Cassettes in Acad picture

While the heavy rains may have let up in Los Angeles, there seems to be no end to the deluge of videocassettes being mailed this year to Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences members by studios and distributors trying to get their films nominated.

Although the practice has been around for the last few years, and has been denounced by many filmmakers who are unhappy that their work is being judged in less-than-optimum situations–in other words, on a television set–the pace has picked up considerably this year. Virtually every studio in town has sent cassettes of its movies to the estimated 5,000 voting members of the Academy.

And the major studios aren’t the only ones getting into the act: New Line and Miramax, among others, are also doing their best to appeal to those members who don’t feel like attending the Academy’s scheduled screenings.

“My house is beginning to look like a videocassette store,” stated one Academy member, who says he has received more than 30 videos during the last several weeks. “Now all I have to do is find the time to watch them.”

According to Mark Gill, Columbia’s senior VP of publicity/promotion, “The more you can do to reduce the inertia, the better.”

Among the Columbia films sent to Academy members this year are “A League of Their Own,””Mr. Saturday Night,””Single White Female,””A River Runs Through It” and “Hero.”

Gill notes that “Boyz N the Hood” was mailed to Academy members last year, and the film received nominations in the directing and writing categories. “That film is a good example of the power of mailing cassettes.”

Similarly, Orion Classics apparently benefited in 1990 from the then-new practice of sending cassettes to Academy members: its “Cyrano de Bergerac” received nominations for foreign-language film and for best actor (Gerard Depardieu).

And although most agree that mailing cassettes helps get a film wider exposure, others are convinced that watching a film on television dilutes the experience.

“It makes the film far too disposable when you can answer the phone in the middle, fall asleep on the couch or pet your cat,” says Quentin Tarantino, whose “Reservoir Dogs” has been mailed to Academy members.

“I would rather they not see it than see it on video. Academy members need to take their jobs seriously and see the movies at the movie theater. If they’re not going to be that responsible, I don’t give a damn about it anyway.”

But Gerry Rich, senior VP of marketing at Miramax, the company that sent out “Reservoir Dogs,” defends the practice.

“The independents don’t have the benefit of releasing a film with a $ 10 million or $ 15 million P&A (prints and advertising) fund, so we have to shout a little bit louder and even be more tenacious,” Rich says. “We don’t open with 90 % awareness like the big studios. We have to try harder to get people to see the movies.”

However, Rich adds, “We hold off on sending the cassettes as long as possible to encourage people to see it on a big screen. It’s intended for the big screen. That’s why we don’t send the movies out early on.”

Paul Schiff, producer of “My Cousin Vinny,” which 20th Century Fox has mailed out this year, says, “The great dilemma for the filmmakers involved is that the pictures are not seen under the most ideal circumstances. Particularly for the crafts categories … obviously cinematography, design, production design–it is a very compromising situation for them.”

“I don’t give it as much concentration at home,” admits one longtime Academy member. “There are some that I lose patience with and shut off quickly. If I was at a screening, though, I would probably watch the whole film.”

Another Academy member adds, “The only thing that I don’t like is that you don’t get to see it on the bigger screen. Also, it’s hard to read anything small or if there are subtitles.”

Overkill a factor

Others have cited the possibility that the flood of videocassettes will result in overkill and take away from the merits of the best films. One observer criticized TriStar, for example, for sending cassettes of Oscar long shots as “Wind” and “Candyman.”

“There are cassettes that are being sent out on movies that don’t have a hope , and you wonder why,” says a marketing executive from a rival studio.

Despite the complaints, however, most expect to see the practice continued.

“Unfortunately, not all members go to all screenings and I would rather make sure that members who haven’t seen the picture get a chance to see it on tape rather than miss it completely,” says producer Schiff. “The reality is that there’s a lot of product and a lot of material to look at and not all the members go to all the screenings.”

Adds Columbia’s Gill: “There’s no question. It’s always best to have somebody see it in the movie theater.”

An AMPAS spokesman said the org has not taken a stand on the issue, but adds, “We have had a number of members suggest this year that maybe we ought to.

“Many of the members find it a welcome trend because it allows them to see more movies than they might otherwise have a chance to see. Other members are very troubled by it and would feel uncomfortable voting for a category like cinematography or sound, which was based on watching the movie on video. There are all kinds of aesthetic issues.”

“The ideal situation would be to have the films seen in movie theaters,” producer Schiff said. “No matter how important video sales and rentals are to the movie industry and filmmakers, specifically, it’s still undeniably the lesser form of exhibition in terms of quality and to appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into making a feature film.”

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