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David Poland

By David Poland

An Open Letter From BTL (Below The Line) To The Academy Regarding FinkeFest

The e-mail below arrived today from Patrick Graham with the Subject Line, “An Open Letter – Clarification of Rules Violations.” Publishing it does not mean that I agree with it 100%. But I agree with more than 80% of the detail and 100% of the spirit of Patrick’s inquiry, which I made myself with Ric Robertson and Leslie Unger back in October. They took a loose and undefined position that the event was within the rules. Multiple sources have confirmed that the event was vetted personally by Academy President Tom Sherak and that he helped define the structure that would allow it to proceed without overtly breaking Academy rules.

I still feel, as Patrick does, that the event violated the marketing rules and even more clearly, the spirit of the rules. And one of the creators of the event confirmed that last year this event would have clearly been “illegal” under Academy rules.

I’ll wait until some other time to get into how unsuccessful the event was at keeping an audience after the panel on Saturday and all day on Sunday and how, after touting the exclusivity and “sold out” nature of the event, Finke & Co had to reach out to other guilds the week before the event to pad attendance. Not the point. Patrick has the floor…



I’ve sat on the sideline for too long on these matters – the Deadline Contenders event is by all accounts WAY beyond the pale of the intended rules set out by the Academy!

This is a screen shot of this morning’s front page.


How does this exact sentence not violate the Academy’s long held line against direct marketing to your members?!?

“….invited members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and select Hollywood Guilds.” – Nikki Finke

How is this not direct marketing?
– AMPAS members and select others?
– AMPAS members specifically and an unlisted group known as ‘Hollywood Guilds’?
– How is it within the spirit of the rules to specifically invite AMPAS members NOT as it relates to the larger entertainment community?

Forgive me, but I thought ANY specific segregation of your members as it relates to ANYTHING was a violation of your lengthy and somewhat specific rules.

Below the Line, as it approaches its first decade in June 2012, has lived by the written rules and the very spirit of what the Academy deemed inappropriate as to direct advertising including what we believed Variety and for the most part The Hollywood Reporter (in its prior incarnation) followed –
– Using the word ‘Advertising’ on covers that a studio bought out
– Always respecting the ‘AMPAS’ logo any time we use an image of the statue
– NEVER using an image of the statue UNLESS reporting on something directly related to the awards or the institution
– NEVER directly soliciting to members of the Academy for screenings, receptions, special events
– ALWAYS including ALL other guilds, societies and unions in anything we do for the larger craft community
– NEVER offering free subscriptions to AMPAS members
– NEVER inviting the entire AMPAS membership to sign up to our (almost decade old) screening series nor

For years we’ve sat on the sideline watching minor infractions come and go with little or no repercussions.

This issue with Deadline is so outrageous, I think it sends a very clear message to publishers (online and print) and studios – everything is fair.

As long as there is no ‘fee’ it’s all ‘okay’ – really – does any person at the Academy really believe Deadline is NOT getting compensation for a two day event that blatantly puts your members in a room to be pitched (while being fed) by all the major studios?

From our start, Below the Line has fostered and maintained a VERY warm and respectful relationship with the Academy – probably because we fit a need the Academy wasn’t fully able to – we celebrate the crew – that’s it. Day in, day out, our writers interview the incredibly hard working and talented below-the-line men and women, union and non-union that are the absolute backbone of our industry. Without whom, nothing would be shot, lit, designed, dressed, fed, transported, painted or posted.

Through tough times and fat years, we have survived to serve one purpose – to be The Voice of the Crew.

Not one award season passes without a studio, marketing firm, publicist or awards consultant asking us to ‘bend’, ‘skirt’ or out and out ‘break’ your rules. To our credit and to some extent out of fear, we’ve always come back to the spirit of your rules and said ‘no’.

Please, I need clarification from the Academy on this matter.

And, I have a suggestion: Going forward, on a voluntary basis, designate someone at the Academy to be the Marketing / Rule Compliance Authority (I know how you guys like acronyms – MRCA has a nice ring to it).

If I as publisher of Below the Line want to put on an event like the Deadline shindig, AND, if I felt so compelled to get the Academy’s stamp of approval, I could go to MRCA and ask them to, well, literally, give me a little stamp / logo – ‘Academy Approved’ or Academy Sanctioned or Academy Rules Verified or some such verbiage.

This would accomplish a couple things:
– Create comfort to studios and marketers alike that their event, lunch, screening, etc. is ‘okay’ in the eyes of the rules committee.
– Give reasonable cover to all interested parties related to the awards season.

IN ADDITION to that, please list and or report infractions – it’s one thing to say no, but it’s a far greater thing to show how you dealt with the infraction to the larger community.

Below the Line’s commitment to the Academy and it’s ideals remain unchanged. As a long time participant, promoter and, at times, partner with the Academy, I feel there needs to be some level of transparent accountability on these matters.

Most Respectfully,

Patrick Graham
Publisher / Owner
Below the Line

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7 Responses to “An Open Letter From BTL (Below The Line) To The Academy Regarding FinkeFest”

  1. It was made rather clear with the rule shifts this year that Academy members could specifically be targeted. I agree with the spirit of this, too, but Patrick might have made sure about those changes first.

    But I still wonder if this thing had the slightest impact. I had completely forgotten about it until Nikki’s big “remember what we did???” post.

  2. From this year’s annual rule clarifications press release:

    “Prior to the nominations announcement (January 24, 2012), there are no restrictions on screening events to which Academy members may be invited. These events may include the live participation of individuals involved with the film (Q&A panel discussions, etc.) as well as receptions with food and beverage.”

    It’s the post-nominations phase where they’ve buckled down.

    The goal, one imagines, was to allow the use of talent to lure voters to events where they would see films on the big screen, an obvious goal of the Academy. But at what cost?

  3. David Poland says:

    The one thing you don’t seem to be reading into that quotation, Kris, is that there were no screenings attached to the Deadline event.

    Truth is, Nikki could have done the same arm turning on execs and had each studio shown a movie, it would all have been perfectly Academy legal.

    The issue of soliciting Academy members this year pre-nomination… bizarre. Truly bizarre. But The Academy also failed to crack down on Academy List abuses in years past. They don’t really seem to want to enforce their own rules.

  4. David Poland says:

    And, working backwards through your comments, Kris… the impact is on the carnage with each studio doing this. It takes time and money off the table for other things, like BTL events. It also takes an emotional toll on the people who are forced to put these people together because the boss is afraid of Nikki cursing at them. Really amazing.

  5. I may have misread something back when she was going to do it but wasn’t there something like a clip reel presentation? I recall something like that, and recall thinking it was ludicrous. Maybe that changed or I imagined it.

  6. (I could probably read through what she wrote about it, I guess, but I really just can’t bring myself to do it.)

  7. AlanaSmithee says:

    I think the telling thing is this:
    “Prior to the nominations announcement (January 24, 2012), there are no restrictions on screening events to which Academy members may be invited. These events may include the live participation of individuals involved with the film (Q&A panel discussions, etc.) as well as receptions with food and beverage.”

    Where was the screening???????????????????

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