FOLLOWING THE OSCAR RACE… ON TWITTER!

10 Nov

zooey

By Scott Feinberg (@scottfeinberg)

Twitter first launched in March 2006, but it was only over the past year that the free micro-blogging service became a full-blown cultural phenomenon. The first time most Americans heard of it was in April, when the celebrity Ashton Kutcher (@aplusk) challenged the cable news network CNN (@cnnbrk) to a race to one million Followers — and won. By the time news broke of Michael Jackson‘s sudden death in June, so many people were Tweeting their reactions that the site actually crashed. In the months since, millions of others have also turned to Tweets of 140 or fewer characters as a way to share their thoughts and feelings with the world — including a surprisingly high number of key players in this year’s Oscar race.

Here are some interesting factoids that I have turned up:

  • The best picture hopeful with the biggest presence on Twitter is “Precious,” which is represented by no fewer than seven of its principals: executive producers Tyler Perry (@tylerperry) and Oprah Winfrey (@oprah); producer/director Lee Daniels (@leedanielsent); supporting actor Lenny Kravitz (@lennykravitz); supporting actresses Mariah Carey (@mariahcarey) and Sherri Shepherd (@sherrieshepherd); and singer Mary J. Blige (@maryjblige).
  • In second place is “Up in the Air” with six — producer/writer/director Jason Reitman (@jasonreitman); producer Daniel Dubiecki (@danieldubiecki); supporting actresses Vera Farmiga (@verafarmiga), Anna Kendrick (@annakendrick47, who describes herself in her Twitter bio as “Pale, awkward and very very small. Form an orderly queue, gents.”), and Melanie Lynskey (@melanielynskey); and cinematographer Eric Steelberg (@ericsteelberg). Don’t expect actor George Clooney to join them — he recently said that he would “rather have a rectal examination on live TV by a fellow with cold hands” than use a social-networking site like Twitter.
  • “500 Days of Summer” best actress hopeful Zooey Deschanel (@therealzooeyd) has posted only one Tweet — to promote another Oscar contender! On August 17, she wrote: “I hemmed. I hawed. I joined twitter. Alas. Reason? I saw ‘The Cove’ this weekend and it blew my mind. Everyone should see this movie. -zd”
  • The most surprising absence from Twitter: best director hopeful James Cameron (“Avatar”), who is known for his use of cutting-edge technology of a sort much more complex than Twitter.
  • Not surprisingly, most awards-hopefuls on Twitter are young and up-and-coming, not older and firmly-established veterans. While “Invictus” best director hopeful Clint Eastwood and best actor hopeful Morgan Freeman don’t use Twitter (I’d pay to read their Tweets if they were… or, better yet, to hear them read their own!), you might be surprised to learn that best “Star Trek” supporting actor hopeful Leonard Nimoy ((@leonardnimoy) does. Why, you ask? Well, to quote his first Tweet from January 17: “I wonder what wisdom might be discovered here.
  • The youngest Oscar contender on Twitter is “The Lovely Bones” best actress hopeful Saoirse Ronan (@saoirse_ronan), 15, whose Tweets have covered all sorts of territory. Her first, on March 28: “drinking a glass of coke and watching Lord of the Rings…. in Bulgarian!!!” On June 23: “On the movie I just finished, we tried to recreate this youtube magic…. But it just wasn’t as good xo” On July 31: “How crazy am I staying up until 2am?? I’m gonna be wild when I’m 18 :) xo” On August 19: “It’s so nice to hear everyone is so excited about The Lovely Bones’ release. Me too!” On August 31: “Dear Tweeters: I have, unfortunately. had to block a couple of my followers as they were offensive towards or about me,” followed a minute later by, “It’s a shame that I had to do it, considering I’m not even that famous,” followed a minute later by, “I just want to let you know, from me, that I respect EVERYONE who follows me.”
  • Some clearly signed up for Twitter only because they were told that it is an effective new way to promote their movies. “Inglourious Basterds” best director/best original screenplay hopeful Quentin Tarantino (@qjtarantino), for example, sent out his first Tweet on July 16, the week of his film’s London premiere: “Kind of new to this but I was advised to sign up.” A few seconds later, he added, “Hope everyone likes the new film. i think its the best one to date.” He posted a total of five Tweets that week… and one in all the time since.
  • Others seem to enjoy using Twitter because it offers a safe, easy, fun way to interact with the masses. For instance, the majority of Tweets from “The Damned United” best actor hopeful Michael Sheen (@michaelsheen) are “@ messages” in which he responds to questions or comments from fans. Meanwhile, Sheen’s ex-wife, “Everybody’s Fine” best supporting actress hopeful Kate Beckinsale (@realkatebeck), apparently wants to keep her Tweets private — they’re “protected,” which means that you can only view them if she approves your request to follow her, and she has only okayed 30 people, thus far.
  • Perhaps the most interesting aspect of all is the time-capsule effect of Twitter. The Tweets of “This Is It” best picture/director hopeful Kenny Ortega (@kennyortegablog) show you his thoughts on June 2 (“The rehearsals for MJ are well under way in LA. Awesome team, MJ’s rockin! London 02 July 13th.”), June 11 (“Another amazing day with MJ. He has been an inspiration from day one. His heart and imagination are in every part of THIS IS IT! Peace out!”), June 23 (“Sweet Dreams All! I’m off to slumber. I have to rest up for a very big TII week. Imagination creates reality! Peace in Iran and the world!”), June 25 (“Great day at rehearsal! Enjoying a big bowl of cereal then reading Manly a bedtime story. Sweet dreams and tweets 19 and counting to TII!”), and June 26 (“Good night to the saddest day. Please join the TII Team in prayer for Michael’s Children and Family. MJ Rocked this world like no other! <3“).
  • Adam Shankman (@adammshankman), who was recently named a co-producer of the 82nd Academy Awards show along with Bill Mechanic, is a frequent Tweeter. Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin, who were recently named co-hosts of the show, do not use Twitter at all.
  • Though the “Twilight” films are unlikely to be nominated for any Oscars, my completely unscientific conclusion is that its fans — more specifically, the fans of its stars Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart, and Taylor Lautner, none of whom Tweet themselves — are the most rabidly active, loyal, and dare I say obsessed fans on Twitter.

Twitter definitely has the power to improve a film’s commercial prospects — just ask the publicists behind the film “Paranormal Activity,” who set up computers outside of theaters following its first midnight screenings so that people could Tweet their reactions, which turned it into a “trending topic,” which piqued the curiosity of others who hadn’t yet heard of it at all and spurred $100 million in ticket sales for a film that cost $15,000 to make.

But can Twitter really do anything to boost a film’s awards prospects? My initial inclination was to say no — after all, how many Oscar voters are on Twitter at all, let alone Following the contenders? But it’s actually not as simple as that. Even if awards-hopefuls’ Tweets aren’t directly reaching voters, that doesn’t mean they’re not impacting the race in other ways.

Twitter has made the Oscar circle a lot smaller and more inter-connected. Film buffs interact with Oscar bloggers, Oscar bloggers interact with Oscar contenders, and Oscar contenders interact with film buffs more today than ever before. This keeps the contenders on the minds of fans and bloggers, who are perhaps more inclined to write or continue to write about them as a result, and for many of the contenders nothing is more essential to their awards prospects than staying in the news.

I spoke with several high-level studio publicists for this post and they uniformly agree that, for better or worse, Twitter stands at the edge of a new frontier for awards campaigning. They tell me that having their film’s talent on Twitters offers them an increased ability to spread a message (news, dates, photos, trailers, etc.), but also a decreased ability to control it (one spontaneous, ill-judged Tweet can generate more publicity than any calculated announcement ever could — just ask Sarah Palin.)

Like it or not, Twitter appears to be here to stay, so we all better start mastering the rules of the game.

Following is a “Twitter directory” of 2009 Oscar contenders and pundits — in other words, the Twitter users every informed Oscar follower/player/publicist should be Following!

Oscar Contenders on Twitter

Oscar Pundits on Twitter

Note: Please report any errors or omissions in the ‘Comments’ section below.

Photo: Screenshot of Zooey Deschanel’s Twitter page. Credit: Twitter.com

One Response

  1. Kriegs 10. Nov, 2009 7:23 pm #

    Fascinating and thoroughly researched piece on tweeting in the movie industry. Scott, you are always venturing into uncharted territory and I applaud you for your gutsy blog.

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