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THE 68TH ACADEMY AWARD NOMINATIONS

Oscar Doesn't Always Give Studios a Bang for Their Bucks

Movies: Promotion expenditures and star power don't necessarily equal a nomination, survey shows.

February 14, 1996|JUDY BRENNAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Miramax walked away with the biggest payoff Tuesday, earning a best picture nomination for "The Postman (Il Postino)," which was the least-expensive film by far--both in terms of production cost and marketing--to be so honored this year.

The Italian-language film cost only about $4 million to make, and Miramax has spent about $2 million to hype it. That includes about $1.5 million on a January re-release and Oscar campaign.

The film was originally released in the United States on June 12 and has grossed about $35 million worldwide, even though it still hasn't opened in Germany, Japan and the rest of the Far East, considered sizable territories.

If the nominations showed anything, it's that 1995's most expensive pictures boasting some of Hollywood's priciest star power didn't necessarily buy Oscar's attention.

"I think what you can draw from all of this is that a great story is the most important element of a movie and not necessarily the star or a huge budget," said Harvey Weinstein, co-chairman of Miramax. "The story is what we in the industry have to learn is the key thing to sell. That's what all of this should tell us."

And selling is the key, since Oscar nominations will now become major components in movie advertisements between now and Oscar night.

Don't believe it? Take a look at movie-promotion expenditures compiled by industry analyst Competitive Media Reporting for the first 11 months of 1995:

* Paramount, the biggest spender to date, has unloaded about $25 million on pushing Mel Gibson's kilt epic "Braveheart." (Paramount sources say the studio has spent about $200,000 on the Oscar campaign so far, matching the amount spent to promote "Sabrina" to Oscar voters.)

* Universal has sunk about $20 million on Ron Howard's "Apollo 13"; that studio also plunked down about $12 million to promote the low-budget "Babe."

Sony/Columbia's "Sense and Sensibility" marketing campaign, which studio sources say is about $10.5 million-$12 million, includes an estimated $500,000 on the academy ads alone. (The film opened after Competitive Media Reporting's charting period.)

These costs pale in comparison to the outlay on the year's most expensive movies. Universal spent an estimated $20 million to market Kevin Costner's $172-million-plus sci-fi water epic "Waterworld," which snared only one Oscar nod, for best sound.

Then there were those snubbed in Tuesday's voting: Buena Vista/Cinergi's Sylvester Stallone casualty "Judge Dredd," which cost about $90 million with $25 million-$30 million spent on marketing; Carolco's $100-million swashbuckler sinker "Cutthroat Island," directed by Renny Harlin and starring his wife, Geena Davis, which cost about $15 million to market; and "Showgirls" co-produced by Chargeurs and Carolco for $42 million. In addition, MGM spent about $10 million of the film's $13.5 million-$14 million promotional budget. Paramount also dropped $15-million-plus to open the expensive "Jade," which failed in short order.

"That's really the beauty of the Academy Awards," says Gerry Rich, president of MGM/UA's worldwide marketing. "The whole reason for the awards is that artistic merit, not the commercial aspect or how much money is spent, is acknowledged."

Perhaps. But when it comes to academy ad campaigns, expect the hype to come at a high.

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