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False Notions About 'Chocolat' Nominations Leave Bitter Taste

February 19, 2001|DAVID BROWN | David Brown's producing credits include "Driving Miss Daisy," "A Few Good Men," "Jaws," "The Player" and "Deep Impact."

As someone who has witnessed firsthand the strong audience responses to "Chocolat" on many occasions, I was especially disappointed to read Patrick Goldstein's misleading attack on Miramax's marketing of the film and his overall mischaracterization of modern Oscar campaigns ("Miramax in the Market for Oscars Again," Feb. 14). I want to knock out the perpetuation of these tiresome fallacies once and for all.

Speaking not just as a producer of "Chocolat" but also as a 50-year veteran of the business, longtime academy member, recipient of the academy's Irving Thalberg Award and former executive vice president of 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros. studios, and who has been involved in the production of six best-picture-nominated films, I take great offense at Goldstein's implication that the vote of any academy member can be influenced by advertising.

Trade ads exist for a simple reason: to get a movie seen and noticed in a crowded field. After that, it is the film and its makers that must stand up to the greatest possible scrutiny: the standards of their peers.

It is insulting for Goldstein to suggest that a "shazam" marketing campaign could manipulate academy members into honoring "Chocolat" with five nominations--in such a diverse range of categories (best picture, best actress, best supporting actress, best adapted screenplay and best score)--honors that underscore the academy's strong support for the film.

"Chocolat" also received award nominations from the five guilds representing actors, writers, editors, art directors and costume designers, and from the British film academy.

Interestingly, "Chocolat's" theme of inclusiveness is evident in the diversity of films and actors honored by the academy this year. Only when independent studios like Miramax began campaigning on behalf of their filmmakers, talent and craftsmen did these types of projects and individuals receive more widespread and consistent recognition from the academy.

It is because of Miramax, Fine Line and Sony Classics being committed to campaigning for their movies that fine independent films like "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," "Shine," "My Left Foot" and "Gods and Monsters" have been recognized. It is a tribute to these and other distributors that actors like Laura Linney, Ed Harris and Javier Bardem, who starred in "smaller" films, have been accorded the respect they deserve by being nominated this year.

One of the great lessons I learned over the years is that even the most expensive marketing campaign in the world can't guarantee a film's commercial success. I speak from experience. You can only encourage people to go out and see a movie--and then the film is on its own. The movie itself is the most effective marketer. I can testify to this as I have seen "Chocolat" with audiences from Santa Monica to London and Berlin--and the exuberant response is always the same. Audiences have warmly embraced this movie and appreciated its subtle message of tolerance and inclusiveness. The film's $27-million pre-Oscar box office makes it a tremendous word-of-mouth success.

Miramax should be applauded for embracing the filmmakers' sophisticated vision of "Chocolat," which included casting French actress Juliette Binoche (instead of improving their box-office prospects by casting an American star) and surrounding her with an overwhelmingly international cast and maintaining a French title for the film. Miramax's loyalty to Juliette (which grew from working with her on "Blue" and "The English Patient") and to the filmmakers was rewarded with a great film, but made the job of marketing "Chocolat" to a wide American audience an even more daunting task. Thankfully, Dennis Rice, David Brooks, David Kaminow and the entire Miramax marketing team were able to overcome this challenge.

Goldstein's claim that "Chocolat's" "central weakness" was "no money reviews from any first-string critics" must have been a real shock to well-respected critics who heralded the film, including David Ansen, Gene Shalit, Rex Reed, Jeffrey Lyons, former L.A. Times critic (now with the Chicago Tribune) Michael Wilmington and Goldstein's own colleague at The Times, Kevin Thomas, who all gave the film great reviews--with Thomas characterizing it as "a work of artistry and craftsmanship at the highest level, sophisticated in its conception and execution, yet possessed of wide appeal."

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