×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Screener scramble tests Tinseltown’s fortitude

Plethora of pics and 'secret screeners' battle for attention in kudos crunch time

This is the moment when the floodgates open and screeners come pouring into homes and offices of Academy and guild voters — and when many voters get the crazies. And it’s all going to be worse this year because of the advent of “secret screeners” (more on that later).

Studios resent the cost of screeners and the risks of piracy. Voters are distressed by the sheer quantity, not to mention the upfront warnings (more dire each year) threatening imprisonment if not torture if screeners fall into alien hands.

And filmmakers, a paranoid lot at best, cringe at the thought of their epics being screened by grumpy geriatrics huddled in front of their TV sets or handheld devices. They want their work displayed on bigscreens in big theaters before admiring throngs.

So here’s the irony: While screeners have become all the more central to the process because of quantity and competition, they also have become marginally irrelevant. That’s why distributors of such technically ambitious epics as “Life of Pi,” “The Hobbit,” “Django Unchained” or “Les Miserables” hint to voters that there won’t be any screeners — but furtively plan to distribute them anyway as “secret screeners” at the 11th hour.

Popular on Variety

It’s all a nasty business, but it’s part of decision time — the moment of truth when voters (I’ve been an Academy voter for many years) actually have to make up our churlish minds and decide on winners.

Apart from screeners, other assorted props are provided. Some studios distribute screenplays for perusal; it’s reassuring to discover that there actually was a script on “The Master” and that Paul Thomas Anderson didn’t make it up as he went along. DreamWorks sent out copies of books about Abraham Lincoln, as though to remind voters that the Steven Spielberg “Lincoln” is actually about a president, not an amendment.

The process also involves major media assaults, Q&As, lunches and receptions. In kudo campaigns, as in politics, the costs keep rising each year and the payoff becomes ever more enticing.

While old-fashioned screenings provide the best format, the screening schedule this year seemed even more chaotic than usual. I’ve attended screenings that were completely empty and others that were massively overbooked. It’s a hazardous road for voters.

That’s why I still find screeners so valuable despite the annual chorus of criticism. On one level they provide an opportunity to discover quality films that were previously overlooked — “The Impossible,” “End of Watch” or “The Sessions,” in my case. They also offer a chance to see films that I’d purposely avoided because critics groups had oversold them (“Amour”) or because they were too long to sit through in a theater (“Cloud Atlas”).

Then there are always those performances you want to revisit, such as Anthony Hopkins in “Hitchcock,” Rachel Weisz in “Deep Blue Sea” or the daring feat of Hugh Jackman in “Les Miserables.”

Sifting through possible choices is at once discomfiting and stimulating. So much great work is ignored at kudos time because it doesn’t fit into a comfy category. There’s no room for a deliciously dopey comedy like “Pitch Perfect” and no hole for the dean of dick jokes, Judd Apatow.

And a James Bond picture will never be declared best picture, especially since everyone in the world seems to be lining up to see the latest one (and deservedly so).

I suppose that’s approbation enough.

More Film

  • John Boyega

    John Boyega Apologizes for 'Badly Worded' Comments He Made in Variety Interview

    John Boyega has apologized for comments made to Variety that some readers construed as an attack on his “Star Wars” co-star Kelly Marie Tran. Boyega took to Twitter on Thursday to clarify his remarks to Variety’s Adam B. Vary that social media was a tough environment “for those who are not mentally strong” and that [...]

  • Lee Joon-dong (left)

    Jeonju Festival Appoints 'Burning' Producer Lee Joon-dong as Director

    The Jeonju International Film Festival has appointed leading art-house producer Lee Joon-dong (“Burning”) as its director. The festival is usually regarded as the second most significant in South Korea, behind Busan. The appointment was announced on Wednesday by Kim Seung-su, chairman of the festival’s organizing committee. It follows several months of internal discord and the [...]

  • Warner Bros. Pictures trailer launch event

    Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jon M. Chu Tease 'In the Heights' Movie

    Lin-Manuel Miranda, director Jon M. Chu and star Anthony Ramos took the train to the top of the world to offer a sneak peek of “In the Heights,” Warner Bros.’ big-screen adaptation of Miranda’s (other) hit musical. “I’m thrilled we’re here, and I’m thrilled we’re uptown,” Miranda rhapsodized to a packed crowd at a cozy [...]

  • One for the Road

    Wong Kar-wai to Produce 'Bad Genius' Director’s 'One For The Road'

    Wong Kar-wai is producing “One For The Road,” a new film that reunites the director and star of 2017 Thai hit “Bad Genius.” Production in New York and Thailand will begin by the end of the year. The film is a buddy drama and a road movie that sees two old friends who have been [...]

  • Jesse Eisenberg

    Film News Roundup: Jesse Eisenberg to Star in Indie Thriller 'Wild Indian' (EXCLUSIVE)

    In today’s film news roundup, Jesse Eisenberg is starring and exec producing “Wild Indian”; Jason Bateman is directing “Shut In”; “Saturday Night Live” veteran Paula Pell is honored; and the Palm Springs Film Festival sets its opening and closing films. CASTING Jesse Eisenberg is starring in and executive producing the independent thriller “Wild Indian,” Variety [...]

  • disney d23

    Top 19 Media Trends of 2019: Disney's Box Office Dominance

    The domestic box office market share over the last 12 years provides a sobering reminder of how important franchises are to studio performance, especially for Disney. Although the 2019 box office looks to be falling short of the previous year’s total, Disney is ending the decade on the highest possible note, becoming the first studio ever [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content