best Actress Oscar. Although the campaign for an Oscar nod eventually proved unsuccessful, Aniston’s campaign shows how a well-oiled public relations campaign can make huge waves in the Oscar game.

However, sometimes campaigns can take the focus off of the star’s previous TV work and place it all on their performance. Like fellow NBC alum Aniston, Steve Carell was primarily known for his role on a long-running TV comedy as paper company manager Michael Scott on “The Office.” In 2014’s true-crime drama “Foxcatcher,” however, Carell disappeared into the role of John du Pont, a millionaire who killed Olympic wrestler Dave Schultz in 1996. Carell received feature coverage in major publications such as The New York Times, yet his campaign was clouded by categorization problems rather than his status as a comic actor.

Sony Pictures Classics, the distributors of “Foxcatcher,” campaigned Carell and co-star Channing Tatum in lead, citing a competitive field that didn’t have a frontrunner. It worked, and thanks to Sony’s working the market and knowing their competition, Carell landed a Best Actor nomination at the Oscars.

While the 2014 race isn’t the only time that television actors have tried to make the jump from silver screen stars to Oscar contenders with varying results, it serves as a case study of multiple facets of the public relations profession. Not only does it highlight the power that public relations can wield in terms of personal and professional re-branding, but it also shows that where there’s a strong campaign in place, anything can happen.

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