The Academy Awards’ allure: Fame, Best Film, and that prom-like feeling

The 90th Academy Awards, on Sunday, are shaping up to be one of the most hotly-contested Oscars in recent memory. Films like Shape of Water and Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri enter the ceremony as heavy favorites to win “Best Film,” with Get Out and Lady Bird as dark horse candidates to snag the honor.
As the hype surrounding this year’s Oscars grows, we turned to Bobette Buster, professor of the practice of digital storytelling in the College of Arts, Media and Design. Here, the Hollywood screenwriter, film producer, and consultant discusses the significance of the awards and who she thinks will win “Best Picture.”


News@Northeastern: Why do people care about the Oscars?

Bobette Buster: Americans are entranced by fame in a way other cultures aren’t because other cultures have grown up with dynasties and royalty. There’s something magical about what happened in the 20th century when motion pictures shot into the cultural space as the first industrial art form. They’re flickering images, and you are spellbound as if you’re around a campfire. But these are on the silver screen, so they have an extra technological wonder. And they affect our brains much like we’re in a dream state, so film is a dream factory. It’s something also about the room experience; being at a theater is so involving and you project your admiration up and literally look up at a screen to people who are larger than life. The idea that they’re living creatures among us, and for one day a year we get to see them in their best clothing—it’s like Cinderella going to the ball.


N@N: How does life change for Oscar nominees and winners?

BB: Once you are nominated or win an Oscar, it stays with you for the rest of your career; you make more money and achieve greater status. People view the sound categories as the “joke awards.” But the actual innovations in storytelling that have been really remarkable have come via sound. Cinema is a visual medium—so you think. But filmmakers like Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas elevated sound to a whole new level in the 70s and said “sound is 50 percent of the movie experience.” Winning an Oscar has this anointing effect, and nobody can ever take that Oscar away.


N@N: Do you have any personal stories about the Oscars?

BB: I live in Hollywood within a couple of blocks of where the Oscars take place. And everybody wants to go to the Academy Awards at least once. It’s like prom. Everyone is having a party the day of the awards, and people take it very seriously. And on the red carpet, people hand out a list with the nominees for each category and you can bet on the winners. I guess my claim to fame is that I always win—I have a sixth sense about how the minor categories will go, even if I haven’t seen the film.There’s this superstition about going to the Academy Awards if you’re not nominated. People will wait to go until they’re nominated. Also, it’s very hard to get in because you have to know somebody who knows somebody. But when I was a graduate student at USC, my marketing professor was the president of the Academy. He invited all of us in the class to be seat-fillers down front at the awards. Most of the people at the awards who sit down front are very nervous; they tend to go to the makeup rooms or to the bars along the side of the theater. They want to relax; they don’t want to sit the entire time. So, there was this whole system of sending in well-dressed people to sit in their seats until the time of their award. My class was invited to be seat-fillers, but we were all snobby and said “no.” And I’m really sorry about that, because now I look back on that and think “that would’ve been a great memory.” We were just very arrogant and thought that someday soon we would be nominated and sit down front. I will say, I’ve had many friends who have been nominated and it truly is an honor just to be nominated.


N@N: Give me your prediction: What will win the Oscar for “Best Picture”?

BB: I think it’s a crazy year for “Best Film.”There’s no film that truly stands out as a typical best film. But, for my money, the film that was most innovative and really moved things forward was Get Out. The film superseded the genre and provided a fresh point of view that opened up the understanding of racism. But typically, in years where there’s no clear-cut frontrunner, the Academy splits the awards between “Best Director” and “Best Picture.” So, I think Guillermo Del Toro will win “Best Director” for Shape of Water.