New Academy rules could be used to shut down dozens of Oscar parties this season, but they probably won’t.
However, some of the most lavish party hosts — the New York-based Peggy Siegel in particular — might have to learn to be a little more frugal in the coming months.
Those are the lessons to be learned from a new campaign regulation passed by the Academy’s Board of Governors last week, according to several campaigners and Oscar members who discussed it with TheWrap on the condition of anonymity.
“Academy members,” the rule reads, “may not be invited to or attend any non-screening event, party or dinner that is reasonably perceived to unduly influence members or undermine the integrity of the vote.”
According to an AMPAS release, members who violate that rule will be subject to a one-year suspension for the first offense and expulsion for a second violation.
But unlike many Oscar campaign regulations, the rule is vague: Who, after all, defines reasonable perception? Who decides whether a luncheon or dinner will unduly influence voters?
An Academy spokesperson declined to comment on how the determination will be made, but the organization encourages publicists and campaigners to clear events with them ahead of time. The organizers of a lunch scheduled for next Monday on behalf of the documentary “O.J.: Made in America” did so, and was told that it was acceptable under the new rules.
The vagueness is deliberate, suggested several of the campaigners — who added that most of the luncheons with talent that are a mainstay of Oscar season will still be allowed under the rules.
“They are just trying to stop ‘over the top’ events,” one said.
“It’s not a massive crackdown,” another added. “It would only have been limited to a handful of events last year.”
And most of those events were likely held in New York, Siegel’s home turf. In fact, Siegel was a topic of conversation at a meeting at which Academy staffers and members first discussed new regulations with publicists — particularly the February New York Times profile of the Oscar-party queen, who it referred to as “Hollywood’s secret weapon in New York, particularly during the breathless sprint known as Oscar campaign season.”
While Siegal is known for luring A-list crowds to her lunches, and bringing in knowledgeable celebrities to add flair and offer expertise that fits with the subject of the movie she’s promoting, her events often take place at pricey Upper East Side establishments; the Times mentioned a particular lunch for “The Revenant” at Kappo Masa, which the paper described as a “celestially expensive” Japanese restaurant.
(“Revenant” star Leonardo DiCaprio won the Best Actor Oscar, of course — and in a subsequent “Oscar diary” on the Huffington Post, Siegal described how she taught him a special “vote-getting handshake” that involves grasping the person’s hand and elbow simultaneously.)
Siegel did not respond to TheWrap’s request for comment, though a West Coast-based publicist came to her defense and said that Siegel is in a bind because Academy members in New York are accustomed to going to more expensive places than their counterparts in Los Angeles.
According to a member in attendance, the initial meeting of the campaign regulations committee also flagged one major studio’s lunches at Wolfgang Puck’s Beverly Hills steakhouse, Cut, and another’s lavish soiree featuring lobster and caviar at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills.
Most of the Oscar-season campaign events are not nearly as pricey, and many lunches are tied to morning screenings, in an attempt to get Academy members to leave the house and see the films on a big screen. The Academy is supportive of that endeavor, said a veteran campaigner, who will occasionally send AMPAS a guest list and a menu in advance of a soiree.
For the immediate future, that will probably be the chief result of the new rule: More publicists will clear their parties ahead of time before sending out invitations to Academy members.
“The Academy is just trying to do away with gross, excessive hospitality, and I think people recognize what that is,” said one person aware of the reasoning behind the new rule. “The idea is to try it this way for a year and see how it goes.”
And despite the threat of suspension or expulsion, AMPAS is expected to focus its punishment on the campaigners who throw the parties (many of whom are Academy members), not the voters who attend them.