By Michael Levine
“I can’t believe I am hosting the Oscars. It’s an honor everyone else said no.”—Seth MacFarlane
While I’ve been celebrated for representing 58 Academy Award-winning celebrities, in my Hollywood it’s fair to say that the Entertainment industry is one of the most self-congratulatory industries next to…well, there isn’t one. To give you an idea of the over-inflated grandiosity that is “Oscar Season”, open any February issue of Variety or The Hollywood Reporter, and you’ll find the amount of advertising directed toward industry insiders with voting power rivals that of most Presidential campaigns. Of course, unlike campaign promises, at least we know movies are lies when we walk in the door. However, the truth is that the amount of money created from the awards industry is actually a better example of trickle-down economics than even trickle-down economics! That’s because when take away the smoke and mirrors, what you’re left with is a marketing machine for the Entertainment industry, and as 30 year veteran of the Public Relations industry, to the general public I offer a whole-hearted apology…and a solid you’re welcome!
At last count, there will be 95 televised award shows celebrating movies, television, music, theater, sports. On second thought, with closure of Blockbuster video stores make that 94. Even still, I’m sure this is an incomplete list. Award shows have gotten so trivial, even the porn industry has been handing them out since 1983 (incidentally, you’ll want to wash your hands immediately after touching one). Here’s the simple truth: Movies studios get a second shot at your business by reminding you about all of the movies that were released the year before, which by the way for the year
2013 was 8272. Let famed movie Producer Harvey Weinstein tell it, “When we talk about Oscars, it’s almost as a symbol of excellence, and the American public and the worldwide public accept that symbol.” Which to Harvey is absolutely correct, as he’s in the business of making money. However from the artistic side, the opinions seem a bit more honest such as James Cromwell who said, “The Academy Awards were basically created by the industry to promote pictures. They weren’t really to acknowledge the performances. Then it became sort of this a great popularity contest and now, it’s an incredible show and it’s seen all over the world.” Keep in mind, words spoken by man who starred in 58 theatrical releases, and who’s only Oscar nomination was for a movie about a pig that knows how to talk. To clarify, I’m referring to Babe, not 2007’s Becoming Jane.
Of course, award shows, and particularly the Oscars are one of high-fashion’s biggest nights of the year. The guys have it easy, as they can simply rent a tuxedo, and having recently watched March of the Penguins, it seems pretty easy to get lost in the crowd. However, for the ladies, no red carpet procession would be complete without the most generic, but to the fashion industry, an all too important question, “Who are you wearing?” Again, I harken back to the porn awards where that question can be rather unnerving, however it should be said (and albeit this happens to be from a man’s point of view), based on some of the dresses I’ve seen, or in some cases the lack thereof, the more appropriate question should be “WHAT are you wearing?” The general public is never going to buy these outfits, and why would they? Most people couldn’t afford it, and besides, someone has already worn it—and very likely spent days exercising, starving, and throwing up just to get into it. Leave it the epitome of grace, actress Meryl Streep to offer a realistic perspective by saying, “I couldn’t care less about fashion. If I had taken any clothes home, they would have remained in my closet for the rest of their existence.” …Sooo, kinda like Tom Cruise!
Now when you watch an award show such as the Oscars, you get to see the winners walk on cloud nine, while the losers feel like they got punched in the stomach. However if you think that’s bad, it’s the after parties where celebrities can feel like they’re getting kicked square in the teeth. Sure, I’ve seen a Gary Busey partying like it’s 1999, however that might not be the best example considering for starters he has some incredibly huge teeth, and secondly in his mind it still is 1999. Oscar after-parties are almost like an an award show in and of themselves, since celebrities find out very quickly exactly where they stand within the industry based on which after-party they’re allowed in to. My personal favorite, and the ultimate goal is the party thrown by Vanity Fair. This party is so exclusive, often times celebrities aren’t invited two years in a row. I should know, I was just there to give them back all of the subscription cards that constantly fall out. While the viewing public is gorging for hours on end of pre-show, awards, and recaps, all of the people you just finished watching are quickly discovering who is drinking for free and who is meeting up at Denny’s. But then again, they’re celebrities, not humans, they can take it, right? Besides, even when they lose they win, since they say the more rich and famous you get, the more stuff you get for free. Why? Because marketers are slyly perpetuating the endorsement machine by giving away products they want celebrities to use, display, and brag about…sort of like a real-life product placement. In fact, according to an ABC news story, the gift bags handed to 2014’s nominees are valued in the neighborhood of $55,0003! Not to get too real here, but that’s more than the annual salary of many families…and I’m guessing these days Skeet Ulrich (you’re thinking, “Who??”…my point exactly).
I think it’s fair to say that the only people who take awards shows with any level of lasting seriousness are the ones that happen to be nominated. After all, it’s brand recognition to be able to put “Academy Award Winner”, or “Academy Award Nominee” in front of their name, even if it’s on their tombstone. I’ll be the first to admit it makes my job a whole heck of a lot easier, and when it comes to getting future work, it makes a celebrities job easier too. It was Kathy Bates who was quoted as saying, “Every time an Oscar is handed out, an agent gets their wings.” However, clearly acting is one profession, while being a celebrity is job all on it’s own. That said, even with all the pomp and circumstance surrounding award shows, once celebrities get a taste, it creates a standard of talent that they have to live up to, which separates the hard working celebs from the ones who just got lucky…I’m talking to you Marissa Tomei.