Acad screener redeemed ‘Shawshank’

Darabont believes ban would have negative effect

(Academy Award-nominated writer, producer and director Frank Darabont makes a case for lifting the studios’ ban on Academy screeners.)

Based on my own experience as writer and director of “The Shawshank Redemption,” I feel very strongly that the MPAA decision to ban the mailing of screeners to Academy voters will have a drastically negative effect on the nomination chances of certain films — not just indie productions, but studio films like “Shawshank” that did not catch fire at the box office and were not widely viewed upon initial release.

Ms. Dunkley’s article states that the number of Oscar nominations directly attributable to a screener is “unknowable,” but I must refute that — in the case of “The Shawshank Redemption,” the number is seven, including best picture. Though my film is well regarded these days, nobody went to see it when it first came out, nor were the Academy screenings attended, nor were we riding a wave of critical heat. In short, we had no buzz going for us at all. I have known for years and can say with absolute certainty that what saved us were the Academy screeners people received in the mail, without which my film would have plummeted into oblivion and never been heard from again.

I understand the industry’s concern over the piracy issue (we all share the concern and the burden), but I urge the MPAA and the studios to reconsider a bad decision. In an industry of busy professionals and killer schedules, nobody has the time to attend the hundreds of movies released every year, no matter how committed we may be to trying. If we eliminate the practice of mailing Academy screeners — in effect limiting the field to those films which put butts in seats or get championed by a handful of critics — worthy films will be overlooked and the credibility of the Oscars as a recognition of artistic merit will be substantially diminished, making it more the “popularity contest” its detractors have long claimed it to be.

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