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Fox Searchlight’s SAG nominees available online

'Swan,' 'Hours,' 'Conviction' to run on iTunes

In a first for the film biz, Fox Filmed Entertainment is aiming to streamline the delivery of awards contenders to Screen Actors Guild voters, making Fox Searchlight titles “Black Swan,” “127 Hours” and “Conviction” available for 48-hour viewing on iTunes.

Fox made the announcement Friday. Studio said the pics will be available to SAG members until Jan. 28, the deadline for voting.

Fox noted that studios have faced security concerns and “prohibitive” costs to create and distribute screeners to organizations with large numbers of voters, such as SAG, with 100,000 eligible members. SAG Awards will be presented Jan. 30

Fox said the pics can be viewed on the iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, Mac, PC or with Apple TV. “Frankly, we’d do this for any award group that was open to the idea,” Fox Filmed Entertainment chairman Jim Gianopulos told Variety.

It’s the first time that features have been made available online for awards consideration. Showtime, NBC and others have offered online screening for Emmy-qualifying TV programs for the past few years.

Piracy concerns continue to be a sticky issue when it comes to screeners. Manufacturing screenersfor pics still in theaters, like “Swan,” “127 Hours” and “Conviction,” takes careful planning. Screeners for those films are individually watermarked — an effort too cumbersome to undertake for 100,000 SAG members.

“When the films are still in theaters, it becomes very difficult to put that many screeners out in the marketplace,” Gianopulos said.

The fact that it’s harder to pirate a movie from iTunes adds an important layer of security for studios. Downloads will work the same way as HD rentals from iTunes: SAG members will enter a passcode for 48-hour access to each film.

In the past, some filmmakers have cried foul at the notion of watching their work on an increasingly shrinking screen. But Fox is confident that most users will want to watch the films using the best possible equipment available.

“What this does is simply reflect technological reality,” said Gianopulos of the array of viewing options.

Fox said it’s discussing a similar arrangement with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts and others. At the moment, however, it has no plans to distribute awards content exclusively online.

Still, the town is gradually prepping for a future when DVD screeners are outmoded.

“Once it becomes easier for us to navigate (the iPad, iPhone, etc.) and transfer them onto the biggest screen possible, the screener’s dead,” said awards consultant Tony Angellotti. “Once these devices are as commonplace as the DVD player, then it becomes practical for studios to provide their films to voters via these new delivery systems.”

That doesn’t mean that Fox will encourage voters to watch every pic in the awards hunt on iPhones.

“We start with the idea that we would rather people see the film in the theater in the way it was intended,” Gianopulos said. But with so many films to see in such a short period during awards season, it’s just not always possible, he added.

“Black Swan” received an actress nom for Natalie Portman, supporting actress for Mila Kunis and for ensemble cast. James Franco drew an actor bid for “127 Hours,” and Hilary Swank was nommed for actress in “Conviction.”

Fox said SAG members can obtain information on receiving the code needed to download the pics at Foxsearchlight.com/SAG.

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