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‘Selma’s’ Guild Rebuff: Can Studios Afford to Skip Screeners?

When the DGA Awards nominations Tuesday failed to include “Selma” director Ava DuVernay, Twitter talk ascribed the omission to possible racism or sexism. But within the industry, Paramount’s gamble to send “Selma” DVD screeners to Oscar and BAFTA voters, but not to the guilds, was believed to be a major factor.

The DGA nominations were the final guild announcement to not include the well-received “Selma,” which was also shut out of the SAG and PGA noms, while it wasn’t eligible for WGA noms.

The Martin Luther King Jr. drama currently has a 99% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes — higher than any other contender including “Boyhood” (98%) — and was listed as a strong contender this awards season after premiering at the AFI Fest, but production delays ultimately prevented “Selma” from competing for these top guild honors.

Whether the Academy screeners helped its Oscar chances will be revealed Thursday when nominations are announced — that is, if voters think DuVernay belongs in the top five.

“This was not a ‘strategy ‘; it’s what we were able to do with this movie within the timeline of when it was finalized and received,” said Paramount’s longtime awards consultant, Lea Yardum. Studio reps bristle at the suggestion they dropped the ball or aren’t supporting it: “We love this movie, and we’re supporting it with every ounce of our beings,” said Yardum.

The execs at Par were following the same timetable as “Wolf of Wall Street” last year; in both cases, late delivery of the film butted up against early awards-voting deadlines. Of course, DuVernay’s name isn’t nearly as well known as that of “Wolf” director Martin Scorsese.

DuVernay delivered “Selma” on Nov. 26, and screeners were sent to BAFTA and AMPAS voters Dec. 18, after Par paid a premium for sped-up service, since it usually takes up to six weeks to prep DVDs for voters.

Because of the DVD timetable, Par focused on screenings for voters in New York and L.A. The screener issue was underlined when “Selma” was a surprise no-show in Producers Guild nominations.

The movie opened in a limited run Dec. 25, widening Jan. 9. Other Christmas debuts, including “American Sniper,” did send screeners in time, but the prints were ready earlier, sources confirm.

Deluxe Toronto is the go-to place to manufacture screeners; the fulfillment house for “Selma” was Vision Media Management, which sent the discs to BAFTA and AMPAS voters via overnight messenger. In theory, Par could have met final deadlines for some of the guilds, but instead it focused on in-person screenings in New York and Los Angeles, since the studio had already missed some guild deadlines

For example, SAG Awards voting was Nov. 20 through Dec. 8; PGA was Dec. 1-Jan. 2; AMPAS was Dec. 29-Jan. 8.

Sources said there were other factors in the decision. Many voters give their workplace address for packages, to protect their privacy; since many businesses had closed down on Dec. 17, Par execs wondered if they would reach enough voters. The second factor was whether the cost of shipping to guild voters in the middle of voting would pay off, since there was no guarantee recipients would watch the “Selma” screener — or vote for it. In fact, BAFTA gave the film zero nominations, though voters were sent the screeners.

“Selma” screened Nov. 11 at AFI Fest in Los Angeles, but the filmmakers pointed out it was not a finished print. It’s possible guild members saw “Selma” on the bigscreen and didn’t love it.

Piracy is always a concern for studios, especially with big films that open late in the year. So watermarking is important. But screeners have become a dominant factor  in voting, as opposed to the auxiliary that they were intended to be. Various showbiz orgs urge members to see films on the bigscreen, but voters in conversation consistently equate the terms “catching up on films” with “a stack of screeners at home.”

Whether or not “Selma” is recognized on Oscar nominations day, it seems clear that next year studios will take a much closer look at the timing of screener deliveries to voters.

 

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