The Pariah of Oscar Weekend
Nicolas Chartier has been tarred and feathered in Hollywood for negative Oscar campaigning. Now his friends are coming to his support, starting Facebook pages and donning berets. Nicole LaPorte, who broke news about the attacks on Hurt Locker, reports.
Long before Nicolas Chartier was the disgraced producer of The Hurt Locker who is banned from this weekend's Academy Awards (where the film is very likely to win Best Picture), he was a janitor at Euro Disney.
This was back when the Paris native was just out of high school, dreaming of making it in Hollywood one day, and writing screenplays whenever he wasn't cleaning up after tourists. According to one of his friends, Chartier was so determined to get into the film business that he traveled to the Cannes Film Festival and slipped one of his screenplays under the doors of agents staying at the Hotel du Cap. One of them, Cassien Elwes, read it, sold it, and Chartier was on his way.
“He’s a non-producer,” said one former studio chief. “He’s not one of us. He’s a civilian… There’s always some guy who made it into the running just because he was lucky—because he said ‘yes.’”
Cut to 2010 and the story of an up-and-coming Hollywood player (one associate calls him "the next Harvey Weinstein") has turned out to be much less of a fairytale. On Tuesday, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences banned 35-year-old Chartier from attending the Oscars after he sent out emails urging Oscar voters to pick Hurt Locker over a "$500m film" (i.e., Avatar). When news of the emails (a violation of Academy rules) surfaced last week, Chartier quickly became Hollywood's oddest man out—a shamed target of attacks from the town's clubby insiders, the press, and fellow filmmakers.
The Daily Beast's Complete Oscar Coverage
• Nicole LaPorte: How Hurt Locker Lost Oscar Buzz ( Hurt Locker screenwriter Mark Boal told The Daily Beast that "Everyone understands that Nic bears the responsibility for his mistake 100 percent on his own shoulders." Boal also described Chartier as a difficult personality who was banned from the film's set.)
Aside from a brief email statement apologizing for his "inappropriate" actions, Chartier—a sales agent turned producer, who remains a mystery man in Hollywood—has been mum, declining to respond to phone calls or emails. One friend says he's been so distressed and anxious about the debacle that at a recent lunch, the six-foot-plus Frenchman didn't touch his plate.
"He's having a hard time with this," this person said. "It's eating at him."
But while Chartier is licking his wounds, others are rushing to his defense. Over the past few days a swell of support has been growing among Chartier's friends, colleagues, and countrymen, who feel that he is being unfairly demonized and punished for doing something that was, admittedly, foolish, but that, they feel, is ultimately no more egregious than what everyone else in Hollywood does this time of year: shamelessly campaign for votes.
"My sense of this is that he made a very naïve mistake, it's that simple," said one publicist who has worked with Chartier. "He did what the vast majority of people do, only he made the mistake of doing it on paper, not over the phone, or at a cocktail party or dinner. He made a really simple, newbie mistake, and he did it in an email."
Sebastien Lahaie, an investment banker friend of Chartier's from when they were both twentysomething expatriates in Los Angeles, is even more dumbfounded by how the controversy has blown up. (He discovered this when the news made the front page of the Yahoo! France Web site.)
"I'm surprised by the hypocrisy of the industry," Lahaie said, adding that he was in "disbelief that something that is perceived as being normal in France" is, in Hollywood, breaking the rules.
"When things like this become so public—like when Tiger Woods apologizes and apologizes and apologizes—people don't understand why he's doing that from across the Atlantic."
To support his friend, Lahaie created a Facebook page, called "Support Nicolas Chartier." (The profile picture is of an Oscar statuette.) As of Wednesday, the site had 78 members, many of them active. Producer Dan Mirvish wrote on the site's wall: "I think everyone at the Spirit Awards should wear a beret in support of Nicolas for sticking up for indie filmmaking, and saying nothing different than anyone at the Spirits will likely say in their acceptance speeches."
In a phone conversation, Mirvish said he would be donning a black beret at the Oscar party he's attending at the Egyptian Theatre this weekend.
More French emblems will be on display at the Oscar viewing party that Graham Taylor, head of William Morris Endeavor Entertainment's global division, is reportedly holding Sunday at his home on the Venice canals. In honor of Chartier—who will be there in laid-back beach garb as opposed to in his tux at the Kodak—Taylor and his wife, producer Lynette Howell, are putting up a French flag, serving French food, and playing the French national anthem.
But if Chartier's amis are being warm and supportive, the rest of the industry is keeping its distance, reiterating just how much of club Hollywood is and how cold it can be for those not admitted past the red velvet rope. As, not just a foreigner, but a foreign sales agent— Hurt Locker is Chartier's first producing credit—Chartier is looked down upon by the more elite ranks of producers and studio executives.
"He's a non-producer," said one former studio chief. "He's not one of us. He's a civilian… There's always some guy who made it into the running just because he was lucky—because he said 'yes.'" (Chartier became a producer on Hurt Locker after he put up the financing for the film.)
It's exactly this kind of distinction that has Chartier's supporters crying foul, saying that were Chartier a more high-profile figure—producer Scott Rudin, say, or Harvey Weinstein—his punishment would have been less severe.
"Typically, you lose two tickets [to the Oscars]," said the publicist. "The punishment is always really minor. This is more severe than it could have been."
Adding more fuel to the fire are the recent revelations of how ugly things got on The Hurt Locker set. During filming, Chartier confided in friends about how difficult the film was, and how he was butting heads with Bigelow and Boal. According to one friend, at one point he wanted to fire Bigelow, whom he feared was making too much of an indie film.
"Nic comes from a background of wanting to make super-commercial movies," this person said. "He loves popcorn movies… And he was afraid Hurt Locker was going to be a tough sell."
"He's a strong-willed guy," is how Lahaie put it. "When he wants something to happen, he does everything to make it happen."
It was this bullishness that clashed with Bigelow and Boal, leading to his banishment from the set.
But while his detractors paint him as a villain, his admirers say he's a driven, self-made man—when he got to L.A., he worked his way up the foreign sales ranks, eventually partnering with producer Dean Devlin ( Independence Day) to form Voltage Pictures—whose temper flares only because he cares so much.
"He's known for screaming and yelling, but only because he's passionate about what he does," says one colleague. "He gets tense and caught up in things. But he happens to be a really stellar guy."
"He worked his ass off" on Hurt Locker, this person said. "He called me from Jordan when he was having trouble closing the financing. He's a workaholic. He has no personal life. He reads scripts and watches movies."
On Sunday, the shunned Frenchman may very well win his first Oscar. He won't be on the stage to accept it, but his fans will be cheering—and tossing their berets.
Nicole LaPorte is the senior West Coast correspondent for The Daily Beast. A former film reporter for Variety, she has also written for The New Yorker, the Los Angeles Times Magazine, The New York Times, The New York Observer, and W.