Saturday, March 1, 2014

Making the Cut: Giving It a
Good Run With No Money
Adam Bakri in the Oscar-nominated Palestinian Film "Omar'

M.J. Peckos is an anomaly in the movie business. While she’s smart, effective, and has distinguished herself over a substantial career, she’s gone about this by being kind, thoughtful, and soft-spoken. Her roots as one of the leading marketers of indie and foreign language films go back to the old United Artists Classics, the first studio in the modern era to set up a specialty films division. Since then she has contributed to the success of many difficult-to-market films. These include "Antonia’s Line," "Bread and Tulips," "Dirty Dancing," and John Huston’s "The Dead." She now often works in partnership with another indie mainstay, Steven Raphael. Last year their film, Canada’s “War Witch,” was one of the five nominees in the Best Foreign Language category. This year they scored again with “Omar” from Palestine. We asked Peckos a few questions about Oscar campaigning and the state of the foreign language film market in the U.S.
What’s the greatest challenge when you undertake an Oscar campaign for a foreign film?

Every year there are more and more countries submitting films, diminishing any film’s chance of making the cut for the shortlist. From 76 movies to 9 this year is a bit daunting. And, of course, we always have a problem getting enough money for advertising, public relations, and screenings. You need a couple hundred thousand to be competitive. It’s not much by studio standards, but not every producer or country has that kind of money. Fortunately, there are always exceptions. Many fine films get noticed even though their advertising budgets have been very small. 

Anything else?

Yes! Cutting through clutter, getting the press and Academy members to pay attention to smaller films. So much gets thrown at Academy members – screenings, Q&As, DVDs, scores, screenplays. It’s tough at this time of year. There’s a lot for them, and us, to navigate.

Academy members often have been accused of not participating in this category. How many voters are there for foreign films?

I don’t know how many members view the foreign films. I’m just grateful for the ones who do. This year it should be more because the Academy is sending DVDs of the five nominated films to all of their members.

How are foreign films in general faring in the U.S.?

I’m passionate about films. I’ve always loved foreign films in particular. But the number of people like me who support indie and foreign films is dying out. People are distracted with other things. That goes for movies in general. Studios are facing the splintering of the marketplace, too. It’s a pity.

Please complete this sentence: Hollywood is a place where… should never mistake motion for action.

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