Guild forbids screeners be sent during awards season

After thoroughly baffling Hollywood about its screener policy, the DGA on Wednesday banned any screeners being sent to its 13,400 members during the current awards season.

The guild apologized for delivering mixed signals on its policy and said screeners will be allowed next season.

In the years of awards campaigns, no studio has ever sent out screeners to DGA members. Reps at all the studios were flummoxed this week by the guild’s insistence that it had never denied permission, and by the guild’s haphazard handling of events in the past few days.

The confusion began Dec. 8 when Paramount asked the DGA if it could send out screeners of the Bill Condon-directed “Dreamgirls.” Someone at the DGA said yes on Dec. 15, so the studio ordered more DVDs, presumably thousands of them.

The “Dreamgirls” screeners were ready to ship when the studio learned the DGA was rescinding its permission.

It’s not clear what happens to those screeners. On Wednesday, Paramount wasn’t commenting.

Some reports said Miramax had planned to send out copies of “The Queen.” In fact, Miramax had been planning to divert screeners of “Queen” that had been pegged for other voting groups.

On Tuesday, four days after the DGA’s OK of the “Dreamgirls” screeners, a guild spokesman told Daily Variety that it was not aware of any plans to send out any screeners.

This week, rival studios have been talking to each other and the DGA, demanding to know what was going on. The DGA has consistently refused to budge on its statement that no one had ever asked before.

The guild began sending out a memo on Dec. 15, but as of Wednesday, some studios still had not received it.

In that letter, the DGA outlined its “current” policy, saying it would allow screeners to be sent to members but would first notify competing studios and indies. According to the Guild, execs decided to send out the memo after receiving several inquiries.

Studios and consultants were blindsided by the DGA’s handling of the situation during the zenith of awards season campaigning.

Campaigners assert they had been firmly told in the past that screeners were forbidden. What’s more, the DGA has a “blackout policy” during December — meaning that no one can contact guild members directly (even to provide invitations or info about screenings) when ballots are out for the DGA.

“What, are we all nuts?” asked one veteran campaigner, echoing the sentiments of many colleagues. “Did we all imagine asking for permission and being turned down?”

Campaigners were especially perturbed that some studios were sent the memo last Friday, while others received a faxed copy Monday and still others received it Tuesday through the mail.

The DGA’s apparent stance against screeners has been a source of frustration for strategists for a long time. All kudos strategists want to make sure their film is seen before anyone votes. But the DGA sends its ballots out in early December, which creates a big disadvantage for films that bow later that month.

Since many DGA members are working people with families, it’s unrealistic to expect them to go to the movies frequently during the holidays. This year, ballots are due Jan. 8.

In Wednesday’s press release, the guild said, “We recognize that there has been confusion among studios and distributors regarding the Guild’s policies and wish to avoid any unfairness in the awards process.

“We regret any inconvenience this has caused. We will allow the mailing of DVD screeners to the entire membership next year for the Guild’s 60th annual DGA Awards.”

The big question is what led to this situation. “No other guild sticks to the rules as strictly as the DGA,” said one campaigner. “They are sticklers and the blackout period was sacred.”

So, how did such a strict guild get to the point when there is mass confusion?

The DGA handling of the situation was “awkward and disrespectful,” said one studio exec.

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