Emma Stone, The Help, Rooney Mara, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

DreamWorks, Columbia TriStar

Will Emma Stone campaign for The Help, or Rooney Mara for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo? I have always wondered how Oscar lobbying is done for actors.
—Aiya, Kenya, via the inbox

It's done by the actors themselves! And their fancy friends! All over the place! For weeks and weeks!

Is Stone or Pitt or George Clooney or Viola Davis or anybody you like campaigning right this very second? Here's how you know:

By following this handy guide to star beggary, that's how!

First of all, know this: There are companies out there that specialize just in getting a movie a whole bunch of Oscars. They help to spend multi-million-dollar budgets (think between $2 million and $15 million, as a rough estimate) that are set aside, again, just to get a movie some Oscars.

(Fox Searchlight reportedly has two companies gunning for Oscars on its behalf this year.)

So what do those Oscar campaign strategy firms do? Well:

Tip No. 1: If the star of an Oscar bait movie is on a red carpet, attending a big film festival such as the Palm Springs International Film Festival, or doing an interview between now and Feb. 21, and that star has no new film to promote, it's likely part of an Oscar campaign.

After all, it's rare for an A-list star to suit up and put on her war paint unless she has a new movie to promote; if there is none, she wants something. 

Is anyone ordering the star to do this? Not likely.

"I've never had a single call from Harvey (Weinstein) saying, 'You must do this' or 'you have to do that,'" Colin Firth told The Wrap during his campaigning for A Single Man. "You're obliged to do it for one of two reasons, really. One is that you got paid, and this is why they pay you. They don't pay you to do the acting, you do that because you like it... Or the other reason is that you didn't get paid, in which case it's a tiny little movie which needs you to do it. And you probably worked in a fairly intimate atmosphere, where you're very close to the people who need your support."

Tip No. 2: If the star of an Oscar bait movie is being "celebrated" by a bunch of rich people or other celebrities during the same period, it's part of a campaign.

For example, last month, Meryl Streep was feted during the telecast for the 34th Annual Kennedy Center Honors. Robert De Niro, Emily Blunt and other big names lined up to kiss the hem of her garment.

"It was an epic ode to the actress's 'superhuman' onscreen ability," Movieline noted tartly, "one that, after ten minutes of increasingly heaping praise, began to feel like one of the most elaborate Oscar campaigns to date."

To be fair, it's unlikely that the Kennedy Center was roped into some sort of grand conspiracy to earn Streep her umpteenth Oscar. But the fact that mandarins like De Niro were conveniently available for the gala? Much more telling. Someone close to Streep—her studio, her agent, her producers—could very well have helped that guest list along.

Tip No. 3: If the star of an Oscar bait movie "hosts" a screening in New York or Los Angeles, it's definitely part of an Oscar campaign.

For example, during the last Oscar season, Sony rented Wolfgang Puck's Spago restaurant to trumpet the DVD release of The Social Network, its most promising Oscar contender. Meanwhile, Warner Bros. threw a bash for Christopher Nolan and the cast of Inception at a fancy house in the Hollywood Hills. This year, the people behind The Artist hosted a big screening at the Academy itself.

Still confused? When in doubt, think of it like this:

Tip No. 4: If the star of an Oscar-bait movie hosting a party in January, and you're not invited...well, you know the drill by now.

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