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How To Buy An Oscar

Kirsten Acuna

Every year, Hollywood studios and movie distributors spend hundreds of millions of dollars  pushing films come Oscar season.

Overall, editor of awards-tracking site GoldDerby.com, Tom O'Neil, estimates that Hollywood spends  $150 million  per year to try to win Oscars.

There's one distributor that for the past few years has gotten the Oscar formula down to a science by putting the spotlight on small films.

That's The Weinstein Company – run by the famous Harvey Weinstein.

Last year, Weinstein managed to convince Academy voters to select a small, black and white silent film as "Best Picture."

The guy is good.

This year,  "Silver Linings Playbook" is a perfect example of how Weinstein runs its Oscar-winning machine.

The movie, about  the recovery of a mental home outpatient (Bradley Cooper) living with bipolar disorder,  was produced on a small budget and has become the  first movie in 31 years since "Reds" to receive Oscar nominations in all four acting categories.  

And that's not Weinstein's only success story this year. The Weinstein Company has three Oscar-nominated films, "Django Unchained," "The Master," and, of course, "Silver Linings Playbook" in contention. 

So, how does  The Weinstein Company  do it?

Simple…just follow these steps.

1. Keep the actual movie-making budget small .

For the past five years, average Best Picture winners have been produced on a $17 million budget, according to IBIS. That's a tiny sum relative to the amounts spent on many blockbusters.

"The Artist" and "The King's Speech" each cost an estimated $15 million to make.   

This year's Best Picture nominee "Silver Linings Playbook" (SLP) cost an estimated $21 million to produce, more than half the cost of most of this year's Best Picture nods:

"Zero Dark Thirty

$40 million
" Argo $44.5 million
" Les Misérables " $61 million
" Lincoln $65 million
" Django Unchained $100 million
" Life of Pi $120 million
" Amour $9.4 million
" Beasts of the Southern Wild $1.3 million

What's even better for The Weinstein Company is that they've been able to capitalize by making these cheap films into huge box-office success. "SLP" has crossed the $100 million mark, while "The King's Speech" has earned more than $414.2 million worldwide.  

2. Shop the festivals.

The Weinstein Company seeks hard to buy and then sell smaller and foreign films. 

David Glasser, COO of the Weinstein Company, told The New York Times that Harvey Weinstein spends his time at Sundance seeing movies and reading scripts before deciding which ones to purchase.

Weinstein picked up last year's Best Picture winner, "The Artist," at the Cannes Festival and purchased "Blue Valentine" at Sundance . The latter led to Michelle Williams' Best Actress nod in 2011.

One of the company's most recent acquisitions,  Wong Kai Wai's martial arts film "The Grandmaster," was picked up at the 2013 Berlin International Film Festival.  

For "Silver Linings Playbook," Weinstein acquired the rights to the book before it was even published.

3. Create word of mouth through strategic theater placement .


"Silver Linings Playbook" sold itself at the box office.   

Originally the film was supposed to have a giant rollout in 2,000 theaters around the same time as The Weinstein Company's Brad Pitt release "Killing Them Softly." Instead, the company radically cut the number of theaters due to positive reviews and released the film on 16 screens before gradually opening in more theaters.  

"We felt we had the reviews and the long runway after the movie opened to let the word of mouth build," said Glasser. "This is right out of our playbook."  

In it's debut week, "SLP" earned $443,000. The film was earning $27,000 per theater on 16 screens.   

In the same weekend, leading James Bond movie "Skyfall" earned $11,727 per each of its 3,505 screens. Of course, the Bond film went on to earn $41 million that weekend. If "SLP" had rolled out in 2,000 theaters as planned, and earned what "Skyfall" earned per theater, it had the possibility of earning $23.5 million. 

Instead, the film stayed in under 400 theaters for six weeks, gaining notoriety as a must-see film.   

Despite its small theater count, the film managed to keep up with big theatrical releases in terms of weekend gross, so when it was finally released in 2,523 theaters the weekend of January 18, it saw a massive surge at the box office, earning $10.7 million.  

4. Spend millions and millions of dollars making sure everyone on the planet has heard of your movie


After the film makes it to theaters, there's still the push to gain attention for your film after it receives an Oscar nod, and it can make all the difference. 

In '98, Harvey Weinstein's campaign for "Shakespeare in Love" while still at Miramax is what set the film to upset "Saving Private Ryan" for Best Picture. 

This year, "Silver Linings Playbook" a ctor Bradley Cooper and Director David O. Russell went to Washington to meet with Vice President Joe Biden earlier this month to discuss mental health care issues in America.

Celebrity accountant Andrew Blackman told E! studios will pay between $3-$25 million for an Oscar campaign. Stars publicity budgets go up briefly during the Awards' season, too.  

Here's where the funds go: 

$2 million covers the dollar amount spent to get nominated as Best Picture. This goes toward the costs of sending out DVD copies in specialized packaging and studio-hosted parties.

The biggest cost will go into advertising and "For Your Consideration Ads." E! reports one of those costs $30,000 per page in The Hollywood Reporter.



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