Get in on the power, the glory, and the money—start your own awards event.
By Andy Marken
“This is very generational. One author cannot be held solely responsible. I think art has to be messy and free. It has to be a bit dangerous to be fun.” —Aksel, The Worst Person in the World, Oslo Pictures, 2021
If you’re tired of the grind, the uncertainty, the ups/downs of the entertainment industry, and you’re toying with the idea of bailing on what you loosely call your career, don’t abandon the industry entirely… just shift your focus. The time might be right to start your own awards event… you know, a popularity contest.
Sure, there are a lot of them: Oscars, Emmys, Lions, Clios, BAFTAs, Golden Globes, Junos, Grammys, Tonys, SAG Awards, Razzies, VMA, MTV awards, Critics Choice, Golden Bear, TIFF awards, Golden Lion, Sundance Awards, AMA Awards, Nolly Awards, Tribeca Artist Awards, Golden Peacock, and… well, you get the idea. At the same time, there is an overabundance of content—movies/shows, so much money thrown at the award events, and too much behind-the-scenes/on-stage drama to set the winners and event apart from all the rest.
So, maybe this is your opportunity!
Granted, the entertainment industry awards calendar is crammed, but someone has to be first, just as in 1929. Like good/great movies/series today, there’s always room for one more, and one more award. When Louis B. Mayer came up with the AMPAS (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) awards, now known as the Oscars, he did it with a devious reason in mind. He’s been credited with saying, “I found that the best way to handle [filmmakers] was to hang medals all over them…. If I got them cups and awards, they’d kill to produce what I wanted. That’s why the Academy Award was created.”
That may have been a little selfish and crass, but that’s the foundation of the entertainment industry’s awards business. Mayer and AMPAS knew it, which is why they gave Charlie Chaplin an Academy Honorary Award. Industry folks didn’t like him much—lots of them feared his power/arrogance—but he had juice. He produced, directed, acted in, controlled his projects, and was immensely popular with people who bought theater tickets. A special award solved the problem.
Producers, directors, actors, cinematographers, production, and post-production folks all like to be recognized for their talent and mastery of the entertainment craft. Sure, some people are simply happy with an obscene paycheck for their work. For others, it’s the fact that men, women, and kids see their stuff in theaters or stream the project. It gives artists/craftspeople personal satisfaction.
But there’s still that need for a few moments when all eyes are on you.
Sally Field wrapped it all up neatly in 1984 when she received an Oscar for her role in Places in the Heart, and people reported that she said, “You like me. You really like me.” Not exactly verbatim, but you get the idea.
It really means something special to get one of Mayer’s “cups and awards.” It’s affirmation that the individual’s hard work/dedication was appreciated by peers and others. And since folks are creating/producing more and more content, it’s only logical that the entertainment events industry is just going to continue to grow despite the crowded field.
An industry observer recently wrote, “Oscars are bad for movies. Tonys are bad for plays. Grammys are bad for music.” He may be right, but entertainment festivals, fairs, events, awards, etc., are things that keep the M&E industry “profitable.”
We all know there’s room for one more trophy, plaque, or statue on the shelf, so why not one given out by your new event?
As they said in the 1976 docudrama All the President’s Men, “Follow the money.”
We know you want your new event to be on the same level as The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences’ Emmys and AMPAS’s Oscars, but start slowly and modestly. Expand one step at a time, focusing on where the big boys make their money and on a quality, manageable crowd. Remember, the first Academy Awards event only had 270 people in attendance, and award events have only grown since then. They’re a vital part of the entertainment financial ecosystem.
Speaking of finances, a key member of your event management team will be a finance person, preferably one from a major studio. These people are wizards at showing how a project that came in under budget and racked up record sales at every stage of the distribution chain still showed a huge loss. The books may bleed red ink, but you can still live the lifestyle you deserve.
A few event start-ups found that without a really creative CFO, they faced a stack of lawsuits.
That’s also why you need the most aggressive lawyer(s) you can afford. You may not want to invite your lawyer over for dinner, but the way people sue at the drop of a pen, when you need them, you’ll be glad they’re on your side.
When it comes to judges, you don’t want the snobbish film critics, hobbyists, or old—mostly male, mostly white—professionals who know more than you want to know about the industry. You have to avoid them because they live in a bubble. It’s tough for them to relate to an industry/world that is constantly changing.
Start with a manageable group of judges who know awards are important and that winners really need to be as all-inclusive as possible. Then, as your event success grows, get brave and invite a wider spectrum of ordinary, average viewers who like video stories simply because they resonate with them. Don’t worry, they’ll explain their votes in the subtle nuances of the industry because they want “experts” to know they know.
If you want your entertainment awards event to gain status quickly, consider giving awards to people “everyone” knows are mean, rotten, and vile, but who control what gets made, when it gets made, and who gets to work on the project. As the world turns, you can always take it back and say the individual was underserving, really shouldn’t have been a part of the industry, and distance your event from them… quickly.
So, when do you slot your award event? With everyone having made a movie or show in the past two years and a pipeline that just keeps getting bigger, the best answer is anytime because the race for things gold and shiny is now a year-round activity.
Just pick a date well ahead of the big sporting events—Emmys, Oscars, etc. That makes your awards event inviting because it gives the big films/shows—those with the huge marketing budgets—a chance to test out their award campaigns and see which ones work and which ones simply fall flat.
In addition, they like to start accumulating trophies as early as possible, so they build momentum when it comes down to the final leg of the film festival/award circuit. Oh, and studio management like to promote their gold/silver early so folks will make their way to the theater and sign up for the service to see what all the noise is about.
Obviously, studio management and critics know ordinary folks don’t understand the creative nuances enough to enjoy shows/films themselves, so awards and reviews help them understand why the project was so special, different, and outstanding.
Yes, that also includes you, if it isn’t your content.
Before you roll out the red carpet, do your audience a favor as the TV Academy did this year—and hopefully others will follow suit—and “suggest” nominees to submit a short (350 characters) thank-you message they could read off the teleprompter if/when they won. Grandma, grandpa, mom/dad, the person who gave you the job, your publicist, hairstylist, driver, bodyguard, cook, maid, and folks who helped you along the way are important to you, but for the ROW (rest of the world)? Who knows, who cares! The folks in the audience are just waiting to see if they get their moment to hold their statue and thank everyone.
Besides, someone’s name is always forgotten, and they’re devastated!
Oh, and don’t worry if you don’t land a contract to put your event on TV. Award-event TV viewing audiences have declined steadily over the past five to six years—much like theater attendance—but unless you have some planned/unplanned activity during the show, it will be tough to talk a network into giving you a time slot they can’t sell ads around.
A lot of folks attribute the fall off to the fact that the shows are boring and long, but actually, there are just too many of them, and social media put the Gen Zers so close to the creatives they follow, there’s no mystery or surprises left. Oh, sure, they might miss an OMG moment, as happened at last year’s Oscars, but they also know there were enough smartphones around that hundreds of different versions of the excitement will be posted on YouTube and TikTok, so they don’t miss a thing.
If it wasn’t trending on WhatsApp, Instagam, YouTube, WeChat, TikTok, Twitter, Pinterest, Reddit services, it probably wasn’t important.
Of course, social media is being put to work for every award event, and you’ll have to master it, as well, to keep your entertainment content contest-worthy of earning one of the statues.
We know it sounds tough, like work even, but the festival/trophy business is competitive, so keep working to enhance and build your brand for the folks who want another award for their bookcase. All you have to do is focus on how great your content contest is going to be, instead of focusing on coming up short. Just remember what Aksel said in The Worst Person in the World, “I wasted so much time worrying about what could go wrong. But what did go wrong was never the things I worried about.”
It takes time and lots of work to make festivals/award events visible and important. Julie was right when she observed in The Worst Person in the World, “If men had periods, that’s all we’d hear about.”
If that doesn’t sound like fun, just remember… awards matter to the folks who get them.