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.

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.

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“I remember very much the iconography and the images and the statues in church were very emotional for me. Just the power of that, and even still — just seeing prayer card, what that image can evoke. I have a lot of friends that are involved in the esoteric, and I know some girls in New York that are also into the supernatural. I don’t feel that I have that gift. But I am leaning towards mysticism… Maybe men are more practical, maybe they don’t give into that as much… And then also, they don’t convene in the same way that women do. But I don’t know, I am not a man, I don’t want to speak for men. For me, I tend to gravitate towards people who are open to those kinds of things. And the idea for my film, White Echo, I guess stemmed from that — I find that the girls in New York are more credible. What is it about the way that they communicate their ideas with the supernatural that I find more credible? And that is where it began. All the characters are also based on friends of mine. I worked with Refinery29 on that film, and found that they really invest in you which is so rare in this industry.”
Chloë Sevigny

“The word I have fallen in love with lately is ‘Hellenic.’ Greek in its mythology. So while everyone is skewing towards the YouTube generation, here we are making two-and-a-half-hour movies and trying to buck the system. It’s become clear to me that we are never going to be a perfect fit with Hollywood; we will always be the renegade Texans running around trying to stir the pot. Really it’s not provocation for the sake of being provocative, but trying to make something that people fall in love with and has staying power. I think people are going to remember Dragged Across Concrete and these other movies decades from now. I do not believe that they will remember some of the stuff that big Hollywood has put out in the last couple of years. You’ve got to look at the independent space to find the movies that have been really special recently. Even though I don’t share the same world-view as some of my colleagues, I certainly respect the hell out of their movies which are way more fascinating than the stuff coming out of the studio system.”
~ Dallas Sonnier