OSCAR “THANK YOU” TIME FOR SALE

Still reeling from the Enron scandal, the Arthur Andersen accounting firm is losing clients, cowering under Congressional investigation and facing a criminal indictment from the Justice Department. This is a company desperately in need of some good P.R. And you know what? They’re in luck! We’re barely a week away from one of the largest televised events that arguably a billion people around the world will watch. What better place to rehabilitate a company’s image than the Oscars?
Arthur (don’t you think going by their first name would soften up their image a little?) is in even more luck because there just happens to be an Oscar-nominated film called The Accountant. Okay, so it’s a live-action short film whose award will probably only be announced somewhere between a Debbie Allen interpretive dance tribute to “A Beautiful Mind” and an apologetic ABC promo for Nightline. But an Oscar is an Oscar and more importantly, an Oscar speech is an Oscar speech. A guaranteed 30 seconds of prime time television real estate!
Now it just so happens that the director of The Accountant is a very nice fellow named Ray McKinnon who spent a lot of his friend’s and family’s money making his short film. Shorts – even Oscar-nominated shorts – don’t actually make much money, and even if he wins, Ray’s barred from selling his Oscar. His investors need some payback, and Ray needs to get some money.
This is where Ray and Arthur can help each other out. I’ve suggested to Ray that he kindly offer to sell some of his prime “thank you” time to Arthur.
Last year, ABC sold commercials for $1.4 million per 30-second spot, so that works out to $46,666.67 per second. So perhaps Ray should get up to the podium and say something to the effect of, “I’d like to thank the fine folks at Arthur Andersen for inspiring my film. When it comes to accounting, you can trust Arthur Andersen!” Speaking at a reasonable clip, Ray could spit that out in about 8 seconds and charge Arthur $373,333.36. That would more than cover Ray’s investors, do wonders for Arthur’s image, and still leave 22 seconds for Ray to thank his actual friends and family. If Ray had an agent, he’d even have time to thank him. No matter that the eponymous accountant of the film is an alcoholic who advocates murder as a tax deduction – it’s not like anyone at Arthur Andersen’s ever going to watch the film.
But why stop there? Why doesn’t Ray sell all his “thank you” time? I mean, if you’re Ray’s mom, would you rather be thanked at the Oscars or have Ray thank Ralston Purina and pay you a cut of the 47 grand worth of time it took to say “Ralston Purina”? And Ray shouldn’t limit himself just to companies – why not offer his services to any individual who’s always wanted to be thanked at the Oscars? Why not YOUR mom? Perhaps there should be an extra $10,000 for difficult to pronounce names of Finnish or Welsh origin. Middle names could fetch an extra $15,000. Special enunciation or inflection requirements: negotiable.
Of course, this is Hollywood, so placement is everything. For example, music companies charge filmmakers more if their songs are used in the opening credits compared the middle of a movie. Likewise, Ray could charge Arthur a $30,000 premium for starting with the accounting huzzahs. Now then, once you get past your first 15 seconds or so worth of thank you’s, Ray might want to consider pro-rating downwards what he charges subsequent thank you’s. The Academy might get wise to his scheme and cue the orchestra to cut him off early. To hedge that possibility, Ray should discount second-half thank you’s by $1,000 for every second past 15. So if you’re Monica Lewinsky and you wanted to continue your name rehabilitation by having Ray thank you, but couldn’t afford the full $47G’s, then you’d opt for a thank you 24 seconds into the speech for just $38,000. And if Ray gets cut off before then, Monica’s just plain out of luck. Although, as a good faith effort, Ray can always guarantee an option on prime thank you placement for his next Oscar should one occur.
Ray also has a chance to boost his earnings in the apparel department. Who are you wearing, Ray? “I’m wearing Arthur Andersen!” he might say to Joan’s quizzical look. But that nonsequitor should be worth at least another $10,000 to Arthur (discounted to $7,000 if Joan says something disparaging). Perhaps less obliquely, Ray could simply wear a “Trust Arthur!” yellow button on his lapel. Surely you don’t think all those ribbon-wearing celebs in the mid-90s were doing that for free?
If I’m watching a 32-inch TV, that means it’s actually got a surface area of about 497 square inches. So even if Ray’s bright yellow button only looks to be about 4 square inches on the TV, but it’s on there for the entire 30 seconds, then he should probably charge for it as a percentage of the cost of a full 30-second commercial: In other words, about 0.8% of the screen multiplied by $1.4 million and that’s equal to $11,200. And that’s if Ray wears the pin for the entire time up on the podium. He could always switch out promotional pins, buttons or ribbons every five seconds while he’s talking, but that would distract from his oral thank you’s, and also just look silly.
Now, Ray’s a little shy and may not want to offend the Academy by so shamelessly reselling its airtime. After all, the Olympics didn’t allow athletes to plug their sponsors so brazenly. But I’d ask Ray what percentage of the Academy’s multi-million dollar ABC licensing fee they’re giving him for providing a 5-second clip, a 1-second shot of his face, and potentially a 30-second speech as content for its program? Other than a nice gift bag and dinner for two from Wolfgang Puck, not a penny. Hey, this is the Oscars. Do you think Miramax and Dreamworks would spend millions of dollars in pre-awards advertising and bad-mouthing if it wasn’t all about the money?
But wait a minute, you’re saying. What if Ray doesn’t win? I mean, he’s up against a couple of European filmmakers and at least one New Yorker in a category that no one pays any attention to anyway. How can we expect Arthur and his fellow Ray sponsors to cough up all that money if Ray’s only got a one in five chance of getting to deliver his speech? Aha, now you’re getting somewhere! Well, I’d argue that Ray’s got better than even odds of winning: He’s one of the few Americans in the bunch, he’s been a struggling character actor in Hollywood for years (remember, the biggest percentage of Academy voters are actors), and the film’s pretty damn good (I’ve actually seen it!). But Arthur and his pals don’t have to listen to me. Instead, Ray should use Entertainment Weekly’s annual odds chart as the official standard, and pro-rate all his thank you fees accordingly. So if EW gives him 3:1 odds, then instead of $46,666.67 per second, Ray should simply divide by three and charge $15,555.56.
So let’s tally up Arthur’s bill: ^ $373,333.36 – 8 Second Thank You ^ $30,000.00 – First Placement Premium ^ $11,200.00 – Apparel Pin ^ $414,533.36 – Total ^ Now divide by 1 in 3 chance of winning: ^ $138,177.78 ^ Plus $10,000 Joan Mention ^ $148,177.78 Grand Total.
Now that doesn’t seem so unreasonable. Arthur will spend far more on that in legal fees every day for the next ten years. And hey, just tack it on to FedEx’s closing bill as an off-shore partnership expense account, and no one’s the wiser. Besides, why let Price Waterhouse get all the good accounting press on Oscar night?
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Dan Mirvish is a filmmaker and co-founder of the Slamdance Film Festival where The Accountant won an award last year. He has never been invited to the Oscars.
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Posted on March 24, 2002 in Features by
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