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With four films in awards contention, Fox Searchlight has a plan

The Contenders

Fox Searchlight's Steve Gilula and Nancy Utley discuss strategies for 'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,' 'Beasts of the Southern Wild,' 'The Sessions' and 'Hitchcock.'

November 29, 2012|By Ben Fritz, Los Angeles Times

It's not unusual for a specialty film label to juggle multiple contenders going into awards season. But it's pretty rare to be pushing the majority of your releases in a single year.

That's the situation Fox Searchlight is in as four of its seven 2012 releases are considered serious players for top Oscar, Golden Globe and guild nominations: "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," "Beasts of the Southern Wild," "The Sessions" and "Hitchcock."

It's quicker to count this year's Fox Searchlight movies that won't be getting "for your consideration" ads ("Sound of My Voice," "Lola Versus" and "Ruby Sparks").

The quartet of contenders is a mix of comedy and pathos, cutting-edge filmmaking and straight-down-the-middle academy fare. But all four are being promoted for best picture, director and acting categories, among others.

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Fox Searchlight Co-Presidents Steve Gilula and Nancy Utley have been to this dance many times before. As heads of the label since 2009 and chief operating officers prior to that, they've been behind best picture nominees such as "Slumdog Millionaire," "Juno," "The Descendants" and "Black Swan."

The pair spoke with The Envelope about the movies they're pushing and the strategy they're pursuing this year.

You decided pretty late in the year to open "Hitchcock" in November rather than next year. How much did the competitive awards landscape play into that?

Gilula: We had always planned "The Sessions" in October and knew we had November and December open ... a time when in prior years we opened movies like "The Descendants," "Black Swan" and "127 Hours."

On "Hitchcock," you've got an older audience, and this is a time of year when people are expecting movies for them. We felt given the nature of the film and how well it plays and the profile of the cast [lead actors Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren] that even though the fall is crowded and competitive, it could stand out in this crowd. We get the benefit of great holiday playtime and a potential boost from nominations, which was not a primary concern but a secondary one.

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"Beasts of the Southern Wild" is a very unusual, almost experimental film. But if you look at past winners "The Artist" or "The King's Speech," the academy has been pretty conservative recently.

Utley: A lot of things about "Beasts" fall into the "if" category: If it could get word of mouth; if audiences like it outside festivals; if the actors and filmmakers turn out to be effective spokespeople; and if it achieves a level of box office [the film grossed $11.2 million], then maybe it gets the passion vote.

In the academy, you're looking for first-place votes. The passion level that certain people have for "Beasts" leads us to hope that they will vote their heart.

Gilula: There has also been periodically the so-called indie slot. The most notable was "Winter's Bone."

Your other perhaps slightly unusual contender is "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel." Might that movie be too light for the academy?

Utley: I think it's a classic academy film. It's moving, it's about something real in people's lives, it's international, and it was crafted at the highest possible level in terms of directing and acting and technical aspects.

How will the awards affect your theatrical strategy for "The Sessions" and "Hitchcock" in the next few months?

Gilula: "The Sessions" is already in 500-plus theaters. We wanted to get it out ahead of the logjam at Christmas. "Sideways" also opened in October and went to national release around Thanksgiving. If we get awards recognition, then we can make a decision whether to go back out wide.

With "Hitchcock" starting at the end of November, it's more similar to "Juno" and "Black Swan" or what the Weinstein Co. did with "The Artist" and "The King's Speech." We'll platform into Christmas and then be well positioned. We think we'll do well through the holidays and then if the gods smile on us, we'll have opportunities to do a wide release in January.

ben.fritz@latimes.com

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