It must be pretty good right now to be Edward Norton. For starters, he appeared in two Best Picture nominees from last year (The Grand Budapest Hotel and winner Birdman). He also is fresh off of a Best Supporting Actor nomination for the latter, which is his third overall. Despite all of this, the actor recently made remarks about The Academy that were a little harsh as well as constructive. What he wants is a change to the rules. He doesn't want the awards to be "monetized" as he puts it. So, what exactly is his plan? It's a pretty good one that involves shutting out advertising.
While at the Locarno Film Festival, Norton gave an interview with Indiewire regarding many things, including his career and future plans. As things turn towards the recent success of Birdman, he begins to dive into the campaign process. He mentions that "It's a relief when all that ends" and states the process isn't that pleasant, comparing it to the Mexican myth of a snake eating its own tail. As he discusses the story of his rigorous campaigning, he finally gets to the heart of his point: The Academy should change their rules.
The first major quote described the process at hand in which there's a feeling that awards are bought or, at very least, not a private event:
"So the National Board of Review, which used to be a tiny dinner at Tavern on the Green, has become an event at Cipriani's Midtown where they're selling I don't even know how many tables. Maybe a thousand. And getting a broadcast deal from some cable channel. All the guild awards used to be private. Now they're also sponsored, televised on Bravo or NBC. They're making money. Everything has turned into a monetization opportunity. As a result, it's now not even the same little cluster of work being competitively congratulated — it's all being done publicly."
He goes on to explain that as a result, films are immediately impacted by their need to compete for spots. Because tables are bought and campaigns can get pricey, he believes that it has a negative impact on the award. In fact, he cites Birdman as a primary source of potential scrutiny. He claims that paying for promotion comes out of their budget and therefore makes it harder to gain a profit, thus making Oscar-worthy movies potentially harder to make.
So, what is his plan? It is quite simple and involves cutting out the middle man:
"The Academy, which is a private organization, could save the industry by saying, 'It's our award and we can do whatever we want.' They could say that any film putting out paid solicitation ads of any kind — all these for your consideration ads that cost millions and millions of dollars, which just solicit awards — they could say that any film using them is disqualified from the Academy Awards. It would end it overnight."
It is a bold theory that he believes may be able to work. As sad as it is to say, there's a lot of ways to be swayed by voting and campaigns. I run a seasonal column all about Failed Oscar Campaigns that reflect how various forces dominate or sabotage their opponents. It isn't something new, even going back to the 60's with The Alamo. There isn't a lot to mention other than in an ideal world, Norton's words would seem more optimistic. He isn't the first to speak out against the Oscars' campaigning (see: Joaquin Phoenix), but he may be one of the few to provide constructive criticism.
In a good world, this would be the case. Smaller films are usually overlooked because they cannot compete with the likes of Harvey Weinstein and major campaign players. It becomes an infuriating show sometimes that gets too political, even recently with Selma controversially not being nominated because "screeners weren't given out in time." As awards season kicks off very soon, it is interesting to hear a plea for change, even if I personally don't believe it will amount to change. I want to believe that Norton has enough influence to make it a reality, but people like Weinstein won't allow it. He wants to make campaigning into a shameless art form.