A ‘Crash’ course in hype

Lionsgate to send out 130,000+ copies of Oscar hopeful

Lionsgate is staging a “Crash” blitz.

While most studios consider the mailing of 12,000-15,000 screeners to be a major push, the indie distrib is sending out north of 130,000 — including the unprecedented move of including all members of the Screen Actors Guild and the Writers Guild.

The company has pioneered several attention-grabbing marketing techniques over the years, using ingenuity in lieu of a hefty marketing budget. It is also flooding the industry with “Crash” DVDs because it can — the title is already on DVD, so piracy is not a concern.

Company is breaking precedent, but not any rules.

Studios in the past have avoided sending to the 13,000 members of the WGA and 111,000 of SAG only because of costs and fear of piracy. Beyond that, Lionsgate is sending to the usual recipients: 6,000 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences; 6,000 of the British Academy of Film & TV Arts; and other voting groups (2,000 members of the Producers Guild of America, the major critics groups, the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., etc.).

The Directors Guild of America does not allow screeners.

SAG confirmed it’s the first time a screener has been sent to all its members.

Guilds and critics groups received the same DVD version of “Crash” that’s being sold commercially. AMPAS voters, however, will get a plain-wrap version, since the Academy has strict rules about packaging and content, and does not allow screeners that are accompanied by trailers, commentary or deleted scenes.

In 1993, Steven Spielberg decreed that no screeners of “Schindler’s List” be sent out, so voters would have to see it on the bigscreen. Since then, however, virtually every serious contender gets a screener push, though some late-year openers — “Munich,” “King Kong,” “The New World” — arrived around the time Oscar ballots went out.

Some films with lower marketing budgets target their screeners to smaller voting groups. The indie Laemmle/Zeller Films mailed 1,400 copies of “Down to the Bone” to the Academy’s actors branch and a few critics groups. The pic’s Vera Farmiga won the L.A. Film Critics award for actress.

Lionsgate Theatrical Films president Tom Ortenberg said the “Crash” campaign will cost several hundred thousand dollars.

It’s a way of drawing further attention to the film. Pic bowed in May and has sustained momentum throughout the year as many bigger-budgeted pics fell by the wayside. And the film has done well in various critics’ and guild prizes.

Ortenberg says campaigning for a movie that was released earlier in the year can have its advantages.

“We’re in a unique position. We can’t encourage people to see the film in theaters,” Ortenberg said, since it’s not playing anywhere.

Rather than spend the budget on bigscreen viewings or cocktail receptions, “We thought it would be better to let the movie speak for itself,” Ortenberg said. “We are at greater liberty to do a broader DVD mailing.”

“Crash” has been gaining awards heat, with writer-director Paul Haggis picking up a number of major noms, and the film itself picking up a SAG ensemble nom last week.

Lionsgate had sent DVD screeners to the 2,100 members of the SAG nominating committee. After the film picked up the ensemble-cast nom last week, Lionsgate decided to mail a copy to every member.

All SAG members are allowed to vote for their final awards.

This isn’t the first time Lionsgate has made waves with screeners. During the ban two years ago, the indie studio went against the tide and still sent out screeners.

“It’s a subjective call,” Ortenberg said. “You make the decisions that you think are best for you.”

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