On the Spot: Oscars’ Boone Isaacs

NEW YORK A Springfield, Mass., native, Cheryl Boone Isaacs majored in political science at Whittier College in California, but soon decided that the career path of her older brother, the late Ashley Boone Jr., former co-president of 20th Century Fox, might be more fun.

Now in her fourth year as chair of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ public relations committee, Boone Isaacs, who is in her 50s, is responsible for all marketing related to the Oscars’ telecast.

She began her career at Columbia Pictures and has worked on promoting films such as Porky’s, Forrest Gump and Braveheart.

How does the Academy decide on an ad agency for the Oscars?

Many boutiques and ad agencies submit material to the academy unsolicited. We look at [submissions] and start whittling down, looking for something fresh that you can really build a campaign on. What stood out for a number of us was the look of an outdoor [campaign] from TBWA\Chiat\Day [in Playa del Rey, Calif.]. You look at it and go, “Now that’s a campaign.” It engages the audience with, “What’s your favorite quote?”

What’s your favorite movie line?

At the moment, from Ray: “It’s going to be what it’s going to be, baby.” Another one is from Mommy Dearest: “I’m not mad at you, I’m mad at the dirt.”

When you work with an ad agency, how do you measure whether the experience was successful?

The viewership. But it’s much more complicated than that. The publicity campaign for something like the Oscars is huge. Our goal is to get folks to tune in at 5 o’clock [PST] for the lead-in and again at 8. Those are the key components of our campaign.

Once the nominees are announced, do you have to tailor your marketing plan?

Once the nominees come out we include them in different ways, especially for the on-air promos. But you need to set a campaign prior to that.

In the four years that you’ve overseen marketing for the Oscars, what has been your proudest achievement?

Being able to put together a comprehensive marketing campaign [like the one] this year based on the famous quotes.

What does Ellen DeGeneres bring to the telecast as hostess this year?

She’s fresh, original. Her audience is pretty broad. She brings a real personal touch.

Is it important to you whether the Oscar ads are as talked about as the Super Bowl’s?

We haven’t really exploited the idea of the ads. In one way, that’s already taken with the Super Bowl. We are unique to our audience. I’m not necessarily a fan of trying to copy others.

Why do some advertisers prefer the Oscars over other event shows?

I suspect it’s to reach females. Both males and females watch the Oscars and the Super Bowl, but our show skews female.

The Grammys ran a contest where the winner sang with Justin Timberlake. Are the Oscars doing anything like that?

Not with regard to the show, but [there is the chance to] win bleacher seats on the red carpet.

Do you think studios are doing a good job these days marketing their films?

I always look at marketing as that opening weekend. After that, it’s a combination of marketing and the film itself. They’re doing a good job of getting people to the theater and having that experience, but then there’s the word of mouth and the buzz, which is really about the film itself.

From a marketing perspective, what’s the most nerve-wracking part of the Oscars telecast?

I don’t want anybody to trip.

Do you market films like Porky’s differently than you do ones like Forrest Gump or Braveheart?

Well Porky’s, which I still feel is one of the funniest movies ever made, was a coming-of-age sexual romp. The bottom line is that that movie delivered. It was going to take off. You just knew it. The campaign was all about what we couldn’t show you. That’s enticing, especially for a young, hip, sexually charged audience. On Love at First Bite, [seeing] George Hamilton pale was the hook. Pale for him, anyway. Jump forward to Braveheart. When I was on the set and Mel [Gibson] showed me and my boss a compilation of a couple of scenes, my original thought was, “Oh my goodness, if this whole movie is like this, we should do an Oscar run.” [As for] Forrest Gump, I will never forget reading it and saying to my husband, “This is going to be huge.”

What’s the last ad that made you think, “I wish I had done that?”

The ad in the Super Bowl with Oprah Winfrey and David Letterman. Talk about touching somebody. I thought it was a great idea. And with a lot of great ideas the question is, “Can you get it done?” They got it done. That was a scream.

What’s the smartest business decision you’ve ever made?

Going to Paramount Pictures in 1984. Before that I was at The Ladd Company, which was a small independent company that I liked working at. I was a junior person but got involved in every aspect of the marketing. When I went to Paramount, I was in charge of West Coast marketing. I took a cut in pay, but I learned an incredible amount by working in that one area.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out in your business?

Be quiet and learn. Absorb it. Be a sponge. Look for people who will challenge you to think more, to do more. I’ve found that [working with] those types of people help me to get out of bed in the morning.

You studied political diplomacy and political science. Is that applicable to the movie industry?

Absolutely. It’s about politics and diplomacy in the entertainment business. Instead of countries there are studios and production companies. Like politics, there’s a lot of juggling in terms of different voices. Different elements come into a decision being made.

Name one person with whom you’re dying to work.

Clint Eastwood. He’s a brilliant filmmaker. I love the material that he has been involved with. He was a fun actor from Rawhide all the way straight through.

Give me three words to describe yourself.

I feel very Joe Biden about now [laughs]. Let’s see. I’m articulate and clean. What were the other words? [Laughs] I would say passionate, opinionated and gregarious.

What’s your biggest fear?

Not being able to learn from a mistake and move on—being stuck in a negative space. Life is a roller coaster. Some things work. Some things don’t. That’s just the way it goes.

What’s your favorite move?

Godfather II. Maybe it’s tied with The Godfather. The story, the visual, the characters. All of the major elements: direction, editing, cinematography, acting, production design, it all comes together in both movies and gives you a perfect sense of time and place. You feel like you’re watching reality.

What’s the last thing you did for fun?

Dance in my kitchen. A song comes on, I get into it and I’m twirling.