It seems Nicholas Chartier broke Academy rules by emailing some Academy judges in February, urging them to vote for his film as movie of the year. In the same email, he lambasted the high budget, fan favorite (Avatar) that is the clear front runner.
Academy campaign rules ban direct personal communications with members, and explicitly ban any attempt to cast a negative light on a competing film. Mr. Chartier has apologized. But, his penalty is set in stone.It's hard for me to say whether this man's "ethical” lapse in judgment calls for a penalty like this. But, I find this whole episode ironic. From what I hear, personal emails such as this are really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how studios (and their representatives) now market, lobby and directly sell, push and prod to convince Academy judges to vote for their films.
Yes, this has become a big business within Hollywood. And, one that isn't taken lightly by PR, promotions, advertising, agents and other niche service providers who make big bucks spending lots of time and energy waging hard hitting campaigns to achieve results. The pursuit of the Oscar is understandable. Winning one these days means instant fame for newbie's in the business and creates an ongoing spotlight of recognition for any actor, director (or even sound producer) who is continually looking to build his/her career. It also means the ability to command a lot more money on any future films, promotions and sponsorships.Peppercom has never gotten involved in the Hollywood scene (thank God). A firm really needs to have deep Tinseltown roots to be effective in that city (which is all about who you know versus the substance of one's communications strategy). That just never interested us. But, I have marketing and entertainment friends who are highly networked into this scene. Most agree, that the battle to obtain the Oscar has become an absolute obsession which has forced friendly competitors to become hostile combatants who often take on a "win at all cost" attitude. I've heard that it's not uncommon for campaigns to include "unofficial and casual" lunches or drinks with Academy members, as well as gifts (offered under other auspices) and nasty public relations battles behind the scenes with Hollywood media and other influencers who can help sway both perceptions and decisions. And, of course, in typical Hollywood fashion, malicious and often scandalous rumors about directors and their actors/casts are routinely spread to undermine credibility and their appeal.
I wonder if this one-off penalty will really have any impact on a system that is plagued with ethics problems and has gone completely awry? No doubt, the Oscar founders didn't have this in mind when the platform was created. It seems to me that a complete assessment and then revamping of the rules and principles guiding how the participants "campaign" for the Oscars really needs to be looked at versus this insignificant band aid approach.