Just last week, an email ad plugging Meryl Streep's performance in The Weinstein Company release The Iron Lady raised a number of eyebrows, as the email appeared to break the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' vote-soliciting rules. But thanks to a humongous loophole in the Academy's set of rules regarding that matter, the Meryl Streep email ad was perfectly "legal."
Two years ago, however, another Oscar vote-soliciting email got an overeager producer in trouble. That was when Nicolas Chartier, one of the four Oscar-nominated producers of the eventual Best Picture winner The Hurt Locker, was penalized by the Academy for sending out e-mails asking Academy members to vote for the Kathryn Bigelow-directed Iraq War drama instead of "a $500M film." The latter was James Cameron's blockbuster Avatar, The Hurt Locker's chief competitor for Best Picture.
Although they can be easily bypassed – as can be attested by TWC's Meryl Streep/The Iron Lady campaign – Academy rules regarding vote-soliciting campaigns became more strict following a scandal in early 2003.
That was when former Academy president and two-time Best Director winner Robert Wise (West Side Story, The Sound of Music) was credited for an opinion piece published in the Los Angeles Daily News and the Long Beach Press-Telegram. In it, Wise extolled the virtues of Martin Scorsese's period drama Gangs of New York, a Miramax release up for ten Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis).
Wise's piece was then used by Miramax, whose Harvey Weinstein now heads TWC, in its own Oscar ads for their film. The ads' headline read: "Two time Academy Award winner Robert Wise declares Scorsese deserves the Oscar for Gangs of New York."
If it weren't enough that a former Academy president was seen in print blatantly pushing for a nominee, numerous Academy members became outraged when it was revealed that Wise hadn't actually written the Op-Ed column. Miramax publicist Murray Weissman, who also served on the Academy's public relations branch executive committee, had been the actual author.
As explained by John Horn in the Los Angeles Times, Wise had initially said that his assistant Michael Thomas had helped him draft the piece. Thomas, however, denied having any involvement on the matter, while Wise's wife, Millicent, told the media "that her husband did not alter 'one word' of Weissman's text. 'It's exactly the same as what they wrote.'"
Some Academy members were so incensed that, as per Horn's article, "an undisclosed number" of them asked for their ballots to be returned so they could change their votes. (The Academy turned down their request.) Rain Man's Oscar-winning director Barry Levinson, for his part, went on record saying that the Miramax ad was an example of "extremely vulgar" vote-soliciting tactics.
According to Entertainment Weekly, "even Scorsese was unhappy, with his publicist telling the Times that he was unaware that what seemed to be an unsolicited tribute from a friend would be used as an ad on his behalf."
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Leonardo DiCaprio/Daniel Day-Lewis/Gangs of New York picture: Miramax