'Cold Mountain' too late? Miramax eyes marketing shift after Oscar 'shutout'

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Miramax may not change its aggressive and often-copied marketing drive for the Academy Awards, but the Disney-owned studio will re-examine the strategy of releasing its Oscar hopefuls at year's end after "Cold Mountain," which made its debut Dec. 25, was shut out of several major categories.

The movie, which took in seven nominations but was locked out of the best picture, best actress and best director categories, marks the first time in a dozen years that a Miramax film won't be in contention for the top spot. Outspoken studio boss Harvey Weinstein has said the movie wasn't seen by enough of the Oscar voters and was caught in the late-year crush of award-worthy fare.

"There definitely will be an evaluation on holding pictures until the end of the year," said Miramax spokesman Paul Pflug.

The studio, which pioneered big-spending, consultant-heavy Oscar campaigns, spent several million dollars in trade ads alone to push "Cold Mountain" to Academy voters. Its tactics, from its media buys to its voter lobbying, matched those from prior years. In addition, the movie's consumer ad campaign was running at the same time as the awards-focused effort.

The late-year release has worked for Miramax in the past. Both "Chicago" and "Shakespeare in Love," which swept several major awards categories, had December debuts. But this year's Oscar season is a month shorter than it's been before, with the awards taking place Feb. 29 rather than in late March.

Industry watchers and rival studio marketers dismissed the theory of a backlash against the irascible Mr. Weinstein, although several said they think voters don't want to be told which movies they are supposed to like.


Some said the movie's lead, Nicole Kidman, an Oscar winner from last year's "The Hours," is overexposed. Still others said the nominations for pictures such as "Seabiscuit" showed that voters threw their weight behind uplifting films. (Still, many noted, Universal Pictures spent mightily on the "Seabiscuits" campaign.)

In the end, marketers said it was the product, not the timing, that sunk "Cold Mountain."

"People just didn't embrace the movie," one studio marketing president said. "Because of all the indies that were nominated, you can tell the Academy members really watched the films and voted according to their taste. They were really thoughtful this year."

Some were less kind in their assessment of the cold shoulder shown to "Cold Mountain." "There are times when the emperor has no clothes, and people buy it," said a different studio marketing chief. "Not this time."

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