LOS ANGELES — On Twitter, Jesse James has never been one to mince words. He tweets with all the bad-boy attitude and mucho macho swagger you’d expect from a celebrity chopper mechanic and star of such reality TV shows as “Jesse James Is a Dead Man” and “Monster Garage.”
But lately, James’ tweets have served a different agenda: chronicling the vagaries of Hollywood’s awards season. The heavily tattooed and frequently scowling outlaw biker happens to be lead actress nominee Sandra Bullock’s husband. And when he hasn’t been holding her purse on some event’s red carpet, James has been tweeting about the experience.
“So proud & lucky today. ... .Loving Life. ...,” James tweeted on Jan. 18, a day after the missus won a Golden Globe and gave him a gushy shout-out from the stage.
“WoW! I’m wearing a suit for the 2nd time in One Week. I think it’s a new record,” James wrote a few hours before Bullock would claim her lead actress trophy at the Screen Actors Guild Awards on Jan. 23. A little later that day, James gave a tart appraisal of Tinseltown on his way to the ceremony: “How come the whole city of Hollywood smells like (urine)?”
Hollywood has been fairly obsessed in recent months by the Twitter Effect: the social phenomenon that seemingly holds movies’ box-office performance in its thrall. Viewers send out snap judgments to their Internet constituencies, rendering critical verdicts with far-reaching impact, oftentimes just minutes after leaving the theater. And such 140-character reviews have been proved to variously inflame or extinguish films’ prospects in disproportionate measure to their haiku-size appearance on iPhones.
But at an awards season moment when this social networking platform du jour has become a crucial tool in “word of mouth” marketing and almost everyone with a strong opinion and access to broadband has a Twitter account, this Information Age predicament begs the question: Has the Twitter Effect exerted any noticeable impact on this year’s Oscars?
In an era when even 64-year-old Helen Mirren is known to tweet, people in the Oscar spotlight are using their ambient online presences to communicate with more immediacy, greater candor and without the filter of publicists than ever would have been imaginable before the Information Age enabled mass communication via people’s smart phones. That said, the nominees in marquee categories have yet to blatantly use Twitter to lobby Oscar voters or virally goose their chances of winning an Academy Award.
Almost everyone in the 2010 Oscars class has taken the time to set up a Twitter account, even if few of them reliably tweet. Some, like supporting actress nominees Maggie Gyllenhaal and Penelope Cruz, may be inveterate twitterers, for all the public knows. But they have “protected feeds” that are off-limits to everyone except pre-screened followers — academy voters included (and Cruz closed down her account earlier this month).
Others, including adapted screenplay nominee Neill Blomkamp (@neillblomkamp), supporting actress nominee Mo’Nique (@PhatGirlMonique), lead actor nominee George Clooney (@clooneyg) and even co-host Steve Martin (@iam stevemartin) have gone to the trouble to create Twitter profiles for themselves. But none of them has composed a single tweet.
Contrast that with Oscars co-executive producer Adam Shankman, an inveterate Twitterer who has become noteworthy in the last couple of months for keeping his followers abreast of the minutiae of his gym-going habits (while closely guarding the surprises he promises are in store for the ceremony’s broadcast). “Gym and work,” he tweeted on Feb. 9. “Up & on the way 2 gym,” “On my way to gym,” “Finishing up at gym” and “Up at 3, gym” are similarly typical of his updates.
Meanwhile, Gabourey Sidibe, up for a lead actress Oscar for her turn in “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire,” has used her Twitter presence to create consciousness about her debut movie role.
“I play a teen who is enrolling in an alternative high school,” Sidibe tweeted Nov. 2 in one of the earliest postings on her account. “My character is repeatedly raped and has been impregnated twice by her father.”
But according to one publicist, who declined to be identified for fear of running afoul of his tweet-happy clients, celebs run the risk of alienating fans by putting too much of themselves online. On the TweetDeck, he points out, discretion is the better part of valor. “You’ve got to warn the rogue tweeters,” the publicist said. “You have to remind them: ‘There are maybe 500,000 people reading your every word. You cannot assume everyone will understand your sense of humor. Irony isn’t always obvious.’ It’s when they forget Twitter is a marketing device and they’re not just talking to friends that there are problems.”
Last week, signs of outrage began appearing on Walter Kirn’s Twitter feed, leaving little doubt about the author’s sense of entitlement but also his hard feelings toward Hollywood.
With six Academy Award nominations in several marquee categories, the drama based on his novel “Up in the Air” is considered an Oscar front-runner. But Kirn felt snubbed at not having been given what he considered his due: a ticket to the March 7 awards ceremony.
After lobbying the film’s distributor, Paramount Pictures, and unsuccessfully trying to land a press pass to the event, Kirn on Feb. 17 tweeted: “(C)aution to writers: don’t expect that because you write a novel that becomes an Oscar-nominated film that you’ll be invited to the Oscars.” A day later, he amplified that viewpoint with another Twitter update: “Novelists are like oil in H’wood: they drill us, pipeline us, pump us and then burn us.”
Apparently, his tactics worked. On Friday, Paramount procured him a seat, prompting Kirn to tweet, “Thanks to Paramount Pictures for coming through with Oscar tickets and proving true to its word, which I shouldn’t have doubted.” (He subsequently deleted that entry.)
For his part, Jason Reitman, nominated for director and adapted screenplay for “Up in the Air,” has done more than any other marquee nominee to lay bare the vagaries of the long awards season slog toward the Oscars. A habitual Twitterer (@jasonreitman), he has chronicled its sublime (“I’m so proud to be amongst these storytellers ... Thank you for this great honor,”) as well as the ridiculous (“I need to stop playing XBOX and iron my tuxedo shirt”).
“I hope all of you get to feel what it’s like to open one of these one day ...” Reitman posted on Feb. 8, including a Twitpic of his invitation to the Oscars nominee luncheon.
Still, not every celebrity gets the Twitter Effect.
“What is follow friday? Should I be following more people?” lead actress nominee Mirren tweeted in April. “I don’t think i’ve really grasped Twitter etiquette yet. Sorry all.”