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Trying to Get Oscar's Attention

February 09, 1990|THOMAS D. ELIAS | SCRIPPS HOWARD NEWS SERVICE

"Batman" grossed more than $250 million in America and almost as much in other nations, while "Driving Miss Daisy" has barely cracked the $25-million mark.

Yet Warner Bros. is spending about as much on an Academy Award campaign for "Daisy" and its stars, Jessica Tandy and Morgan Freeman, as on "Batman" and its headliners, Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson.

Warner's is not alone. From "Glory" to "Born on the Fourth of July," most of the movies expected to get Oscar nominations Wednesday are fairly recent releases whose box office takes do not rival such record-setting early- and mid-1989 successes as "Batman," "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" or "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids."

So what does it take to get a nomination? Obviously, box office appeal is not everything.

"We use our heads to determine what we think will please the Academy members," said Rob Friedman, president of Warner Bros.' worldwide advertising and publicity wing. Friedman's department decides which of the studio's pictures get a big push.

"You generally know what the critics have said, and you make an educated guess," he said. "It's like handicapping."

Other elements are also at work. One show business insider noted that Warner's is pushing "Daisy" and Paramount is hyping "Born on the Fourth" for Oscars because the films the two companies released last summer are just about played out.

" 'Batman' and 'The Last Crusade' each made over $200 million," he said. "No one who wants to see either one of them has not already seen them. So all the juice has been squeezed out of those apples.

"Even one nomination for a picture like 'Daisy' will lure a hell of a lot more people into the theaters. But a nomination wouldn't do a thing for 'Batman.' "

So the movie industry trade papers were filled with full-color, double-truck ads for movies like "Driving Miss Daisy" and "Born on the Fourth of July" from Christmas until early February, when Academy members had to send in their ballots.

But the Oscars' top executive thinks the campaigns make little difference.

"I think the ad campaigns matter only in a very peripheral sense," said Bruce Davis, executive director of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. "They may remind our members of what is eligible. . . . But their real purpose may be to help with morale within a studio and with keeping some talent happy as the studio looks toward its next project."

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