You’ve got to be kidding.
That was the reaction from a cross-section of Academy members when confronted with the Motion Picture Assn. of America’s decision to ban the mailing of screeners for Oscar consideration.
Some were sympathetic to the MPAA’s anti-piracy cause; others thought it was a clever way to try to loosen the grip the indie film companies have on the gold statuettes.
However, practically no Academy member Daily Variety talked to believed that it’s a good idea.
Reached on the set of his new film, “A Dirty Shame,” director John Waters was outspoken about the screener ban.
“I’m completely against it,” he said, rejecting the idea that piracy concerns were the rationale behind the decree.
“I think the studios are sick of the independents winning every award. I think the piracy thing is a smokescreen,” he said. “Because of the ban there are movies that won’t get Oscars. ‘Lost in Translation.’ ‘American Splendor.’ ”
A Baltimore resident, Waters also pointed out that the ban would make it impossible for him to view a number of smaller pics.
“It’s completely elitist,” he said. “If you don’t live in New York or in L.A., how are you supposed to see these movies?”
Director Randal Kleiser said he was sympathetic to the MPAA’s intention, but believes it would unfairly affect Oscar voting.
Kleiser admits that in 2000 he wasn’t drawn to watch Darren Aronofsky’s “Requiem for a Dream,” about the horrors of drug addiction. However, he voted for Ellen Burstyn for best actress after seeing her performance on a screener copy of the pic.
“I would not have been attracted to that movie,” Kleiser recalled. “It’s going to be hard to get people to come out for obscure pictures. It will be the big studio pictures that rule.”
Paul Rubell, an editor whose credits include “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” and “XXX,” added: “Working people like me have time only to see a fraction of the films. You’re going to get either a skewed result or you’re going to segregate the kinds of people who vote.”
Producer Stephen Woolley echoed that sentiment.
“This is really going to shackle the smaller films,” he said. “It will make it so much harder to get the support of those influential people who you really want to back your film. Someone working in the wilds of Alaska or down in Cornwall just won’t get a chance to see a film that’s on limited release.”
Even those who might wish that Academy members would see all films on the big screen admit that screener copies should be considered a necessary evil.
“If you watch a DVD, I feel like you didn’t see a film,” said “Daredevil” producer Bernie Williams. “I go to the movies four or five times a week. But there is a problem. There are so many movies nominated, it’s a struggle to get through all the movies if you’re a busy person. In order to get a fairer vote, they should maintain the DVD and video output.”
Bruce Feldman, executive VP of online distribution at image.net and a consultant on studio and indie Oscar campaigns, offered some practical ideas to make the new system work.
“You have to make these pictures more widely available,” he said. “You screen them more frequently and at times when Academy members can attend. Show them on Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons.” However, he noted these solutions have limited applications.
“Where this leaves indies is anyone’s guess,” he said. “For them, screening room capacity doesn’t exist. Even if you have the budget, you can’t compete.”
Others questioned whether killing Academy screeners would have any impact on piracy at all.
“I think it stinks,” said music editor Kenny Hall, who’s completing “Looney Tunes: Back in Action.”
“I don’t know how my receiving those DVDs has anything to do with piracy. It’s absolutely silly. To jeopardize my membership and station in this industry — why would I do that?”
Helmer Waters concurred. “I am so insane about my screeners: Everyone has to sign them out and they can keep them for two days, including my mother.”