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Published On: December 6, 2020 01:28 PM NPT By: Associated Press

With red carpets rolled up, the Oscar race goes virtual

With red carpets rolled up, the Oscar race goes virtual


This is the time of year when Hollywood’s awards-season-industrial complex usually shifts into high gear. It’s a frothy, festive run of the year’s final premieres and screenings — all part of a carefully orchestrated dance to court tastemakers and, ultimately, academy voters.

The movies may be finished -- picture locked -- but their Oscar fortunes are in flux right up until ballots are cast. And a glittering, glad-handing ecosystem of cocktails and Q&As works very hard to steer the conversation.

This year, with many under quarantine, theaters shuttered in Los Angeles and New York and, well, some more pressing concerns than who’s campaigning for best supporting actor, awards season is operating in a strange COVID-19 vacuum with only a whiff of the stuff it thrives on: buzz.

For Awards Daily founder Sasha Stone, who has been covering the Oscars since 2000, it’s like nothing she’s ever seen — an awards season without glamour, without red carpets, without anything that feels real. She compares this year’s race to the floating debris left by a sinking ship.

“There’s no there there,” says Stone. “What’s missing is the ‘wow’ factor. That’s really what the Oscars have kind of been built on.”

Nevertheless, Oscar season is pushing ahead, despite the pandemic, despite a year where most of the biggest releases were postponed. The timetable has shifted two months: The Academy Awards are to be held April 25. And awards season, such as it is, has gone virtual. The Oscar race will Zoomed.

Awards campaigns normally focused on doing everything they can to lure guild members and others to see their film on the big screen have had to accept that this year they’ll be watching in their living room, maybe on a laptop, potentially with a lot of pausing and probably with many glances at their phone.

“The biggest challenge is: How are we going to get people to see the movies? Are they really going to watch them? What are they going to watch?” says Cynthia Swartz, one of the industry’s top Oscar campaign strategists. “Ninety-five percent of an academy campaign is getting people to see the movie, ideally on the big screen. Now you can’t get them to the big screen. Everyone’s seeing it at home.”

Keeping any movie not named “Borat” in the zeitgeist has been nearly impossible this year, either because people are overburdened by the pandemic, movies lack a physical presence beyond a box on your TV screen or because viewers would rather just binge “The Queen’s Gambit.” Swartz, who has helped steer campaigns for everything from “Boyhood” to “Black Panther,” acknowledged, “Right now, it’s hard for films to feel real and to feel like they’re sticking.”

The whole rhythm of the season’s calendar, from one awards group to another, is also off kilter. With Oscar nominations ballots usually due in early January, most voters plow through screeners over the holidays.

“It’s going to be a challenge to keep your movie sort of in the awareness all the way to April or to March, when voting happens,” said Tom Bernard, co-president of Sony Pictures Classics, whose contenders this year include the dementia drama “The Father,” with Anthony Hopkins. “It’s going to be a very different journey between now and the end of April.”

It has undoubtedly reshuffled the usual kinds of movies in the race.

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