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Getting out the vote for `Bobby'

Harvey Weinstein, the buzz master, keeps his eyes on the Oscar prize.

January 13, 2007|Robert W. Welkos | Times Staff Writer

For a movie that has grossed only $11 million, been panned by half the nation's film critics and is now almost gone from the local megaplexes, one might think that "Bobby" faces an insurmountable climb if it is to capture Academy Awards attention.

But that doesn't take into account another familiar name: Harvey.

Fueled by a Golden Globe nomination for best dramatic film -- competing against "The Departed," "The Queen," "Babel" and "Little Children" -- and a Screen Actors Guild nomination for best ensemble cast, Harvey Weinstein, the distributor of "Bobby" and arguably the godfather of Oscar campaigning, has gone to the whip as the Academy Awards race heads into the far turn.

The film may not be hogging as much airtime as "The Queen" has been doing of late (with its incessant ads proclaiming Princess Diana is dead) but Weinstein has sprung for a new round of "Bobby" commercials on shows including "Today," "Good Morning America" and "Larry King Live" as well as local news programs in Los Angeles and New York City, where most Oscar voters live. Newspapers and Hollywood trades have also brimmed with "Bobby" ads.

The "Bobby" awards campaign is not only relying on the marketing savvy of Weinstein, it's hoping that Hollywood's acting community favors the film's huge ensemble cast in much the same way SAG did last year with "Crash," an ensemble film that went on to win the Academy Award for best picture.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday January 23, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 32 words Type of Material: Correction
'Bobby': A Jan. 13 Calendar article about the film "Bobby" referred to Harvey Weinstein as the film's distributor. The film's distributor is MGM. The Weinstein Co. handles the film's marketing and publicity.

"When 'Crash' won best ensemble cast [at last year's SAG Awards], it moved into head-to-head competition with 'Brokeback Mountain,' " said Murray Weissman, who is part of the "Bobby" Oscar campaign team. " ... Suddenly, 'Bobby' is nominated for a Golden Globe and then picks up an ensemble cast nomination from SAG just like 'Crash' did last year and Harvey sees something. He's not going to surrender."

Weissman admitted that the film had been "sagging" after critics weighed in, but said that it resonates with rank-and-file audiences.

Directed, written by and costarring Emilio Estevez, "Bobby" uses fictional characters and subplots mixed with real-life archival footage of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy to dramatize the hours leading up to his assassination in 1968. The cast includes Anthony Hopkins, Sharon Stone, Demi Moore, Helen Hunt, Martin Sheen and Lindsay Lohan.

The awards campaign for "Bobby" is not unlike previous campaigns Weinstein mounted when he ran Miramax Films. The steady stream of commercials and newspaper ads is designed to keep "Bobby" in the game.

Although some critics may not have been won over by the film, audiences stood and applauded at film festivals in Toronto; Venice, Italy; and Deauville, France.

"The film speaks for itself -- it doesn't need any other comment," said Edward Bass, one of the film's producers.

"Harvey approaches the value of nominations and awards differently than major studios do," said veteran entertainment attorney David Colden. "I think he sees value in the nominations alone -- not merely in wins. I think he views it as increasing the value of his pictures, vis-a-vis the ancillary market, the nontheatrical market. I'm not sure the major studios have that same mind-set."

In the world of Oscar campaigning, publicity is as important as industry screenings and full-page ads for a film. And with its star-studded cast, "Bobby" can count on the paparazzi to turn out in force whenever those actors turn out for an event.

Cameras were flashing Tuesday evening when Sheen and wife Janet hosted a packed cocktail party at Drago in Santa Monica for their son, Estevez, celebrating his film's Golden Globe and SAG nominations.

The Sheen family has many friends in Hollywood. Along with stars of "Bobby," the party drew industry veterans such as actors Martin Landau, Lou Gossett Jr., Lainie Kazan and Beau Bridges, along with director Arthur Hiller and producers Mike Medavoy and Mace Neufeld. (Weinstein could not attend, a spokeswoman said).

The following day, the media were invited to Paramount Pictures, where "Bobby" had a screening for members of the Dodgers, including club owners Frank and Jamie McCourt, and Ann Meyers Drysdale, the widow of the late pitching great Don Drysdale. The reason? The film includes footage in which Kennedy salutes Drysdale, who'd scored a big victory on the evening Kennedy was celebrating winning the California Democratic presidential nomination.

"I want to first express my high regard to Don Drysdale, who pitched his sixth straight shutout tonight, and I hope that we have as good fortune in our campaign," Kennedy told the crowd at the Ambassador Hotel shortly before he left the podium and was mortally wounded by assassin Sirhan Sirhan.

Some of the film's most potent scenes are of Kennedy speaking and then making his way into the pantry of the hotel where he would meet his fate.

For older academy voters, who still vividly remember Kennedy and that turbulent period in American politics, "Bobby" may strike a chord that isn't felt by younger people. That could help the movie's chances, since many Oscar voters are over 50.

But even in Hollywood, where the Kennedy mystique and liberal-leaning politics remain strong, "Bobby" is a dark horse.

" 'Bobby' always seemed like a longshot," said Brandon Gray, president of online box office tracking site Box Office Mojo. "Maybe the [SAG and Golden Globe] nominations can be attributed to the campaign of the people behind the movie ... but whether the campaign will merit an actual Academy Award nomination for the picture remains to be seen."

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