We'll have to wait until the middle of next week to find out if the motion picture academy will respond publicly to the growing hubbub over a "Hurt Locker" producer's violation of Oscar campaign rules. Yesterday Nicolas Chartier issued an apology for the "extremely inappropriate" e-mail he sent to academy members urging them to campaign for "The Hurt Locker" and not vote for the "$500M film" ("Avatar," of course) to win best picture. The academy may choose to issue official penalties.
Academy PR chief Leslie Unger tells Gold Derby: "There will be no comment about action regarding the campaign violation until after the ballot due date (5 p.m. on Tuesday). At that time, we may or may not have a comment."
Today many academy leaders, including members of the producers' peer committee, are powwowing privately to discuss what the academy's response should be. There are many options, including the issue of a formal censure that publicly condemns Chartier for his behavior, but is otherwise toothless.
If an actual penalty is exacted, it will probably be a cut-back in the number of tickets allotted for "The Hurt Locker" team to attend the Oscar ceremony and/or Governors' Ball.
"Generally speaking, our recourse with regard to violations has been the loss of tickets," Unger tells Gold Derby. One example: In 2000, studio execs behind "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" got penalized four tickets for violating a rule prohibiting campaigners from sending both a DVD and VHS tape to academy members. Campaigners could send only one media format to voters, not two.
Another option would be to ban Chartier from ever becoming a member. Current members who belong to the "Hurt Locker" team could be booted from key academy positions. That is what happened to the PR rep in charge of the Oscar campaign for "Gangs of New York" in 2002 after he pulled a dubious ploy. He enlisted Oscar-winning director Robert Wise ("West Side Story," "The Sound of Music") to write a letter to local newspapers asking fellow Oscar voters to back Martin Scorsese. When it was discovered that the letter was actually written by the campaigner, not by Wise, the publicist was removed from the academy's peer committee for the PR branch.
Oscar chiefs may choose to get tough on "The Hurt Locker" team as a way of responding to widespread complaints of overly aggressive campaigning this year across the board, especially via e-mail and Facebook. The academy was particularly surprised by the new problems popping up in social networks on the Web, where nominees publicly urged friends and strangers to whip up voter support for them.
Photo: Summit Entertainment