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Studios surprised by latest Oscar plot twist, not ready to open their wallets

June 24, 2009 |  1:59 pm

Update (3:40 PM): “Just because they’ve doubled the number of nominations, that doesn’t mean that as a marketing department we should figure out a way to double the amount of money we spend in hopes of getting one,” said Jeff Blake, chairman of worldwide marketing and distribution at Sony Pictures.

In fact, Blake said his studio does not plan to increase the amount it spends on "for your consideration" ads to garner Academy Awards for its films.

“The trend of Oscar spending has been going down for all the right reasons," he observed, "which is knowing the merit of the film is really number one, not the amount of money you spend to market it."

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UpPixarStudio executives said they were caught off guard by today's announcement by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences that it will double the number of best picture nominees this year from five to 10 and are still absorbing what kind of effect it could have on Oscar ad campaigns.

“We were completely surprised, and I can tell you that no one here pressured the academy to do this,” said Jasmine Madatian, senior vice president of publicity at the Walt Disney Studios. Other publicity executives expressed similar sentiments.

With regards to how the new format will change how dollars are spent, Madatian, who oversees award campaigns, said, “They’ve basically broadened the landscape, so if you’re a studio in the business of campaigning for awards, you can’t ignore this kind of change.”

The expanded best picture category would undoubtedly benefit the cartoons made by Disney and its Pixar Animation Studios. Its 1991 release “Beauty and the Beast” was the only animated film ever to be nominated for best picture.

In an effort to give cartoons more exposure, the academy created a separate category for a best animated feature award starting with its 2001 ceremony. Pixar's "Finding Nemo," "The Incredibles," "Ratatouille" and "Wall-E" have all won the prize since then, as well as Studio Gibli's "Spirited Away," which was released by Disney.

Last year,  Disney pushed “Wall-E” for both a best picture and best animated feature nomination, but got only the animated nomination.

After today's news, it has a much better shot at landing nominations in both categories for Pixar's "Up" and Disney Animation Studio's upcoming "The Princess and the Frog." Disney will also likely make a best picture push for director Robert Zemeckis' adaptation of "A Christmas Carol."

— Claudia Eller

In Wednesday's Times, find out more about the decision, its impact on the film business and the reaction of stars like Samuel L. Jackson and Jon Favreau; the financial reasons behind the move; the new calculus for potential best picture nominees; and read commentary from film critic Kenneth Turan and columnist Patrick Goldstein.

Photo: "Up." Credit: Disney/Pixar

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