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Oscar's words to live by

September 21, 2003

Making the rounds in advance of the newly shortened Oscar season is a slim, soberly printed volume that might be mistaken for a poetry chapbook. Its cover bears the words "Academy Standards" -- along with the golden shape of the town's most coveted object of desire. And its pages, under such headings as "social occasions," and "innuendo," spell out the rules of the Oscar campaign game as dictated this year by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

As the introduction puts it, "It is up to all of us as members to insure that the recipients each year are determined in a positive atmosphere, free of hucksterism and underhanded maneuverings." Here, a sampling of Oscar season "etiquette":

On advertising: "... the Academy does not object to Academy-directed ads so long as they are deployed with taste and some semblance of restraint. Companies that find themselves unable to gauge when the line of good taste has been crossed might employ a simple yardstick: if spending twice ... or twelve times what the nominated film in the same category with the most modest approach is spending, that may be the time to ask whether you aren't hoping the ads in themselves, rather than the merits of your picture, will affect the voting."

On endorsements from academy members: "If a television reporter catches a member exiting a premiere and saying something polite, that isn't objectionable; repackaging the clip in ads for the film is stepping over the line."

On knowing whether a dinner party is a party or a marketing vehicle: "Did the supposed host initiate the occasion, or was he asked to host it? Does the host actually know most of the guests, or does he regard them as targets? Is the host paying for the evening or is a studio or production company footing the bill?"

And finally: "Members presumably have their own moral compasses that let them know ... when they are playing Oscar's game fairly," the brochure states. "It is essential for the well-being of our award that we monitor those compasses closely." Crossing Oscar, it warns, will cost you.

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