Searchlight opens screener season

Films to arrive in mail Tuesday morning

Fox Searchlight is first out of the gate with screeners, as “The Namesake,” “Once” and “Waitress” arrived in the mail on Tuesday morning — not even 24 hours after the official end of summer.

Move beats the previous record-holder for early mailings by more than three weeks: In 2005, Sony Pictures Classics sent out “Junebug” around Sept. 28.

It’s all part of a shift that has seen campaigning start earlier and earlier — much like the U.S. presidential race. Until now, campaign activity during September was relatively light.

The DVDs arrived the day after Labor Day, just as the specialty biz begins the fall fest circuit and busy autumn release sked.

For some years, the Toronto Film Festival has been considered the unofficial start of the kudos season. But everything is moving faster this year in what may be a delayed reaction to the Academy decision a few years ago to shift the Oscars a month earlier.

Searchlight sent screener mailings to the some 6,000 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, the 91 members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. and roughly 200 tastemakers.

Last year, Searchlight didn’t send out screeners of “Little Miss Sunshine” until Oct. 10. Film went on to nab an Oscar nom for pic, among other kudos recognition.

Searchlight said it wanted to get the three titles on people’s radars, considering that the films were released in the first half of the year, when there is little attention paid to what may be an awards contender.

Sending out screeners of “Junebug” early seems to have paid off for Sony Pictures Classics, with Amy Adams picking up an Oscar nom for supporting actress and winning the Independent Spirit Award, among other nods for the film. Pic was released in early August.

“Waitress,” which began its platform release in early May, was one of the summer’s indie hits, grossing $18.8 million. (Miramax biopic “Becoming Jane,” starring Anne Hathaway, is another, grossing $15.7 million already in its early run.)

“Once,” also released earlier in the summer and still paying in some 100 theaters, has grossed more than $8 million to date. Mira Nair’s “The Namesake,” released in the spring, grossed $15 million domestically.

A studio exec elsewhere said that with Searchlight having started so early, the challenge will be to keep up the momentum. The advantage is that kudos voters will receive the films early enough to actually watch them, before the glut of mailings in a few months.

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