Universal’s 1917 Campaign: A Momentum Building Success Story

With just over a week left for the Oscars, categories are becoming more and more set in stone. The results from the last few award shows (CCA, PGA, DGA) have somewhat solidified 1917’s spot as a clear frontrunner. 1917 will go into the Academy Awards with 10 nominations, including Best Picture. Let’s take a look at how 1917 has been successful in building momentum leading up to the Academy Awards. (Review coming soon)


Sam Mendes’ latest film won the top prizes at the Golden Globes even before its wide release. It went on to win directing at the Critic’s Choice Awards, the top prize at the PGA and the DGA. The latter was the biggest push for the film since it is viewed as being the most predictive award show for the Oscars, only misaligning with the Oscars 7 times in its 72-year history. The last miss was in 2013 when Ben Affleck was famously snubbed by the Academy for his directing for Argo.


If we assume the predictive nature of the DGAs holds true for this year too, then Sam Mendes is set to win his Academy Award on February 9th. The big question remains what happens to the Best Picture category. With the overwhelming support and love for Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite, many critics and industry professionals are wondering whether Parasite will become the first foreign language film to win the top prize of the night. On the other hand, the Academy has a reputation of being slow to adapt to changes, which is why another big portion of people don’t predict Parasite winning both the Foreign film and Best Picture awards. This leaves the path open for Sam Mendes and his 1917 to take both the directing and picture prizes. In fact, in the last decade, there have been only 4 instances where the director and picture winners did not match up. Another big critique for 1917 is that it did not get any acting nominations or other “above the line” categories. However, the case was identical for Slumdog Millionaire in 2009. Despite the lack of acting nominations, the 2009 film took home Best Picture, Best Director and 6 other below-the-line awards.


Among those below-the-line categories, cinematography seems to be the biggest and most certain lock. Even amid the (few) negative reviews of the film, no one can dare deny Roger Deakins’ achievement with the cinematography of the film. Deakins is one of the greatest working cinematographers in the industry today and has amassed a total of 15 Academy Award nominations, only winning his first Oscar last year for his work on Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2048. By the looks of how this season has turned out, he will be going home with his second Oscar in two years come February 9th.


When it comes to this 2019-2020 award show season, only the BAFTAs remain as a major award show before the Academy Awards. The British Film and Television awards will take place on February 2nd. 1917 is set to perform exceptionally well on that night. The film’s overt “British-ness” makes it a clear favorite for the 8,000 or so members of the British Academy. The BAFTA’s voting process includes two rounds of voting by members, specialist chapters and juries. A notable difference, though, is that the BAFTAs do not use the preferential ballot like the Academy Awards. The case of the preferential ballot presents a threat to 1917 due to the overwhelming love for and popularity of the South Korean Parasite. While there have been some negative articles and reviews for 1917, it is extremely hard to find one for Parasite. Critics and industry members either love or really like the film. This means that it will probably place very high on a lot of Academy members’ ballots. In very few, if any, cases will Parasite rank in the bottom half of the 9 Best Picture nominees. This would lead to yet another year of a Director and Picture split, where Sam Mendes takes Directing and Parasite is crowned the Best Picture winner.


Another point to consider in this momentum building for 1917 is the Oscar voting period. While voting began today (January 30th), members have until February 4th to fill in and submit their ballots. The BAFTAs take place on February 2nd. The results of the British awards can give Academy members a final push in whichever direction. Since the British awards have historically favored British films, 1917 is likely to win the big prizes and gain the final momentum it needs to solidify itself as the leader.


When it comes to awards strategy, 1917 did a pretty good job. From its late release, to capitalizing on positive reviews, to banking on the overwhelming love for Roger Deakins and releasing the most perfect behind-the-scenes videos of the making of film, every move made from Universal was strategic and helped build the film’s momentum.


With just over a week to go, can 1917 maintain its momentum until February 4th when Oscar voting closes? We’ll just have to wait and see.


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