Oct. 01, 2003
Disappearing DVDs appear to be big problem
By Martin A. Grove
Disappearing DVDs: MPAA president Jack Valenti and other powerful
forces in Hollywood have succeeded in eliminating DVD "screeners" as
an Oscar marketing tool in the name of combating video piracy, but the
repercussions from their victory will be felt throughout the industry
for years to come.
DVDs have been an integral part of campaigning not just for Oscars,
but also for Golden Globes, BAFTAs, guild awards, critics groups kudos
and top 10 list honors. Looking at Hollywood's disappearing DVDs, it's
clear that without them most awards voters will now be seeing fewer
contenders. With so much year-end product to consider, most voters
won't have enough time to see it all at screenings. Ironically, the
films likely to suffer most will be those from the majors whose MPAA
membership will now prohibit them -- but not competing non
studio-affiliated independents -- from mailing DVDs.
The studios' specialized distribution divisions will be hurt the worst
because like the nonstudio indies they've managed to achieve great
success in recent years in all key awards races. One of the major
factors contributing to that success has been their ability to get
their smaller, lower-profile movies seen by the voters. DVDs have been
the locomotive driving that success. Thanks to DVDs, independents have
benefited from the at-home viewings their movies have received. Now,
unfortunately, it's a whole new ballgame.
DVDs -- references here to DVDs are also meant to include
videocassettes, which were sent instead of discs by some distributors
-- have in the last few years become a very valuable tool used in
marketing films for consideration in a very wide range of awards
races. It's not just voters in major competitions like the Golden
Globes and BAFTAs who relied on DVDs as an alternative to attending
screenings in theaters, but members of guilds like the Screen Actors
Guild, the Directors Guild of America, the Writers Guild of America
and the Producers Guild of America. All of these awards are enormously
important to the entire spectrum of Hollywood talent -- actors,
directors, writers, producers, cinematographers, editors, costumers,
designers, musicians, etc. And let's add agents to the list, too.
After all, agents earn commissions on the salaries paid to the people
they represent. Winning awards isn't just an honor that gives you
something to display on the mantle, it also adds to your bargaining
power and, ultimately, to your earnings. Awards translate into money
for a large number of people, none of whom had any opportunity to
voice their opinion before the MPAA put an end to DVD mailings.
On top of that, there are many media people in markets across the
country who also were devoted viewers of such DVDs. Exactly how the
DVDs were used is widely misunderstood. While there are Academy
members and other awards voters who viewed DVDs at home so as not to
have to attend screenings, there are others for whom DVDs were a
valuable way to take a second look at films they'd already seen at
screenings. DVDs enabled them to pay particular attention to
performances that were generating a buzz or, perhaps, to consider
other elements of films before casting their votes. In the case of
films that opened earlier in the year, voters who saw them at that
point were unlikely to see them a second time during the busy awards
season. Instead of spending an entire evening to view a film a second
time, they were able thanks to DVDs to spend 10 or 20 minutes just to
look again at one aspect of a film -- perhaps, a supporting
performance being promoted for consideration or to consider its
screenplay or editing or costumes.
What makes the DVD decision even worse is that this year has a newly
compressed Oscar voting schedule that's going to make it exceptionally
difficult even for very conscientious Academy members to see all the
contenders arriving in late December. Under the circumstances, second
looks at films in screening rooms are going to be all but impossible.
There are, after all, only seven nights in a week and even the most
devoted Academy members have families and jobs that make demands on
their time. No one's likely to be out at screenings every night of the
week. What people typically do is pick and choose what they're going
to see at screenings. For some, two nights a week is all they're going
to commit. Others will be willing to give up a third night. I wonder
how many people can or will devote four or five nights to moviegoing?
I bet it's a very short list.
Another problem Hollywood faces in an awards season without DVDs is
arranging all the additional screenings necessary to make so many
contenders available so that people could take the time to see them.
There are, after all, only a handful of really good screening
facilities in town. There is, as well, a second tier of screening
rooms and theaters that are decent enough. And then there are the
other locations -- the ones that aren't very good sites, but that get
used anyway. Screening movies in locations that aren't up to par in
terms of equipment, comfortable seating, proper air conditioning and
adequate parking puts the films shown there at a distinct
disadvantage. When you sit down to see a film after having had great
difficulty parking or when the room is poorly ventilated and you know
someone's trying to save money by not turning up the air conditioning,
it's the movie being shown that suffers. Without DVDs, distributors
will wind up having to settle for whatever screening facilities they
can manage to get. Moreover, films might even end up getting fewer
screenings than before since there will be so much more product to
show now and not enough good places in which to show them. This, in
turn, is likely to result in a two-tier system for filmmakers --
high-profile heavyweights who will get the awards screenings they
demand and lower profile hopefuls who will have to settle for what's
Films that opened early in the year or even during the summer will
have the advantage of already being in video stores by the time the
awards season heats up. At this writing, it's unknown if distributors
will be able to send out DVDs of movies that will already be in DVD
release. If they can, those films will have an advantage in being
available for second look viewing at home. They also will benefit from
the fact that commercial DVDs contain special bonus features about the
making of the movie. Typically, there are commentaries by the
filmmakers or by prominent film critics on these commercially
available DVDs. The DVD screeners that were sent out for awards
consideration were limited in content to the film only. There were no
special features on these now outlawed DVDs. Of course, even if the
MPAA says that distributors can't send out DVDs of movies that are
already in DVD release, awards voters could certainly go out and buy
themselves a copy of anything they wanted to see at home.
While distributors will save money on making and shipping DVDs,
they'll wind up spending money now on additional screenings and on
additional advertising to promote those screenings. The majors will
have an advantage in that they can better afford those costs, but
everyone will need to do as much as they possibly can on the screening
front. After all, voters will have to know when and where the films
are being screened. Most likely, distributors will also want to hold
screenings in markets other than New York and Los Angeles. There are,
for instance, Academy members who live in the Palm Springs area or in
the Santa Barbara area. It's unlikely that they're going to drive into
Beverly Hills to attend screenings two or three nights a week.
As always, there will be a large contingent of Academy members
vacationing in Aspen between Christmas and New Year's. In the past,
some distributors have held screenings there. This year, with Oscar
ballots going into the mail Jan. 2 and with no stack of DVDs awaiting
Academy members when they return home, we're likely to see more
screenings held in Aspen. There are, of course, a limited number of
screening facilities there as well as a limited number of desirable
screening hours over the course of those 10 days of winter holiday
time. There's likely to be stiff competition for those slots.
When Academy members return from their winter holidays they won't much
time in which to see films before their nomination ballots are due.
Those ballots are being mailed Jan. 2 and must be returned by 5 p.m.
on Jan. 17. How many films can voters see? Well, let's consider the
case of an Academy member who goes to Aspen with his or her family on
Tuesday, Dec. 23 and returns home Sunday, Jan. 4 in time for their
kids to return to school Monday, Jan. 5. If this family is anything
like my own, the days immediately before they leave for vacation in
December are going to be impossibly hectic and they're not likely to
be saying "yes" to any screenings.
If they're anything like the Groves, it's going to take them a few
days to catch their breath on returning and to deal with the
inevitable personal and/or business crises that just about anyone
finds waiting for them post-vacation. That probably means that our
sample Academy member's going to be able to attend screenings over the
course of eight days -- Wed., Jan. 7 through Wed., Jan. 14. Yes, there
will be those who will be out at screenings Mon., Jan. 5 and there
will be a few who see screenings right up to the last moment and hand
deliver their ballots on Sat., Jan. 17. But most people are only going
to get to look at eight movies before they cast their votes. They will
have seen some films earlier in the year -- certainly, Universal's
"Seabiscuit," Disney's "Finding Nemo" and Focus Features' "Lost in
Translation," just to name a few of the contenders that were early
arrivals, will benefit from having been around for so many months --
but there will be many new titles that they haven't had the
opportunity to catch up with yet.
If DVDs were still part of the awards equation, they would have been
able to look at more films at home. It's also likely that they would
have, at least, sampled an additional number of titles by watching the
first 20 or 30 minutes and then deciding whether to see the rest or
move on to the next. That was an approach that worked in favor of
smaller films that were good, but that had to be discovered because
they didn't have big stars or weren't from a superstar director. Now
those films will suffer -- unless they're from a non studio-affiliated
independent who is able to mail out DVDs for awards consideration.
In the end, by doing away with most DVDs, there will be a major impact
on Oscar nominations in that voters will be endorsing a smaller field
of pictures because they haven't seen them all. The Academy and the
studios could hold screenings around the clock, but getting people to
sit there and watch them will be the problem. And even if voters did
show up for double feature Oscar consideration screenings into the
night, how fair would that be to the films that were shown second
rather than first when people weren't falling asleep?
The lack of DVDs shouldn't really affect voting for the Golden Globes
because members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. attend screenings
throughout the year. Studios hold special HFPA screenings and press
conferences with their films' stars and, as a result, this group isn't
likely to suffer from not having DVDs to view at home. The HFPA
members I've known over the years have all been very diligent about
seeing films and, in fact, seeing them as early as possible. They
definitely do their homework and not having DVDs probably won't matter
much to them.
There's likely to be a considerable impact on the BAFTA vote, however,
now that DVDs are history. In some cases, films competing for BAFTA
consideration aren't already playing in theaters in London. DVDs were
the best solution to seeing them. Now an increased schedule of
screenings will have to do the job. Good screening rooms in London
will definitely be in demand.
Guild members of all sorts are bound to be complaining as they get
closer to holding their own awards events. Guild members who are
working on films in production early next year are going to be
hard-pressed to find the time to attend screenings. DVDs were a big
help to them, too.
Critics groups and media people compiling top 10 lists will also be
grumbling about how they can't get a second or third look at all sorts
of obscure films that they're thinking of honoring. Well, actually,
some of the most obscure films will be coming from the non
studio-affiliated independents that can still send out DVDs, so watch
The disappearing DVDs will really pose problems for a wide range of
other Hollywood residents -- the housekeepers, hairdressers,
manicurists, pool men, gardeners, nannys, doctors, dentists, bank
tellers, gas station attendants, stock brokers and all those distant
and close relatives of Academy members, who turned up like clockwork
every Christmas Past to ask if they could borrow some more DVDs
just-for-the-weekend and then returned them four months later. These
people are going to be up in arms and perfectly miserable about the
Of course, the MPAA probably regards them all as pirates or, at least,
as potential pirates. And maybe they are -- or, more properly now,
were. If they were, there will be less piracy and the MPAA can pat
itself on the back. On the other hand, what if piracy persists? What
if doing away with DVDs doesn't stop the pirates? What if the pirates
are clever enough to find some new way to obtain movies? The
postproduction process is often cited as a big security problem. So is
the use of video cameras in movie theaters. In fact, the MPAA's own
director of Internet anti-piracy enforcement, Tom Temple, recently
made news by saying that 80% or more of the movies that have been
pirated and posted on the Internet got there after being shot with
camcorders in theaters. Actually, now that there will be more
screenings of awards contenders, the pirates -- or, at least, those
who own very small video cameras -- will have more opportunities to
surreptitiously shoot copies of them. Yes, I know that we all get
searched now as we enter screening rooms -- it's like going to LAX,
but without having to fly anywhere -- but the real pirates apparently
know how to get their equipment inside.
While it's commendable that the MPAA is eager to stop piracy through
the misuse of DVD screeners, the Association might also want to
consider beefing up its legal department to help prosecute pirates who
are unlucky enough to get caught. A case in point is one Kerry
Gonzalez, who according to news reports earlier this week was
sentenced by a judge in New York for uploading Universal's "The Hulk"
to the Internet several weeks before it opened last June. You'll
recall that the Internet exposure for the unfinished version of "The
Hulk" that Gonzalez posted resulted in widespread negative criticism
of the film and its visual effects prior to the opening of Ang Lee's
finished version of the movie.
What happened to Gonzalez? Judge Gerald Lynch of the U.S. District
Court for the Southern District of New York sentenced him to six
months of confinement at home and three years probation plus a $2,000
fine and a $5,000 restitution payment to Universal. As badly as
Vivendi Universal may need that $5,000 to help reduce its debt load,
I'm wondering if it's really sufficient? There were people complaining
last summer that the Internet posting of "The Hulk" did major damage
to its boxoffice prospects. It ended up grossing about $132 million
domestically, which certainly wasn't horrible. In fact, Universal did
quite well with "Hulk" considering the reception it got when it
opened. Nonetheless, I can't help but think that $5,000 in restitution
doesn't entirely cover the ticket sales that were probably lost as a
result of all that negative Internet exposure made possible by
Actually, I wonder if I'm the only one who thinks Gonzalez's
punishment doesn't quite fit the crime? After all, if video piracy is
so terrible and costly a crime that Hollywood's willing to shoot
itself in the awards foot trying to contain those digital dogs,
shouldn't there be stiffer penalties for the bad guys? It's hard to
tell if Valenti and the MPAA are unhappy with Gonzalez's sentence. The
MPAA president, a colorful character I've enjoyed interviewing in the
past and still consider to be a terrific Washington ambassador for
Hollywood, was quoted as saying that the sentence was "serious and
(with) permanent consequences." Well, sure. But reports said Judge
Lynch could have sent Gonzalez to prison for three years and fined him
I'll be very honest here and tell you that if I were thinking about
pirating a movie and I read that they caught this other guy who did
that and they put him away for three years and fined him a
quarter-million dollars, I'd think twice about following in his
footsteps. On the other hand, if the downside's only $7,000 in
payments and six months of sitting home -- probably watching other
pirated movies on the Internet -- I'm not so sure a gambling man (not
me) wouldn't be inclined to take his chances.
In any event, DVDs are, for now, history. Maybe Hollywood will find a
way out using disposable DVD technology in the future. Regardless, the
awards races will go on. More money will be spent on screenings and
ads. Everyone will see fewer films and vote for the best ones they
see. Some good films won't get what they deserve. And it will all make
for good conversation as we sit in the dark and wait for all those
extra screenings to get underway.
Fox News just posted a piece about this, too.
Screener Shock: Oscars Make Controversial Decision
Yesterday, Jack Valenti — who's been the head of the MPAA longer than
nearly anyone else in the group has been alive — made headlines with a
This year, studios are being asked not to send screening tapes or DVDs
of their films to members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and
Sciences. All the big studios, most of which have few Oscar nominees,
have agreed to do this.
I can't say I agree with this decision. It seems designed as a measure
by the large monolithic studios to blunt the advance of independent
films at awards ceremonies.
Without "screeners," studios such as Miramax, Fine Line, Focus,
Paramount Classics, Lions Gate, Artisan, Fox Searchlight and others
would not get their films into the hands of the largely older and
passive Academy voters.
"The Pianist," for example, would not have gotten the attention it
deserved last year without a screener that Academy members could pop
into a VHS player.
Many movies could suffer from this change in policy. Among them:
"Thirteen," "The Station Agent," "Lost in Translation," "Winged
Migration," "Whale Rider," "American Splendor," "Pieces of April,"
"Swimming Pool," "Bend It Like Beckham," "Le Divorce," "The Company"
and "The Magdalene Sisters."
For several years now the Hollywood establishment has found itself
outplayed at Oscar time by indie companies brandishing quality films.
This no-screener rule seems to be its best new defense against quality
movies getting award attention.
But the big studios should be warned: In the record business, the
promotion of commercial blockbusters over artistic endeavors at Grammy
time has left that industry in a mess and a huge sales slump.
The movie studios should be wise enough to realize that the widest
selection of films possible made available to Oscar voters makes for a
richer experience on the night statues are handed out. No matter what
they do, "Pirates of the Caribbean" or "The Italian Job" are not going
to win Best Picture.
You know, poor poor Hollywood people - they'll just have to get off
their butt cheeks and go to screenings. That is the price they have to
pay for being a member of the Academy (or whatever awards organization).
Of course, they DON'T have to pay, that is the point - the screenings
are all free, whether at private screening rooms or at theaters. The
Academy Awards has somehow managed to exist all these years without
benefit of screeners. The fact is most of the people who get them sell
them for profit to used DVD stores - one can find these "screeners"
everywhere in Los Angeles come December. Then, suddenly, these
"screeners" show up as bootlegs on eBay (Chicago being the prime example
Martin Grove is simply upset he won't get his free DVDs. It is so
typical of today's Hollywood whiners, those who expect and GET
everything for free so that they don't actually have to leave their
homes and, heaven forbid, actually put forth a little effort in terms of
seeing films. It didn't used to be like this. I've been in this
business in one way or another for over thirty years and sometimes this
whining over nothing is really nauseating.
Here's a solution.
A)this year business as usual. SCreeners!
B)future years = Divx
1)make it so that every member of the acadamy (voting members) would be able
to get a Divx player
2) send the screeners in Divx form strictly movie (perhaps no chapters) and
2.1 sound (OK maybe 5.1 for films with MEGA soundtracks)
when disc goes into player it will see if coded for vialid acadamy
voter. if so it plays
at end of season after awards go out they are all blocked.
There's only one hope left for the Star Trek movie franchise.
It is a letter located between P and R in the alphabet.
"Brockhurst Pertwee" <(E-Mail Removed)> wrote in message
> You know, poor poor Hollywood people - they'll just have to get off
> their butt cheeks and go to screenings. That is the price they have to
> pay for being a member of the Academy (or whatever awards organization).
> Of course, they DON'T have to pay, that is the point - the screenings
> are all free, whether at private screening rooms or at theaters. The
> Academy Awards has somehow managed to exist all these years without
> benefit of screeners. The fact is most of the people who get them sell
> them for profit to used DVD stores - one can find these "screeners"
> everywhere in Los Angeles come December. Then, suddenly, these
> "screeners" show up as bootlegs on eBay (Chicago being the prime example
> last year).
> Martin Grove is simply upset he won't get his free DVDs. It is so
> typical of today's Hollywood whiners, those who expect and GET
> everything for free so that they don't actually have to leave their
> homes and, heaven forbid, actually put forth a little effort in terms of
> seeing films. It didn't used to be like this. I've been in this
> business in one way or another for over thirty years and sometimes this
> whining over nothing is really nauseating.
Allan <box532DAMNSENDMEMORESPAMANDVIRUSATTACHMENTSPLEASE @sympatico.ca> wrote in message news:<(E-Mail Removed)>. ..
> Oct. 01, 2003
> Disappearing DVDs appear to be big problem
> By Martin A. Grove
They discovered the fact that 90% of the preview .mpgs/DivX files on
the internet come from industry insiders. Appretnly, they discovered
this by putting a digital watermark on the dvds they sent out. How
much harder is it to put on separate watermarks and punish the person
responsible for the dvd?
not that i care much one way or another.
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