MCN Columnists
David Poland

By David Poland

20 Weeks To Oscar: Screenermania!


There’s a lot of screener talk around the “who didn’t nominate it?” of Selma. This has led to a lot of conversations about the State of the Screeners. But what is, by far, the most shocking part of any of the conversations I have had is this.

150,000 units.

$2.4 million.

For any organization that chooses to send out piracy-protected screeners to all the members of all the groups that now expect/demand screeners, this is the bill. For one movie. And this doesn’t include another number of hundreds of screeners that might be sent to critics’ groups, from LAFCA to NYFCC to any of the regional groups.

When I last wrote about screeners, in 2007, the number was about 15,000 units and about $240,000 a film.

What happened in 7 years?

Everyone got on the gravy train. And once you ask for something for your group, not getting it becomes emotionally criminalized.

DGA (15,000 DVDs) didn’t allow its members to get screeners for many years, pushing the idea that movies should be seen and judged on a big screen. That changed in 2012.

PGA? 8,000. WGA? 12,000. SAG Nominating Committee? 2300. The Academy? 6700.

These are just the requirements for the nominations process for the four biggest guilds and The Academy. 44,000 units. $700,000.

Another 11,000 units for all the other major voting groups (ACE, ADG, ASC, BFCA, CDG, LAFCA, MAHS, MPSE, NYFCC, SDSA, VES) seems like a drop in the bucket… just over $175,000.

But wait! What if you are lucky enough to get a SAG nomination, either for an individual performance or for your Ensemble, which is now routinely seen as SAG’s vote for Best Picture?

95,000 more units at a cost of over $1.5 million.

The cost of entitlement has gone up. Way up.

And the argument of each group goes either high (“How can you not send us screeners… we are really important and it would be an insult to our membership if you don’t send them discs?) or low (“But we are such a small group… if you can send 6700 discs to Academy members, how can you not send them to out little, very important group too?”)

Of course, talent, in the heat of a race, doesn’t much care about the details. They don’t want to hear about how they lost out because the DVDs didn’t go out or didn’t go out on time. They are not only invested in their films, but are often working their asses off, pretty much for free, to promote their films through the season with any financial benefit mostly going to the distributor.

In the case of a movie like Selma, which has missed out on some expected guild nominations, the DVD issue can make for good cover. And indeed, Selma may have suffered from ego rage in some groups. The film was screened on November 11 for the first time. It was not quite done. Team DuVernay didn’t have their finished product until Thanksgiving week… when all the DVD production houses are closed for 5 days or more. That meant it got to the replicator on December 1.

SAG Nominating Committee started voting on November 19 and finished on December 8. DVDs literally could not be sent in time.

DGA voting started online on December 3.

Next question is, how many units could they make in how little time? And as the DVDs became available to ship, when would they arrive?

First priority, as it should be, is AMPAS. And they got screeners sometime in the third week of December.

Was there any point in trying to send DVDs to 15,000 DGA members if they were going to arrive more than halfway through the voting period and might not be received by holidaying members until January 5, a week before voting closed?

PGA voting actually started the day before DGA, December 1, and ended (insanely) on January 2, making DVD distribution of Selma to PGA’s 8000 members even more clearly futile.

Two days after DGA voting began, BFCA was informed that there would be no Selma screeners in time for the nominating vote, which started December 8 and ended December 12.

Selma was not WGA-qualified, so that was a non-issue.

Academy members have had discs of Selma for longer than anyone. They started voting later than any of the other guilds/associations. Will that make a difference in the nominations? Tune in tomorrow.

But an industry in which a $2.4 million buy-in ($900,000 before you are nominated for anything) just for DVDs – before ads, books, promo items, appearance costs, etc – to be considered “serious” about receiving awards is a problem. Every time a group moves its deadline a few days earlier, the problem gets worse. And the “spread out the season” whine has some merit, but not at the cost of not allowing December movies to have a fair chance. (For the record, American Sniper was in the can for a long while before it screened, allowing the disc to go out quickly. Unbroken, too.) And there had to be a solution that is agreed to by all the players. It doesn’t have to be done in public. But it surely needs to be done.

And I’m not even getting into the subtle and not-so-subtle threats these organizations now make in order to insure that they will get DVDs or talent access or whatever. I’m just doing the math.

There is always talk about the stacked deck of award season and the frustrations of there being a price to be considered. And indeed, organizations from the Pulitzer Prize to The Webbys charge significant amounts of money to submit work for awards consideration. But the cost of doing the most foundational business of Oscar season… getting your movie seen… is worse than I think most people realize. That doesn’t mean that the cover buys and out-of-release TV spots and luncheons and HFPA ass-kissing aren’t all gaudy as hell.

But “they should have sent out screeners” is not quite as obvious as we might make it sound from the cheap seats.

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6 Responses to “20 Weeks To Oscar: Screenermania!”

  1. LYT says:

    Surely it needn’t be DVDs.

    Vimeo links can be as annoying as all hell, and I’d much rather see movies on my TV than my computer – but smaller companies use them to get their stuff out. Big studios won’t do online screeners, but I’m not sure they should be ruling them out.

  2. Ray Pride says:

    LYT, can’t you set up mirroring from your computer to your TV? It’s a matter of a couple of cords.

  3. Josh says:

    While I do not receive screeners, I do not understand this cost model unless they are sent out as elaborate packages. How do 150K DVD screeners cost $2.4M, or $16 each? A physical DVD costs <$1 to manufacture, perhaps $1 to ship, and maybe some incremental cost for piracy protection which would be in the authoring process and/or a small fee per disc. Are the DVD's sent out with elaborate packaging and marketing materials that cost $10+ per disc or is there some other element I am missing?

  4. David Poland says:

    $16 for a watermarked, piracy-protected screener on a short schedule (meaning less than a few months)

    You’re not missing anything.

  5. PcChongor says:

    Having grown up in the midst of “Generation Pirate,” I wonder how long it’s going to take distributors to realize that the financial upside of winning anything other than an Oscar Best Picture award is far less than the upside of not having a great quality rip of their film up on every single illegal hosting site months before it’s out of theaters and on VOD.

    There just aren’t that many people still out there who’d check out a film based entirely on an award its won.

  6. movielocke says:

    Simple. Ban screeners for any movie released in more than 10 theatres prior to the last day of voting. They’ve got guild cards 90% of them live in LA, let them go to the multiplex for free like they did a decade ago.

Quote Unquotesee all »

It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon