Studios rely on screeners for BAFTA

Hollywood hurries to meet voting deadline

BAFTA’s aspiration to be a bellwether for the Oscars took a hit in 2004, when “Million Dollar Baby” arrived in the U.K. too late to figure in the British nominations but then went on to win the Academy Award.

The British Acad’s toppers privately must be praying that “Gran Torino” doesn’t turn out to be another Clint Eastwood masterpiece. Scheduled for Stateside release on Christmas Day, it won’t open in Blighty until Feb. 20, thus missing the deadline to qualify for this year’s British awards.

Several other Oscar contenders, including “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “Revolutionary Road,” “Seven Pounds” and “The Reader,” are being released so late that their studios will have a major headache if they want BAFTA members to see them before Jan. 5, the crucial first voting deadline.

Those films will all get their U.K. releases in January or early February before the BAFTA ceremony, which is the deadline for qualification but after the first round of voting. That means their distributors must rely on preview screenings and DVD screeners to get them through.

It’s an axiom among BAFTA campaigners that screenings can’t reach enough members to secure a nomination. So it’s all down to getting the DVDs manufactured and delivered before everyone disappears on their Christmas/New Year’s break, which in Blighty is effectively a two-week holiday.

Missing that window isn’t always a disaster, but only if your movie is a must-see. Last year, a delivery snafu meant that “No Country for Old Men” got stuck in the mail until after Christmas. But it still gathered enough votes to get through the first round of voting and went on to win the BAFTA for best picture.

For that matter, the most recent foreign-language (“The Lives of Others”) and British film (“This Is England”) winners at BAFTA were post-holiday releases that missed the previous year’s BAFTA deadline.

Though Warner Bros. won’t be bothering to qualify “Gran Torino” at all this year, at least the studio has had a change of heart when it comes to DVDs. Its contenders went empty-handed last year after Warner refused to send out screeners on piracy grounds. This year, Warners is not only sending out DVDs but even offering them in Blu-ray.

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