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Oscars '98

Winners May Reap Some Handsome Payoffs

The industry: To the victors go the spoils and chances to cross over.

March 24, 1998|MARLA MATZER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Academy Awards ceremony--indeed, television in general--is watched by millions more people than go to the movies. So the Oscars are viewed as a prime opportunity to market not just films, but soundtracks, videos . . . and the stars themselves.

Helen Hunt's win for best actress in "As Good as It Gets" should help cement her status as someone who can successfully move between TV and films. "It completely busts down the door for her. Now, when a movie comes up with Helen Hunt, there's a marquee value," said Richard Barton Lewis, whose Trilogy Entertainment Group produces television shows such as "The Outer Limits" and films such as "Backdraft" and "Moll Flanders."

Lewis added that such marquee value drives the whole production train; since studios believe "name" stars drive box-office grosses, executives will greenlight such projects. Producers will also undoubtedly offer her more money, though Hunt can afford to be choosy since she's already assured of continuing to make a tidy paycheck on "Mad About You" through the coming season.

Best supporting actress Kim Basinger--a slight surprise to those who considered "Titanic's" Gloria Stuart the sentimental favorite--also is assured of better scripts and paychecks. "It's a long road from 'The Marrying Man' to 'L.A. Confidential' for her," said Lewis. "Many people have pigeonholed her, perhaps haven't taken her seriously . . . that will change now."

Also sure to gain more followers is--surprise--"Titanic." Just when it seemed that everyone had seen the box-office record-breaker, watch for even more people to be drawn into its wake.

"There's still a part of the public it hasn't tapped into. I think [the awards] are going to bring out a lot more people," said Jon Landau, co-producer of "Titanic."

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The film's soundtrack, already a record-breaking success, will also benefit from composer James Horner's wins for best score and best song. Said producer Steve Tisch, who saw the phenomenon with the 1994 wins for his "Forrest Gump," "The value of the home video will be enhanced. The value of the soundtrack will be enhanced. . . . Overall, [the Oscars] increase the life of the film well into the next decade."

Finally, though "Titanic" failed to garner any acting awards--and wasn't even nominated for screenplay--Landau said the film's popular and critical success has had another effect that can benefit the industry as a whole. " 'Titanic' has shown audiences that the cinema experience can deliver something they can't get anywhere else," said the producer.

Even without awards to go home with, such nominees as Peter Fonda and Burt Reynolds should bask in the reflected shine of Oscar. "Before 'Boogie Nights,' Reynolds was just a name on a list. . . . The nomination for Fonda has been a great boost for his career," said Tisch. "We're in a business where people want to be in bed with winners," said Tisch. In this case, somewhat faded stars can be winners just by getting a nod.

Less sure is what effect, if any, the breezy Oscar performance of host Billy Crystal will have on his movie career. The actor-comedian has lately lacked any roles to match those he got in "City Slickers" or "When Harry Met Sally." Said producer Lewis, "I think Billy's always going to have a huge career. But I don't think just because you hosted the Oscars, people will go to the theater to see you. Spending four hours with him may be enough for many people."

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