Campaigning for an Academy Award is big business. There's a heck of a lot at stake -- careers can be made or boosted with an Oscar nod; an Academy Award-winning film can go on to earn appreciably more money at the box office; future work in the industry can rise or fall on an award. No wonder, then, that the studios pull out all the stops during Oscar season, offering free screenings to members of the Academy as well as the other guilds; inundating voters with DVD screeners; paying thousands and thousands of dollars on ads in the trades, newspapers and online; and generally doing everything they can to raise awareness about their films -- within Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences rules, of course.

Which brings us to 'Buried' screenwriter Chris Sparling, who, according to a report at EW.com's Inside Movies, may have broken Academy rules by sending a letter to members of the Academy's writers branch, urging them to vote for 'Buried' for Best Original Screenplay. This is a big no-no. Apparently it's OK to spend five figures on an ad in Variety extolling your film, but you can't send members a personal note.

According to Academy rules, "Brief cover letters may accompany screeners and scripts" ... but "Mailings that extol the merits of a film, an achievement or an individual are not permitted. Mailings containing quotes from reviews about a film or achievement are not permitted, nor should they refer to other honors or awards, past or present, that have been received by either the film or those involved in the production or distribution of the film."

Here's what Sparling wrote:

Dear Screenwriter,

Here's your writing prompt.

You are to write a feature-length screenplay with only one on-screen character. This character is to remain in only one location for the entire duration of the film, and that one location must be a 2' x 7' wooden box. You cannot use flashbacks, cut-aways, or any other narrative device that would take the action outside that box.

And ...

The film based on your screenplay must be met by incredibly high critical praise. Roger Ebert must give it 3 1/2 out of 4 stars and give it two thumbs up; Variety must remark that the film is "...an ingenious exercise in sustained tension that would have made Alfred Hitchcock proud;" Jeffrey Lyons must describe the film you wrote as "Mesmerizing;" and you must be awarded Best Original Screenplay of 2010 by the National Board of Review.

Sound impossible? It's not. In fact, all this exactly describes the film BURIED.

If you have not yet seen BURIED, I respectfully ask that you at least read the screenplay before casting your Academy Award vote for Best Original Screenplay. And while BURIED might not end up being your first choice (or even second or third), please consider it for fourth or fifth. This project represents the hard work of so many people -- people who were willing to take a chance on my so called "impossible" script, and I speak for all of them when I say we would be honored to land on your ballot for Best Original Screenplay.

Is Sparling on thin ice here?

This is not the first time that Academy rules on "personal" contact have been broken. Earlier this year, as the Oscar season was winding down, 'The Hurt Locker' producer Nicolas Chartier sent e-mails to voters asking them to vote for his film. It caused quite a stir as well as anguish among the Academy hierarchy. His punishment? He was banned from attending the 2010 Oscar ceremony.

'The Hurt Locker' went on to win the Oscar for Best Picture. Hmmm ...
TAGS Buried