Taback is an Oscar publicist. From midsummer until Oscar voting ends in January, the six people who work in her L.A. office coordinate the awards campaigns of films big and small. (This year, Taback is charged with "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," starring Brad Pitt.) Nearly every movie with dreams of Oscar has a publicist -- or several publicists -- making its case not to audiences, but to the 6,000-plus members of the Academy, as well as various guilds, and anybody else who hands out prizes in the Hollywood awards firmament. Sure, every movie studio has publicists, but these independent awards publicists are specifically brought in to turn celluloid into gold.
So what do Oscar publicists do, exactly? Everything from coordinating dozens of screenings for Academy members to calling an individual reporter to gripe that a piece was too kind to a competitor. Awards publicists arrange appearances by actors and directors; they throw cocktail parties; they mail out DVD screeners by the thousands and follow up to make sure their film reaches the top of the pile. They lobby Oscar bloggers; they place interviews and "For Your Consideration" ads.
It comes down to this, says Cynthia Swartz, a partner at Manhattan-based awards publicity firm 42West: "You're not gonna make 'em like a movie they won't otherwise like," she says, "but you have to make sure [voters] see your movie."
* * *
Behind a sleek lobby, 42West's offices in a high-rise next to Madame Tussauds are cramped and overcrowded, with employees jammed into a busy, loud maze of cubicles, promoting films such as the high-toned "Revolutionary Road" with Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio and the gritty Italian Mafia drama "Gomorra."
Publicists' campaigns to get awards for their clients are not new, of course. The dean of Hollywood press agents, Warren Cowan, liked to brag before his death in May that he'd birthed the Oscar campaign in 1946 when he pitched the Los Angeles Times on Joan Crawford's Oscar hopes for "Mildred Pierce."