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1999: For Your Consideration

Jacqueline Stewart 0:00

[traffic sounds] If you've ever driven through Los Angeles during award season, you've seen the phrase "For your consideration" towering in huge letters on Sunset Boulevard billboards. Do we know the origins of the term, "For your consideration?"

Randy Haberkamp 0:23

Supposedly, there were some ads in the uh, I think around 1947-48, that RKO used that terminology for the first time.

Jacqueline Stewart 0:34

This is my colleague, Randy Haberkamp, Senior Vice President of Preservation and Foundation Programs at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Randy Haberkamp 0:44

And everybody saw that and said, you know, that's a very polite way of saying vote for me. [laughing] Just, just consider me. Don't, you know, I'm not saying you got to do this. I'm just saying consider this. Yeah. And it's stuck.

Jacqueline Stewart 1:02

Today, it's the norm for movie studios to spend millions of dollars on campaigns for award shows, especially the Oscars. "For your consideration" billboards, magazine ads, radio spots, highly orchestrated screenings. And while campaigning has always been a part of Oscars history in some form or another, the game changed in 1999.

Scott Feinberg 1:24

[Nicolas Britell music plays] So it was just a, an all-out assault, or military operation, you could say, where they really, uh, they just understood how to play the game better than anyone had ever done it before.

Jacqueline Stewart 1:42

I'm Jacqueline Stewart. Welcome to the Academy Museum Podcast. This is our first season, "And the Oscar Goes to..." In every episode, we'll revisit a specific Oscar ceremony. In this episode, "For Your Consideration," we'll be taking a look at the Oscar ceremony of 1999.

In 1999, Saving Private Ryan seemed poised to win Best Picture.

Scott Feinberg 2:15

Well, I think it goes back to the summer of '98 when Saving Private Ryan really just was the talk of the world.

Jacqueline Stewart 2:24

This is Scott Feinberg, veteran awards columnist for The Hollywood Reporter.

Scott Feinberg 2:28

This was the kind of tribute to the greatest generation. You have the the most commercially successful filmmaker of all time, Steven Spielberg, and at certainly at that point, the biggest movie star you could you could have, coming off of Philadelphia, Forrest Gump, Apollo 13, Tom Hanks, um, making this very violent, very moving, very real tribute to American heroes from World War II, with an opening sequence that was unlike anything anyone had seen before. [sound bite from Saving Private Ryan]

Think about 20 minutes of gruesome but super-realistic uh, depiction of what it must have been like. And when people came out of that there was sort of a sense even though it was the middle of the year, that how can anything come along that could possibly compete with that?

Jacqueline Stewart 3:34

A strong indicator that Saving Private Ryan was the favorite to win Best Picture was that the ceremony producers chose Harrison Ford to present the award. Ford was a close friend and colleague of Steven Spielberg. They'd worked together on the Indiana Jones movies. So, on March 21, 1999, Harrison Ford got on stage at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, with an envelope in his hand.

Harrison Ford 3:59

[Academy Awards sound bite] [applause] And so on the end as it was in the beginning... There are five nominated films for Best Picture... And the Oscar goes to - Shakespeare in Love. [wild cheering and applause] ...David Parfitt, Donna Gigliotti, Harvey Weinstein, Edward Zwick, and Mark Norman, producing.

Academy Awards Announcer 4:02

[Academy Awards sound bite] [applause] This is the first Oscar for David Parfitt, Donna Gigliotti, Harvey Weinstein and Edward Zwick. And the second for Mark Norman, who also won tonight for original screenplay.

Donna Gigliotti 4:36

[Academy Awards sound bite] Wow, this is just fantastic! Thank you to the members of the Academy.

Scott Feinberg 4:41

There were gasps in the room. Uh, a lot of shock.

Jacqueline Stewart 4:47

How'd it feel to hear your name called, for an Academy Award for Best Picture?

Donna Gigliotti 4:53

It was, I, I, to this day, I always say this. I don't know Harrison Ford, but I am always grateful to him. Because I have a - complicated last name. And so there was a sense of relief quite honestly. That oh my gosh, at least Harrison Ford has said my name correctly!

Jacqueline Stewart 5:14

This is Donna Gigliotti, one of the award winning producers of Shakespeare in Love.

Donna Gigliotti 5:20

And there's there's no two ways around it. It is, it's incredibly exciting. And everything else that, every horrible thing that has gone on before this... You you you you - haven't made your days, or you've gone over budget, or whatever it is, it all drops away in that one, you forget everything in that one moment. And you just think, wow, this is a lot of fun.

Jacqueline Stewart 5:43

Tell us about that night. What do you remember about arriving, about, you know, the red carpet experience as you're first producing credit for a film that is nominated for many awards, including Best Picture.

Um, I remember uh, my brother was my date. And that uh, I - I had had an unfortunate incident at the Golden Globes, where, again, the film had won in the Best Musical or Comedy. It was me at the table with people I didn't know. Those people happen to have been Sean Connery and Michael Caine. But I didn't have anybody - like I didn' have a date sittin' next to me. So I got up when we won. Of course, I would leave my handbag on the table. I wasn't bringing it up on this stage.

Right.

Donna Gigliotti 5:56

We won. We went backstage, we did press, I came back, everybody had left the ballroom, and my handbag was gone. And [Jacqueline Stewart laughing] I still say that James Bond, James Bond, let somebody pinch my purse! So, [laughing] what I said to my brother was, um okay, I don't think we're gonna win, because everybody believed that um Saving Private Ryan was gonna win. But if this does in fact happen, I think here's the process, I got to go backstage, please - take - my - handbag. And you know, it's funny because those are big, big moments for for people when, when you win, but for me, it was incredibly um -my my recollections are very personal, and it's that I told him to please take my handbag. And when we emerged uh out of the press room, eh, behind in the bowels of the Dorothy Chandler, there was my younger handsome brother standing there, clutching my bag [Jacqueline Stewart laughing] in his hand!

Jacqueline Stewart 7:47

Shakespeare in Love was a critically acclaimed romantic period piece dramedy, starring Gwyneth Paltrow, and Joseph Fiennes. The movie was definitely well liked. It was the kind of movie that Oscar voters in particular could get excited about.

Donna Gigliotti 8:01

I think that the film is, in a lot of ways, a love letter to actors. And I think that the campaigning and the marketing was incredibly clever, because, you know, and I know, the largest branch of Academy voters are actors... Buh, I mean, seriously, ya almost shoulda known that we would win. So, the marketing of it to voting members of the Academy was, I think, very, very clever.

Jacqueline Stewart 8:37

But many would say it wasn't just the charm of the movie that led to its win. That year, the company that produced Shakespeare in Love, Miramax, led by Harvey Weinstein, waged an awards campaign like none ever seen before.

Scott Feinberg 8:52

Miramax was the first to set up private screenings over holiday breaks for Academy members in Aspen and, you know, uh all sorts of places where many Academy members vacationed. You got the First Lady of the United States to come to your premiere, uh which Hillary Clinton did.

Jacqueline Stewart 9:12

Miramax spent an estimated $5 million on the campaign for Shakespeare in Love.

Scott Feinberg 9:17

Miramax, by the way, was the first place to have an in-house publicist who was specifically devoted to awards campaigning.

Donna Gigliotti 9:24

I remember the publicist at Miramax saying to me um, you know a lot of people in, you know a lot of Academy voters, and I thought, maybe I do maybe I don't. I, like, I don't have a list. And I actually said, "I don't have a list. I don't know." Lo and behold, they pushed a list across the conference table at me and said, "Oh here, why don't you just highlight everybody that you know." So blithely, I went along and I highlighted all the people that I knew, I knew well, I knew tangentially. I pushed it back across the table and then I left. Two weeks later they phoned up and they said, "Hi, can you come in? And um, we want to talk to you about the um, about the premiere of the movie in New York and LA." I said, "Sure, sure, sure." In those days, [laughing] it's hard to believe, but there really was, nobody was using email at that point. You still had an invitation. It had a stamp on it. It came in the mail to your house or your office. And it said, please come to the premiere of this film. Okay, fine. I arrived, and they said, "Okay, here are" - and they push probably 300 um, invitations across the table. And then they pushed the list of people that I had highlighted. And they said, "Now, you should write personal notes to all 300 people that you highlighted that you know, who are Academy voters." Now your job was just taken. And I - [laughing] that was sort of my reaction because I thought, you want me to sit in this room and write 300 personal notes. So I sat there and because my mother raised me well, I couldn't write the same thing over and over again. So it would be: Dear Bill, How are the kids? Did Jane go to USC or UCLA? I hope you'll come to the movie. Lots of love, Donna. The LA screening. There were so many people that were so kind afterwards to say, "Thank you for inviting me. I so loved the movie. I, I enjoyed it. I'm gonna vote for it." And honestly, all that involved frankly, was writer's cramp that I would write those notes.

Jacqueline Stewart 11:57

It would be impossible to reflect upon the pressures Miramax was applying, and the power that its co-founder, Harvey Weinstein, was trying to gain in the industry, without mentioning his greatest abuses of power. In 2020, Weinstein was sentenced to 23 years in prison on charges of rape and sexual abuse after a high profile trial. His behavior was an open secret in Hollywood for years. Allegations date back to 1993, and he was expelled from the Academy in 2017. Weinstein was the enforcer of a lot of the techniques Miramax was utilizing to get awards buzz for the movie. It was really the aggressiveness and amount of resources put into the campaigning that made what Miramax was doing feel new.

Scott Feinberg 12:44

But you know, the techniques that they applied, they had existed in one form or another for - the entire history of the Academy.

Jacqueline Stewart 12:52

In 1930, Mary Pickford held a catered lunch at her home to campaign for best actress in her first sound film, Coquette. In 1935, Louis B. Mayer took out an eight page ad for the MGM film, Ah, Wilderness.

Scott Feinberg 13:09

So, in the earliest days, you know, the studios own their own theaters, and they could do things on their lots and whatever, that was pretty basic. Then, the next step in the process, I think, was with Marty, which won the Best Picture Oscar in 1956. It's a comparable example to a Shakespeare in Love because this was a very, this was the first time actually in history that more was spent on an Oscar campaign than on the making of the film itself.

Jacqueline Stewart 13:36

Marty stars Ernest Borgnine as a butcher, and the advertising team leaned into that. Borgnine did a promotional event at a butcher shop, where models held signs that said, I love Marty. They ran catered, in-home screenings of the film on 16 millimeter for Academy members. The team for Marty placed an ad in the trade papers every week, with the same illustration of a man in a phone booth. This image was on the poster for Marty and quickly became synonymous with the film.

Scott Feinberg 14:07

You would just know that that meant Marty and and it was, you know, that kind of omnipresence I think, was something that was replicated by Miramax and others in in the ensuing years. But also what Marty did was they figured out that you have to sometimes make it as easy as possible for Academy members to - watch something.

Jacqueline Stewart 14:31

Borrowing from successful strategies from the past and investing heavily into the awards campaign worked for Miramax. So let's talk about the reaction to the win of Shakespeare in Love. What was the immediate reaction that you recognize um, across the industry and among critics and among audiences?

Scott Feinberg 14:50

First, let's state the obvious. A lot of people obviously liked Shakespeare in Love. It doesn't win without plenty of people voting for it. Now, were they influenced in different ways? Sure. In the room, though, people were, you know uh, taken aback. It was certainly one of the biggest upsets in Oscar history. I mean, on that same night, Steven Spielberg won Best Director, so he didn't have a bad night. But there are, there is a famous photograph of him and Harrison Ford at the DreamWorks after party looking like somebody died.

Jacqueline Stewart 15:30

DreamWorks, the studio that produced Saving Private Ryan, had changed their own campaigning tactics prior to the Awards, spending more and more to try to keep up with Miramax.

Scott Feinberg 15:40

Even the the chief campaigners on the Saving Private Ryan side would tell you, they did not anticipate and had to figure out how they wanted to respond to it. And did do a lot more than they'd ever done before. And so, basically what happened for the next three years is DreamWorks was the one who went all out, not that Miramax didn't also, but DreamWorks figured out that they were going to play this differently in the future as well, and had a hand in the next three Best Picture Oscar winners. You had American Beauty, Gladiator and A Beautiful Mind. So, they obviously learned something from this too.

Jacqueline Stewart 16:25

The heavy campaigning was also very much a reaction to the changing distribution model of Hollywood films.

Scott Feinberg 16:32

The thing that I think, you know, led to that being such a cutthroat era, the 90s, the Weinstein era, all of that, was that it was the middle of the VHS into the DVD boom, when you could put on your DVD or VHS, you know, "10 Oscar Nominations", or "Seven Oscar Wins" or whatever. It was demonstrably helpful in sales. And so uh, you know, that was a newfound stream of revenue for the smaller companies in particular that, that incentivize their, you know, participation in Oscar campaigns, maybe more than they ever had - been engaged before.

Jacqueline Stewart 17:19

It became more and more commonplace for studios to hire teams of publicists and consultants, specifically for awards campaigning, especially as the folks who ran campaigns at Miramax moved on.

Scott Feinberg 17:31

The other thing that happened is, all of the people who were at the center of the Shakespeare in Love Oscar campaign for Miramax have since - kind of fanned out across town and now run the awards campaigns for all the different places that are in the game. So all of the things that were happening that season have had reverberations for now, over two decades since.

Donna Gigliotti 17:56

I think that idea of crafting a message about what a - what a film's about - crafting it for voters has probably- has probably been now absorbed into the multimillion dollar Oscar machine complex. I don't think it's possible to buy an Oscar. I think it's possible to look at the numbers and try and figure out what the message of your movie is. And market to voting members. But what I'm pretty sure of is there's really only one way to win an Oscar. One - super secret - get people to see your movie.

Jacqueline Stewart 18:51

And one tried and true way of getting people to see your movie is asking film stars to hit the campaign trail and promote it. It seems like it's a big ask for talent during that period. Um, the kinds of situations you're describing that it's a huge time commitment for talent. What have you observed about that?

Scott Feinberg 19:11

I think you're absolutely right. And in fact, you know, that season Gwyneth Paltrow's representation apparently pushed back quite a bit on Harvey Weinstein for asking her and leaning on her to do as much as she did, because, first of all, she's also trying to capitalize on her own, you know, association with the movie by doing other things in her career, but literally had to take a timeout on that as many people do. And it certainly was to her own benefit too. She won a Best Actress Oscar by being so omnipresent in the campaign.

Jacqueline Stewart 19:46

Do you feel that campaigning has uh, you know, an important role that it should be playing in the film industry?

Donna Gigliotti 19:53

No, I think it's, I think it's absolutely out of control. And I wish no one would campaign.

Jacqueline Stewart 19:59

The night Shakespeare in Love won for Best Picture, Gwyneth Paltrow won for Best Actress in a Leading Role, and Judi Dench won for Best Actress in a Supporting Role.

Donna Gigliotti 20:08

I don't think he'll mind my saying this, but Joe Fiennes did not, he didn't want to participate and he doesn't have an Oscar. You can see where it works, because Judi Dench for her 12 minutes of film does in fact have an Oscar on her show.

Jacqueline Stewart 20:24

Campaigning involves an immense amount of time and money. And Miramax's win in 1999, essentially made it a requirement to compete. So what's really required of an actor to campaign these days? And what happens if you don't participate? When we return, a conversation with Mo' Nique, whose refusal to campaign for her Oscar, she says, cost her. [E. Scott Kelly music plays]

You have said that you were blackballed.

Mo'Nique 20:51

Yes.

Jacqueline Stewart 20:51

Because you would not participate in campaigning. Could you tell us what that means?

Mo'Nique 20:55

Opportunities- go away.

Jacqueline Stewart 20:59

That's coming up on "And the Oscar Goes to..." [E. Scott Kelly music plays]

In 2009, ten years after Shakespeare in Love's win, Mo'Nique was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Precious as abusive mother, Mary Lee Johnston. By this point in time, campaigning aggressively for awards was the norm in Hollywood. Her refusal to go above and beyond to promote the film led to a 13 year long feud with Director Lee Daniels, a rift that wasn't closed until Daniels publicly apologized in April 2022. Mo'Nique sat down with me to discuss why she famously refused to participate in many aspects of campaigning.

Good morning!

Mo'Nique 21:56

Good mornin' sis...

Jacqueline Stewart 21:57

It is so lovely to meet you. I cannot tell you - it's an honor. Thank you for taking the time.

Mo'Nique 22:04

Thank you. Thank you for havin' me.

Jacqueline Stewart 22:06

Yes! Help us understand what happens when you're nominated. Because we want to talk about this process of campaigning. And what happens once you find out you're nominated. What are the things that you're hearing? What are the kinds of expectations that people have, of an actor, during this nomination season?

Mo'Nique 22:27

You know, Jacqueline. It - y'all get ready to laugh because some of the things they was sayin', I was like, listen, baby, y'all take me off the list, because they were like, you know, you may want to cook breakfast for the, you know, for the committee and, you know, you want to just make them, schmooze with them, and you want them to get, you want them to like you. It's like, hold up, listen, wait, hold up. The performance is on the screen. Y'all, are making this now personal. I don't need to have a personal relationship with any of these people, nor do they need to have one with me. They're judging the performance. So the things that they were, I think that we've been accustomed to doing, because now you've been nominated, and now you must campaign, because you want to win this award. At that time, when all that was going on, I had babies. I was still a newlywed. I was doing a talk show. I was on a comedy tour. So I had to prioritize my - life. See, I had a older son, that - I wasn't there all the time, because I was doing it the way everybody told me to do it. And now that son being 31 years old, we still have a strain in that relationship because of all the time lost. So people never understood the deepness of the position I was taking. They just looked at me said, you a fat black woman, you should just be glad you comin' to the party. And you not willing to go out here and ask these people to please like you and please vote for you.

Jacqueline Stewart 24:04

Now it is normal to campaign, which means that, you know, that's that's what everyone is doing. And and it sounds like you are pointing to the ways in which campaigning for you, as a black woman, is different than it would be for a white actress, for a male actor. I mean, do you feel as though there are there are just certain things about it... Almost, it sounds like you're saying that there's ways that it - reinforces certain kinds of stereotypes about - people pleasing, about servitude, that you - are really resisting.

Mo'Nique 24:37

One of the gossip columnists, a brother named John Mary. He said I don't know why Mo'Nique wouldn't campaign because Will Smith said, you know, once you do a movie, you go out and you promote n' you do whatever it takes. Well, Will Smith gets 20 million dollars. Okay? Let's put it in perspective. I got $50,000. I never complained about the money I got because I signed up for it, but when you're asking me to do all this extra, no one's paying for hair and makeup, no one's paying for wardrobe. No one's paying for nothing. That all comes out of your pocket.

Jacqueline Stewart 25:11

And despite not campaigning on Oscars night, as she entered the Kodak Theatre, she knew she still had a chance. Robin Williams was slated to present the award for Best Supporting Actress.

Mo'Nique 25:23

Before they called my name, this beautiful man named Robin Williams-- Okay? As I'm going to my seat, he says, I wonder why I'm here - a comedian and as a comedian that's being nominated? Hmm! Then he looks at me and says, I see you in a little while.

Jacqueline Stewart 25:50

Huuhh!

Mo'Nique 25:50

I said yes, sir. So, you know, um -- that moment- was beautiful. It was because it was against all odds.

Robin Williams 26:03

[Academy Awards sound bite] Here are the nominees for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role. [applause] Mo'Nique in Precious, based on the novel Push by Sapphire. [music and applause] And the winner is - Mo'Nique [wild applause] in Precious, based on the novel Push by Sapphire! [music and applause]

Academy Awards Announcer 26:04

[Academy Awards sound bite] This is the first Academy Award and nomination for Mo'Nique!

Mo'Nique 26:36

[Academy Awards sound bite] First, I would like to thank the Academy, for showing that it can be about the performance and not the politics. [cheers and applause] I want to thank Miss... [duck under]

Jacqueline Stewart 26:50

Tell us what it was like for you when your name is called, you get up there, and you've proven - you have proven that the campaigning was not necessary.

Mo'Nique 26:58

The Academy did prove - it's not about the politics. It is about the performance. That's what the Academy was saying when they called my name.

[Academy Awards sound bite] ...precious family. Thank you so much! To my amazing husband, Sydney, thank you for showin' me that sometimes you have to forego doing what's popular in order to do what's right. And baby, [scattered applause] you were so right. [rising applause] God bless us all!

I didn't care if nobody voted for me. I didn't care if they took me off the list. This is when I knew, we won. We were at Sundance in Utah. Okay. We just got finished watching the film. I'm standing out in the lobby. One of our Asian brothers come up to me, and he's crying. And he said, Mo'Nique, you made me see myself. I didn't need an award. That was the award, that was that was this man sayin', oh my God! I need to go make something right. I need to go try to fix something. So, that was the award for me and I don't think people understood what that really meant for me. Awards baby, they grow dust, and they sit on a shelf. But that man's life is forever changed. So an award can't touch that for me. [E. Scott Kelly music plays]

Jacqueline Stewart 28:43

The unwritten rules Miramax developed in 1999 are now the scaffolding for a successful Oscars campaign, and they've become critical for getting eyes on a film, especially when there are so many movies vying for voters attention. Campaigning for an Oscar involves a lot of labor and time and connections and resources. Miramax's aggressive tactics in 1999 put increased pressure on future contenders. And they trained a generation of Oscar campaigners who now have their own teams and run their own expensive and highly orchestrated campaigns. But when all is said and done...

Scott Feinberg 29:19

There's this idea that people can be bought. That's nonsense. I think you can buy your way into the game, into the conversation, which is the, you know, the billboards and the FYC ads, and the appearances, and the screenings, and the Q and A's, and the lunches, and the dinners, and all of that. But, at the end of the day, somebody's sitting in the privacy of their own home filling out a ballot. They do what they want to do. They don't, they're not, they don't have to be accountable to anyone else.

Jacqueline Stewart 29:44

An Academy Award can mean a lot for a film studio, or for film artists working in front of and behind the camera. A win can dramatically escalate a movie career. But as we've heard, the prestige of an Oscar win doesn't translate into more jobs or more lucrative work for everyone.

Donna Gigliotti 30:00

Yes, maybe you become slightly more high profile. But - I'm here to say that the Oscar did nothing for me! I mean [laughing] it's like, I still had to go out, find the next project, find the the financing to put it together. Very little changed as I, I say it often. The only thing that changed was my obituary will read differently. It will say: Oscar winner Donna Gigliotti dies at age, whatever. [laughing] Please God, let it be, you know, 93.

Jacqueline Stewart 30:35

And for many filmmakers, the more meaningful campaign is the opportunity to do your best work and to share it with your peers.

Mo'Nique 30:43

And I hope uh to the Academy, for the things I said, I hope if there ever comes time for another nomination, you'll call my name again! [laughing] Love y'all!

Jacqueline Stewart 30:51

[Nicolas Britell music plays] The Academy Museum podcast is written and hosted by me, Jacqueline Stewart. This episode was produced by Victoria Alejandro. The Academy Museum podcast team includes Antonia Cereijido, Kimberly Stevens and Monica Bushman. The show was a production of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in collaboration with LAist Studios. A special shout out to our team member Taylor Coffman. We are happier back home, and welcome, baby July. Mixing and original music by E. Scott Kelly. Our theme music was composed by Nicholas Britell. Antonia Cereijido and Leo G are the executive producers for LAist Studios. Our Academy Museum website, academymuseum.org, is designed by Fantasy and developed by Impossible Bureau. Our LAist website, laist.com/podcast, is designed by Andy Cheatwood, and the digital and marketing teams at LAist Studios. The Academy Museum marketing team created our branding. Thanks to the team at the Academy Museum, including Shawn Anderson, Peter Castro, Stephanie Sykes and Matt Youngner, and to our Academy colleagues, Randy Haberkamp and Claire Lockhart. Thanks also to the team at LAist Studios, including Sabir Brara, Kristen Hayford, Kristen Muller, Andy Orozco, Michael Cosentino and Leo G. Academy Museum digital engagement platforms, including this podcast are sponsored by Bloomberg Philanthropies. Support for this podcast is made possible by Gordon and Dona Crawford, who believe that quality journalism makes Los Angeles a better place to live. This program is made possible in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people.